EXCLUSIVE: First among Hollywood unions this year, the WGA is going face-to-face with the studios starting Monday in what’s expected to be contentious negotiations for a new overall contract. However, the atypical pole position for the hard-hitting scribes this labor round is a consequence of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ rebuke of the DGA efforts to strike a pact a few months ago.
In November 2022, the Directors’ Guild sought to spark an early dialogue with the AMPTP by sending over “pre-conditions,” as one studio source called them, for early negotiations. Over the past decade and more, the DGA has gone ahead of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in contract talks with the Carol Lombardini-led group.
In that context, talks before official talks are nothing new in Hollywood labor circles.
However, unlike the past three contract sit-downs, the DGA had some more weighty than usual caveats it wanted dealt with before it would agree to settling on a date for the launch of formal talks, I hear. Referred to hazily as “preliminary conversations” by the guild when it revealed in early February that the WGA would be first this year to meet with the AMPTP, the initial communication laid out several topics on which the DGA wanted the studios to blueprint a deal in exchange for going first.
In that scenario, timing could prove to be everything. The more middle-of-the-road DGA kicking off talks with the studios before the other guilds and cementing a new Basic Agreement long before the June 30 expiration of the current film and TV contract would go a long way to setting the tone and terms of future negotiations with the WGA and others.
It was an offer the DGA team thought the AMPTP would welcome in timing and content. “There was some good cop-bad cop for sure,” a veteran guild member said. “Overall, the intention [of the proposal] was to deescalate things, bring down the volume, so everyone could bargain in good faith and the status quo.”
Unfortunately for that intent, the preliminary proposal from DGA leadership went down in flames fast at the AMPTP’s Sherman Oaks headquarters. “It was a complete no-brainer, non-starter,” one insider states of the paperwork emphasizing disputatious topics of ARPU, transparency and other reporting issues. “These were issues that should be at the center of negotiations, not as a f*cking prologue.”
On the other side of the table, the Lesli Linka Glatter-led DGA was surprised to receive nothing more than a perfunctory response from the AMPTP over the initial proposal, a state of affairs that continued over the holiday and into January. “You couldn’t characterized these as talks. It was an email, a reply, a pause, a call, another email and so on,” said a DGA member close to events. “We expected more of a reaction. It was as if they didn’t get it.”
In fact, among AMPTP brass and members, reactions varied. Some in the group dismissed the DGA salvo as nothing more than “misguided,“ while others saw it as “confusing.” Some took a more suspicious approach. “Seemed to me that this was a bid to see where negotiators were willing to cede, how much we were afraid of a strike,” a studio exec asserts. “The guild was trying to deke us out. We didn’t let them.”
Over at the DGA, the non-reaction reaction was indicative of where the studios would be coming from in almost all talks. “They don’t want to talk (streaming) subscriptions, they don’t want to open up about data and monetization, all that stuff,” a prominent guild member says. “It’s a barricade mentality.”
The attempt to craft a pre-deal deal came to a whimpering end not long after the New Year was rung in.
Neither the DGA nor the AMPTP would comment on the issues within the so-called preliminary conversations. In the case of the guild, the DGA pointed to its February 4 letter to members stating, “the studios are not yet prepared to address our key issues.”
Today, as formal negotiations begin at 11 am PT, the WGA will find out how prepared the studios are to address key issues. As for the DGA, its talks with the AMPTP are set to start on May 10 — more than a week after the WGA contract is due to expire.