Directors Guild talks intensifying

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The lead negotiators for the Directors Guild of America are scheduled to meet today and discuss opening formal negotiations with the studios for a new contract.

The meeting of the DGA’s negotiating committee follows two weeks of informal talks between DGA officials and studio executives to establish a framework and economic parameters for a deal that could determine when Hollywood goes back to work.

With the television industry largely shut down as a result of the ongoing writers strike, attention is turning to whether the directors and studios can forge an agreement over the biggest issue that divides Hollywood in its most contentious labor brawl in 20 years: how guild members will be paid when their work is distributed over the Internet.

The purpose of the early under-the-radar talks between the directors and studios is to sketch the broad terms of a pact that could lead to a speedy contract after official talks begin. Unlike the writers, the directors have had few labor disputes with the studios, and the two sides have a history of quickly settling new contracts.

After a weekend session in which guild leaders Jay Roth and Gilbert Cates met with Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and News Corp. President Peter Chernin, discussions between directors and studios intensified Tuesday and are expected to continue through today.

Next, the guild’s negotiating committee is expected to determine whether there’s enough common ground with the studios to begin full, formal negotiations, said people close to the matter. The DGA contract with the studios expires June 30.

Representatives of the DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to comment.

In their current talks, directors are said to be frustrated over what the studios have indicated they would offer them in the area of Internet residuals, according to several people briefed on the discussions who declined to be named because of the confidentiality of the talks.

“Anybody who thought this was going to be a cakewalk for either side was mistaken,” one said. “These are tough issues that have to be hammered out.”

The DGA is under intense pressure to secure a deal that would not only satisfy its 13,400 members but would also pass muster with Hollywood’s striking writers and actors. The Screen Actors Guild, whose contract also expires June 30, have openly supported the writers on the picket lines. Hollywood has a history of “pattern bargaining,” in which the first contract settled between one of the talent unions and the studios become the template for subsequent contracts.

However, there is no guarantee the writers or actors will automatically approve the deal negotiated by directors. Though directors are seeking a share of revenue from work distributed over the Internet, analysts say they might accept a lower rate that does not satisfy writers.

Beyond reaching agreement on a new contract, the directors say their broader goal is to help end a strike that has taken a heavy toll on Hollywood.

The writers strike has given DGA chief negotiator Cates and Executive Director Roth considerable leverage with the studios, which are eager to end a strike that has imperiled the current and upcoming television seasons and thrown Hollywood’s awards season into disarray.