Movie and television producers dropped their demand that Directors Guild of America members give up residual payments on videocassette sales, eliminating one major obstacle from negotiations toward a new DGA contract.
But DGA president Gil Cates said the shift didn't significantly lessen the likelihood of a directors strike as early as next week because producers still want wide-ranging concessions.
"They were asking us for all our arms and legs," Cates said in an interview. "Now they just want our legs."
Carol Akiyama, senior vice president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the industry's negotiating group, countered: "This was indeed a significant move on our part. We're still hopeful. Creative minds and intelligent people can work out solutions to almost any problem."
The companies' shift marks the first apparent progress in talks that have been stalled for the last month. The directors' current contract expires Tuesday night, and guild members are scheduled to begin strike preparations during meetings at the DGA's Sunset Boulevard headquarters today. The guild has never struck in its 51-year history. In revised demands presented to guild negotiators at alliance headquarters in Sherman Oaks late Thursday, movie and TV companies proposed to let directors keep the payments they currently receive when films are put on videocassettes. Producers also softened a demand that had called for the elimination of many residual payments on network television shows when they are sold into syndication.
The residual issue is sensitive because any concession by the directors would set a precedent for possible give-backs by other Hollywood unions, many of which rely on residuals for a substantial part of their basic pay or pension plans.
The producers continued to insist that directors forgo residuals on movies released to TV on a pay-per-view basis. Producers also seek reductions in syndicated television and cable TV residuals, and concessions related to the guild's pension plan, according to Cates and sources familiar with the negotiations.
"A lot of this is just show business," Cates said of the producers' seemingly more conciliatory posture. The guild president said Friday that payments related to videocassette sales were only a single, if important, component in a complex web of residual payments that totaled about $50 million to DGA members in 1986.
A guild spokesman said he didn't know the precise percentage of the $50 million that came from cassette sales. But he said cassette residuals on movies produced after July, 1984, have yielded only about $1.2 million to DGA members. Combined 1986 cassette and pay-TV residuals were $9.9 million.
Cates called pay-per-view residuals "vital" to guild members because he expects that nascent technology--which allows TV programmers to charge viewers only for films they watch--to become a major source of revenue to studios in the next three years.
More than 20 Hollywood unions--including the Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild of America, and unions affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees--earlier this week pledged to support the directors in the event of a strike.
The pledge would block union members from filling the jobs of striking DGA members. But leaders of the various unions can't legally prevent members from crossing directors guild picket lines, Cates said.
Negotiations between the guild and the alliance are scheduled to continue until the current contract expires Tuesday. On Wednesday, the guild's West Coast members are set to vote on the producers' proposals. East Coast members will vote at a Thursday meeting, and a walkout could begin immediately if a majority of those voting reject the proposals.
Each vote will consider separate proposals covering free-lance directors, who make most movies and TV shows for the studios and independent companies, and network staff directors, who work principally on soap operas and news and sports programs.
In theory, guild members could approve the network proposals, clearing the way for fewer than 1,000 of the guild's 8,500 members to continue working.
The network TV situation is clouded by the prospects of a separate walkout at NBC by technicians and other off-camera personnel (see accompanying story).
Network staff talks have revolved around a demand by network managers that they be permitted to lay off some directors without regard to strict seniority requirements in the present contract.