When the Directors Guild of America agreed to a new three-year contract with the major Hollywood studios last month, the union hailed the deal as “unprecedented” and “historic.”
With screenwriters on strike and the actors’ union still in negotiations, the directors saw their agreement as a first step on the road to labor peace in the entertainment industry. It included improvements in both salaries and the amount of royalties directors would receive from streaming services projects, and it put a fence around the use of artificial intelligence.
“The parameters of the agreement will certainly help the other guilds in negotiations,” Christopher Nolan, the director of “Oppenheimer”, told The Hollywood Reporter.
That didn’t happen.
When the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, went on strike last week, the directors found themselves as outsiders in Hollywood. Their union is the only one that agreed to a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, and now they can’t work anyway because the writers’ and actors’ strikes have shut down the industry. .
“They agreed too soon,” Peter Newman, a producer and professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, said in an interview. “If they guessed correctly, they could see that there would almost invariably be a complete shutdown of the industry, regardless.”
Rather than viewing the directors’ contract as a draft, the actors’ union deemed it insufficient. The minimum raises the Directors Guild agreed to were too low, the actors stated. While the directors have accrued significant increases in the residuals they would receive, primarily through a formula that accounts for international streaming subscribers, there has been little progress in getting stubborn tech companies to share more data on how well movies and TV shows have performed on their services.
The studios stated that a reproductive artificial intelligence is not a “person” and cannot take over the duties of a Directors Guild member. But their reassurance that AI would not be used “in connection with creative elements without consultation with the director or other DGA-covered staff” was seen by many as weak and vague.
“Matrix” filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, who is also a member of the Writers Guild of America, took to Twitter to explain that she would be voting no on the deal, specifically because of the AI provisions in the proposed contract.
“I’m not Boomer-luddite-fuddy-duddy against the idea of AI as a tool in itself,” she wrote. “But what I vehemently oppose,” she added, “is the use of AI as a tool to generate wealth. That’s what’s at stake here. Cutting jobs for corporate profit.”
Despite the protests, the membership of the union ratified the agreement, with 87 percent voting in favor.
“We have concluded a truly historic agreement,” Jon Avnet, the chairman of the Directors Guild’s negotiating committee, said in a statement on June 3.
Even now that the actors have joined the writers on strike, some directors remain satisfied with their contract.
“I think we got one of the best deals we’ve had in decades,” said Bethany Rooney, a veteran director of network television shows such as “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” “Chicago PD” and “Station 19,” in an interview
“I feel like they addressed all of our concerns and met them with a positive response,” she added, “whether it was base pay rates or residuals, or reporting flow numbers or AI for that matter. Everything was met with a response that we could to live.”
But as the negotiations of the actors continued and a strike became more of a possibility, the position of the directors as the only guild to reach an agreement was more striking.
The Directors Guild has long been seen as a stable union. Formed in 1936 and currently representing 19,000 directors and members of the directorial team, including assistant directors, unit production managers, directors and others, the union has rarely gone on strike. It came out once, in 1987 for three hours, the shortest strike in the history of Hollywood.
A common assumption in Hollywood is that Directors Guild members are employed more permanently than members of the other unions. And there can be tension between the various unions.
“There is a generational spirit of lack of cooperation between them and the Writers Guild,” said Mr Newman. “Writers and directors have always had their differences. To some extent directors might think they are the real driving force behind any film.”
However, Ms Rooney, who serves as an alternate on the national board of the Directors Guild, said she was not surprised the actors were on strike.
“They have some major issues, and the writers have major issues that are specific to them that aren’t directors’ issues,” she said. “They didn’t get the response they needed from the AMPTP, so they had no choice but to strike. We are there with them in spirit.”
However, it remains clear that the directors wanted their deal to lead to deals with the actors and the writers. And the frustration at that not happening seeped into a statement from Lesli Linka Glatter, the Directors Guild president, after the actors said they would strike.
“The Directors Guild of America is extremely disappointed that the AMPTP did not fairly and reasonably address the important issues raised by SAG-AFTRA in negotiations,” she said. “During this critical and difficult time for our industry, the Directors Guild strongly supports the actors.”