DGA Deal Sets Stage for Writers

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Since the writers strike began in November, industry experts have warned that the Writers Guild of America would suffer a severe blow should studios elect to shift their attention to negotiating a contract with directors.
The directors would set the standard for a new-media contract, went the refrain, and embarrassingly demonstrate how fast they could make a deal compared to the sluggish WGA.
Instead, six weeks after WGA talks fell apart, directors unveiled a contract that seemingly makes fresh progress on some of the writers’ biggest sticking points, potentially unlocking the current negotiation logjam.
The DGA deal builds on several of the WGA’s hard-fought new-media goals—establishing union jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet, raising the share of paid digital downloads and establishing residuals for advertising-supported Web streaming.
On Dec. 7, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers broke off talks after the WGA refused to take six deal points off the table. The most important of those points, the WGA leadership said at the time, was basing residuals for paid downloads on how much distributors grossed in sales, rather than the grosses reported by producers.
At the time, AMPTP president Nick Counter declared the six points were entirely unacceptable and represented a “quixotic pursuit of radical demands” that betrayed “a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of new media.” Yet the directors convinced the AMPTP to base their download deal on distributors’ grosses.
Another of the six contested points—establishing a fair-market value for new-media deals—is also arguably addressed by the DGA’s contract, since directors haggled unprecedented access to the studios’ data on deals. Both of the points are key for writers, since they help establish a baseline for accurate new-media accounting.
“The DGA deal is good,” veteran showrunner John Wells (whose credits include “ER”) wrote. “For writers, directors, for the future. … Our negotiating committee has numerous issues that are specific to writers that must still be resolved with the AMPTP. … But this is a historic deal. We’ve won. The strike was necessary to win it and I can only assume our negotiating committee will be sitting down with the AMPTP by early next week to resolve these last, final issues.”
A studio source familiar with the negotiations said the directors didn’t accomplish anything the writers couldn’t have done.
“The directors came to the table very focused,” he said. “They weren’t trying to expand their jurisdiction, they knew exactly what they wanted. The writers might have been able to make the same deal on their own had they not been so scattershot.”
The source was referring to some of the WGA’s other six ultimatum points, which included expansion of the guild’s jurisdiction to include animation and reality—demands that have divided the WGA’s membership and have been criticized as a tactical blunder.
WGA sources emphasized they had not yet seen a copy of the actual DGA deal as of Friday and were cautious about making on-the-record statements based on reported deal points. Yet there are a few aspects of the directors’ deal that the writers are unlikely to embrace.
The most hotly contested item is a 17-day window where studios can air TV series episodes online without paying residuals, followed by a payment of about $600 for a one-hour drama for each 26-week period within the first year of the initial broadcast.
Since writers currently receive about $20,000 per on-air repeat, the provision struck some as a rollback, particularly for writers lacking overall studio deals.
“Two weeks of free streaming on that episode is going to devalue it in terms of re-running,” said writer-producer Thania St. John (“Eureka”). “There are a lot of working writers who need that residual money. It also doesn’t take into consideration any growth in the market when you’re talking flat fees that are not based on percentage of gross.”
That said, she added, the DGA deal is “a great starting point for negotiations.”


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