Writers watchful as directors begin contract talks with studios

MYT 7:50:16 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The union representing Hollywood directors began its contract talks Saturday, with striking TV and film writers likely calculating how a deal might affect them. 

A quick resolution with directors could undercut the bargaining power of writers by serving as an industry template for the central issue of new media compensation, observers said. 

The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild issued a joint statement saying they hoped directors reach a fair deal that "incorporates principles that will benefit all creative artists.'' 

"The DGA has to do what is best for its membership, but it is important to remember that they do not represent actors and writers,'' the statement said. 

An e-mail from DGA president Michael Apted to guild members added to speculation that a speedy resolution with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers could be in the works. 

"We would not enter negotiations with the AMPTP unless we were within shouting distance of an agreement on our two most important issues: jurisdiction for our members to work in new media and appropriate compensation for the reuse of our work on the Internet and other new media platforms,'' Apted wrote. 

Both sides in the two-month writers strike have said the central issue is compensation for programs, movies and other content streamed or downloaded over the Internet. 

That issue also could dominate studio negotiations with directors and the Screen Actors Guild. The contracts of both those unions expire in June. 

The directors guild has spent nearly $2 million (euro1.35 million) to research new media issues and the potential revenue from digital distribution through the next decade. Studios have said it's premature to put a value on emerging new media. 

The directors union had said late last year that it would delay the start of talks to give writers a chance to come to an agreement with studios. 

But directors, known for conducting early and efficient talks, clearly lost patience after negotiations between the writers and studios broke off Dec. 7 and the strike dragged on. 

Directors have only gone on strike once.  

That walkout in 1987 lasted just five minutes on the West Coast, and because of the time difference, three hours and five minutes in the East. 

The directors union and the producers group announced the start of this year's talks Friday in a brief joint statement. No further details were released. Both sides said they would have no further comment. 

The directors' chief negotiator, Gil Cates, said a media blackout would be in place during negotiations. 

The start of talks between directors and studios was lauded by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the guild that represents 50,000-plus TV and movie stagecraft workers who have been affected by the writers strike. 

"I hope that the DGA and the AMPTP can reach an agreement that puts us all on the road to getting back to work,'' stage employees guild president Thomas C. Short said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, independent film company The Weinstein Co. and the guild reached a deal Friday that would allow writers to return to work on the production company's movie projects. 

In a joint statement with the guild, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, co-chairmen of The Weinstein Company, said "We believe this strike must be resolved now, it's that simple.'' 

Details of the deal were not disclosed, though it was believed to be similar to the one signed by Worldwide Pants to allow David Letterman's show to return with union writers.-AP

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