Monday, July 28, 2008

The DGA: Where to Start

I think most of our members have no idea how bad the relationship is right now between the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild. Resentment and mistrust run high in both directions, and I’m sure that leaders on each side could be compelling in articulating the reasons.

But the truth is, we need them, and they need us. Come 2011, we don’t want to look on helplessly, again, as they negotiate the contract which becomes the pattern for our own. And they don’t want to look on helplessly, again, as we wage a strike which puts their members out of work.

To be sure, there was a meaningful difference of opinion in 2007 which perhaps made the breach inevitable. They looked at New Media and saw an area which wasn’t generating much revenue yet, and was thus unnecessary to address in this year’s negotiation. We looked at New Media and saw the same thing, but considered that exactly the reason to address it now: better to fight today for theoretical dollars than to wait until the dollars are real and abundant and that much harder to wrest from management. We forced the issue; they closed the deal.

In a perfect world, we’ll work together some day, and even at times quietly collaborate to pose as good cop and bad cop.

Things are so broken now that it’s hard to imagine getting to that point from here. But it’s not hard to imagine how we might begin.

Opportunity lies in the fact that New Media is no longer just a big theoretical. They have a deal in place, as do we, and the deals are virtually identical. The questions now are not about policy, but about tracking and enforcement. How are the studios using New Media to generate revenues? How are consumers using it to view our product? How well are our contracts covering these trends as New Media moves from theoretical to practical? Are there gaps which leave us treated unfairly? What unforseen aspects will need to be addressed next?

We have all these issues precisely in common with the DGA, and will with SAG too. So let’s put together a tri-Guild committee, comprised of, say, two staffers and three members from each Guild, to meet on a regular basis to pool information and resources toward tracking facts and trends of mutual concern.

If we do this, will we still be faced with differences of substance once again down the line, in 2011 or 2014 or beyond? Won’t the day come when we still want more than the DGA is inclined to demand? Undoubtedly. Residuals play a more crucial role in the incomes of a greater percentage of our members. Plus labor-management confrontation is simply more part of our DNA. But hopefully by then we’ll again have a relationship to build upon, and we’ll be able to compromise and fuse into a joint negotiating posture which is a winner for both Guilds, and for SAG, too.

From where we stand right now, that dream may seem as unlikely as a thousand-to-one buzzer-beating shot from halfcourt. Maybe it is.

But we can certainly start with a lay-up, and see where we'll be able to take it from there.