EXCLUSIVE: It’s one of the little-known realities of reality TV: DGA and WGA members sometimes use fake onscreen names so they can work on nonunion reality shows without getting busted by their unions. Directors and writers have been known to use this ruse to keep from getting in trouble with their unions when working on such nonunion shows as ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and Bravo’s The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills. “It happens all the time, I’m afraid,” said a veteran DGA director of reality shows. “It’s been going on for years. Even though the DGA’s bylaws say they can’t work nonunion, people can’t afford not to work, so three things can happen: They can turn down the show; they can change their names and work under the radar in the hope they don’t get caught, or they can go financial core.” Members who opt for Fi-Core status essentially are dropping out of their unions.
Deadline has found several instances – including a popular reality show on Starz – in which DGA members are working on nonunion shows under names that are different than the ones on their union membership cards. Sometimes the name change is as simple as adding or subtracting a middle initial; sometimes they work under their real last names but use nicknames instead of their real first names to avoid detection.
“The DGA tracks all nonunion reality productions, investigates any situation in which a member is suspected of working on a non-guild-covered project and takes disciplinary action as appropriate,” said DGA spokeswoman Sahar Moridani. “In no way do we allow members to work nonunion.”
The Directors Guild’s website states that “DGA members may provide their professional services only to producers with current DGA signatory status.” Its bylaws allow the guild to expel or fine members who work nonunion. “I’ve worked on non-DGA shows that used DGA people with ‘bent’ names,” said a longtime writer-producer. “They’ll turn James into Jim. It happens all the time because people have to eat. It’s legion.”
The DGA, which has signed some 950 shows to its Reality Television Agreements, has an ongoing campaign to organize nonunion reality shows and offers discounted terms to entice low-budget producers to sign its contract. “The DGA has done more to organize reality shows than any other union,” said one well-known director.
But those efforts are undercut when its members work nonunion because doing so allows producers to use DGA talent without paying DGA rates. “If the guild catches people, they discipline them,” said another veteran director.
Another common ruse directors use in an attempt to skirt DGA rules is to sign on with a nonunion show as a producer and still do the work of a director without taking the director’s credit. “That’s a much more common way they try to game the DGA,” said a longtime reality show director. He said this is done on many reality shows, including CBS’ Survivor, which claims that there are no directors employed on the show except for the in-studio portion that’s shot at the very end of each season. “I know for a fact that DGA directors have been employed on Survivor as directors but are given producer credits,” he said. A director directs the cameras and the talent, and that’s what many of these “producers” on Survivor do, he said.
Deadline has found other instances of this practice as well, including one in which a DGA member was not only working as a producer on The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills but was doing so under a bent name to avoid detection.
Many directors caught posing as producers of reality shows have been brought before the DGA’s ethics committee in recent years. Typically, a source said, the director confesses, promises not to do it again and is fined the amount of money he or she earned on the show. For first-time offenders, the bulk of the fine usually is suspended, with the guild reserving the right to reinstate the full amount of the fine if the director is caught doing it again.
The WGA also prohibits its members from working on nonunion shows. The guild’s Working Rule #8 states, “No member shall accept employment with, nor option or sell literary material to, any person, firm or corporation who is not signatory to the applicable minimum basic agreements.”
Deadline, however, has found several shows, including The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, on which WGA members have also worked under bent names to avoid being disciplined by their guild. Deadline also has found instances of WGA members working under their real names on nonunion shows such as The Real Housewives Of Orange County.
The WGA declined comment.
“Reality television was born out of a nonunion, and even an antiunion, environment,” said a longtime reality show writer-director. “That’s the reality that the unions are up against.”