It looks increasingly like the Hollywood guilds are giving up before they even go into this 2010/2011 round of negotiations with the movie studios and TV networks. This message by 4-time Basic Agreement/FLTTA Negotiations Chair Gil Cates to 14,000 Directors Guild members talks about focusing on health and pension plans and doesn’t even mention demanding more New Media money from the AMPTP. This, despite the fact that Big Media is alive and well and even flourishing not just this quarter but in many cases for next quarter or even the entire year. (Every Studio & Network Boosted Earnings) For instance, Warner Bros’ home video revenue was down 8%, but revenue from digital distribution grew by a sizable 50% and now represents nearly 20% of the studio’s total home video pie. Yet the trickle down effect has been slow or nonexistent for Hollywood when it comes to this and every Big Media revenue stream.

What’s also interesting about Cates’ statement is that this notorious hater of the Writers Guild cozies up to the new SAG-AFTRA cooperation. So it’s clear what’s going to happen during this next round of negotiations: SAG-AFTRA make a quick and easy contract full of compromises and few gains. The DGA soon follows. Which leaves the WGA on its own — facing bogus Hollywood trade reports about impending strike action to create pressure from all the other guilds to hurry up and make a deal “so we all can go back to work”. In other words, capitulation.

Dear Members:

I’m honored to be serving as your Basic Agreement/FLTTA Negotiations Chair for the fourth time, and to be giving you the first update on the 2010/2011 negotiations cycle.

As I write this letter, we are little more than a month away from the kickoff of negotiations season for contracts expiring in 2011. On September 27th in Los Angeles, SAG and AFTRA will begin jointly negotiating their feature film contracts with the AMPTP for a period of seven weeks. The DGA is currently planning to commence our own Basic Agreement negotiations in mid-November, following the SAG/AFTRA talks. Since November will be here before we know it, I thought this would be a good opportunity for you to hear more about how the Guild prepares to enter negotiations.

As part of the negotiations process, after my nomination by President Taylor Hackford, I accepted the position of Negotiations Chair at the National Board Meeting in January of this year. Shortly thereafter, I charged our Committees, Councils and staff with the task of identifying our priorities and developing initial negotiations proposals. The Committees and Councils, working with staff, began soliciting input and ideas internally and from their members to help develop our negotiating priorities. They then passed their proposals along to the Negotiations Committee to be discussed and further developed, which has already begun and which I’ll tell you more about shortly.

DGA Negotiations Committee members attend their first meeting on August 14

Part of our process is to develop the best and most thorough research and forecasts on the state of all aspects of the entertainment business available anywhere in the industry. You’ll recall that our comprehensive and well-respected research and forecasts were of great benefit to us in our last round of negotiations. In the years since then, our staff and consultants have continued developing and refining the research, and adding in the information we’ve gathered since. We’ve spent millions of dollars and a great deal of time and effort making sure that we know at least as much as anybody sitting across from us at that negotiations table. We’re confident that our forecasts will serve to once again arm the Negotiations Committee with the best and most up-to-date information available.
The full Negotiations Committee, made up of members from all categories across the country, held its first meeting on Saturday, August 14. At the meeting, we reviewed the initial proposals that had been prepared and began debating and prioritizing the issues. Part of this meeting also included reviewing the latest DGA research on trends in the entertainment industry, the economics of various business models, and the cumulative impact on the DGA’s healthcare and pension plans of the recent recession, stock market fluctuations, rising costs, and healthcare reform. While the Guild’s negotiations priorities are still being refined, I think it’s safe to say that ensuring the security of our health and pension plans will definitely be a top priority in our negotiations with the AMPTP.

In the meantime, we’ll continue our research, study the issues, and prepare our negotiations priorities. The Negotiations Committee will meet a number of times between now and November to finalize our proposals. I’d like to thank all the members of the Negotiations Committee in advance for their time, dedication and hard work. Going into a negotiation, nobody knows how much time it’s going to take. This kind of commitment often involves significant sacrifice and we’re all very grateful to our Committee members for being willing to make it.

I’d also like to send our best wishes to our brothers and sisters at SAG and AFTRA as they prepare to begin their contract talks with the AMPTP. As we have said before, we wholeheartedly support the decision by SAG and AFTRA to move forward with joint negotiations and we wish them every success. We hope that together, SAG, AFTRA and the studios can reach a fair agreement for actors that will keep our industry working.

It’s impossible to know exactly how this negotiations cycle will play out. But no matter what challenges lie ahead, you can be certain that your Guild is laying the groundwork, studying the issues, and doing everything possible to protect and promote your economic and creative interests. We will be prepared for any outcome. Negotiating a strong and healthy contract is our number one priority.

I’d also like to wish DGA Second Vice President Bill Brady a fruitful and successful experience as he heads the Network Staff negotiations that are expected to take place in September in New York.

I look forward to staying in touch with you over the next several months as we move forward and will use direct mail, e-mail, the DGA Monthly, and the DGA website to keep you current on what’s going on.

Gil Cates