When the Directors Guild of America agreed to a new three-year contract with major Hollywood studios last month, the union hailed the agreement as “unprecedented” and “historic.”
With the screenwriters on strike and the actors’ union still in negotiations, the directors saw their deal as the first step on the road to labor peace in the entertainment industry. It included improvements in both pay and the amount of royalties that directors would receive from projects on streaming services, and it put in place sandboxes around the use of artificial intelligence.
“The parameters of the deal will certainly help the other unions in the negotiations,” Christopher Nolan, director of Oppenheimer, said. Tell Hollywood Reporter.
This did not happen.
When the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, went on strike last week, the casting directors found themselves on the cusp of Hollywood. Only their union agreed to a deal with the Motion Picture and Television Producers Alliance, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, and now they’re unable to operate anyway because writers’ and actors’ strikes have shut down the industry.
“They got along very early on,” Peter Newman, producer and professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, said in an interview. “If they had guessed correctly, they could have seen that, almost always, there will be a complete shutdown of the industry, regardless.”
Instead of considering the directors’ contract a blueprint, the actors’ union deemed it insufficient. The actors declared that the threshold for raising Directors Guild approval was too low. While filmmakers have made significant increases in the remaining amounts they’ll receive, primarily through a formula that takes into account international streaming subscribers, there hasn’t been much progress in convincing recalcitrant tech companies to share more data about how well movies and TV shows are doing on their services.
The studios have declared that a generative AI is not a “person” and cannot assume the duties of a Directors Guild member. But their assurance that AI would not be used “in connection with creative elements without consultation with the director or other personnel covered by the DGA” was seen by many as weak and ambiguous.
“The Matrix” filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, who is also a member of the Writers Guild of America, took to Twitter to explain that she wouldn’t be voting on the deal, especially because of the artificial intelligence provisions in the proposed contract.
“I’m not Boomer-luddite-fuddy-duddy against the idea of AI as a tool in itself,” I wrote. She added, “But what I’m doing that I strongly object to, is using AI as a tool to generate wealth. That’s what’s at stake here. Cutting jobs for corporate profits.”
Despite the protests, union members ratified the agreement, with 87 percent voting in favor.
“We’ve struck a truly historic deal,” John Avnet, chairman of the Directors’ Guild negotiating committee, said in a June 3 statement.
Even now that the actors have joined the striking writers, some directors remain happy with their contract.
“I think we got one of the best deals we’ve had in decades,” Bethany Rooney, a veteran director of network TV shows like “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” “Chicago PD” and “Terminal 19,” says in an interview. .
“I feel they have addressed all of our concerns and met them with a positive response,” she added, “Whether it was base pay rates or residual amounts, reporting on streaming numbers or artificial intelligence for that matter. It was all met with a response that we can live with.”
But as the representatives’ negotiations dragged on and a strike became more likely, the position of the directors as the only union to reach an agreement became clearer.
The Directors Guild has always been seen as a stable union. Formed in 1936 and currently representing 19,000 directors and members of the directing staff, including assistant directors, unit production directors, stage managers, and others, the union is rarely struck. It went out once in 1987 and lasted three hours, the shortest strike in Hollywood history.
A common assumption in Hollywood is that members of the Directors Guild are more consistently hired than members of other Guilds. 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 been different. To some extent, directors may believe that they are the real driving force behind any film.”
However, Ms. Rooney, who serves as an understudy on the Directors Guild National Board, said she wasn’t surprised the actors had gone on strike.
“They have some major issues, and the writers have their own major issues that are not the directors’ issues,” she said. “They didn’t get the response they needed from AMPTP, so they had no choice but to strike. We are in spirit with them there.”
However, it’s still clear that the directors wanted their deal to lead to agreements with the actors and writers. Frustration over this not happening spilled over into a statement from Directors Guild president Leslie Linka Glatter after the actors said they were going on strike.
“The Directors Guild of America is deeply disappointed that AMPTP did not fairly and reasonably address the important issues raised by SAG-AFTRA in the negotiations,” it said. “During this critical and difficult time for our industry, the Directors Guild is staunchly supporting actors.”