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Directors urged to delay their own guild talks

December 07, 2007|Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writers

More than 300 writers who are also directors are urging Directors Guild of America leaders to hold off for now their own contract talks with the studios while Hollywood's striking writers are engaged in their delicate negotiations.

The writer-directors are seeking to block any gambit by the studios to undermine writers by first reaching a new contract with the DGA.

The group, most of whom belong to the Writers Guild of America, made their request in a letter that was hand delivered Thursday to DGA officials. It was signed by some of the biggest names in the business, including brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, Ed Zwick, Lawrence Kasdan and Sean Penn. Writer-directors represent a minority of the DGA's 13,400 members.

Although their contract doesn't expire until June 30, directors, as is their custom, have begun preparing for early talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that represents the studios.

Frustrated by the lack of progress in their negotiations with writers, the studios have been increasingly eager to turn their attention to the directors, with whom they have more cordial relations. In fact, in their 71-year history, directors have struck just once, in 1987 -- and it barely qualified.

The walkout, in response to a cut in residual payments, lasted five minutes on the West Coast and three hours and five minutes on the East Coast.

The DGA has been preparing for talks with the studios for months, and on Thursday held its fourth negotiating committee meeting. But the directors so far have held off discussions in deference to the writers.

The letter, addressed to DGA President Michael Apted, negotiating committee Chairman Gilbert Cates and national Executive Director Jay Roth stated: "What we are asking is that the DGA not engage in contract talks with [studios] at this crucial time. We believe such talks would undermine the efforts of our creative partners. We all have a stake in this."

One writer who signed the letter, Mike White ("Nacho Libre," "School of Rock"), said: "It seems important that we should all stand together."

A DGA spokesman said: "Our members have many different opinions on what we should be doing and we welcome all of them."

Meanwhile, writers and studios made little headway during the seventh day of talks that resumed last week. The sides spent the morning haggling over various issues, including a guild proposal for increasing residuals for original premium cable shows and streaming of movies online. In the afternoon, writers waited several hours as studio negotiators worked on additional proposals expected to be submitted today.

Some studio leaders have told guild members that they are prepared to break off talks today if the guild does not accept their proposals, a source close to the guild said Thursday night.

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