An Appreciation of the Writer-Director Hyphenates

The strike is over. The WGA contract has been ratified. SAG and AFTRA are now center stage and there is still a lot of work to do before the town gets back to normal. At this moment it's useful to look back at our own history. There are lessons to be learned about how the process can move forward even against what seem like overwhelming odds.

There are many who labored behind the scenes to support the writers' strike. At United Hollywood we worked with people who put their energy on the line but wanted to stay off the media's radar. Not content to just talk a good game, these are members and supporters who knew that if they wanted to make a difference, they had to work at it.

One group in particular came of age during the early part of the strike: the writer-directors. Nicknamed the WD-40, forty writer-directors met to search for ways they could help facilitate the negotiation.

From the beginning of the strike, most journalists accepted the AMPTP's lead and described the DGA and WGA as antagonistic to one another. Nicholas Counter was frequently quoted in the trades as preferring the DGA as a negotiating partner. The writer-directors objected to that characterization and felt that the AMPTP was doing what it always did in positioning the Guilds against one another to diminish each union's power.

There were many issues discussed during a first meeting in early December, chief among them the fact that the WGA and DGA share 1,400 members. That struck everyone as a surprisingly large number. The group realized that they were uniquely qualified to speak to both Guilds, since they are the embodiment of the two unions' shared interests.

The objective of the group was to promote closer ties between the WGA and DGA. That effort took many forms. First and foremost, a letter was drafted during the meeting that announced the solidarity of the signatories in their support of the WGA's demands. It was decided that everyone in the room would call 10 writer-directors and ask them to add their names to the letter. Within 24 hours, the letter had been signed by over 375 members. The letter was hand-delivered to the DGA leadership by four of the group. The delegation then met with Patric Verrone, David Young, and John Bowman. At the same time, hundreds of phone calls were made to fellow DGA members, explaining the strike issues, arguing the importance of the internet for the future of all the Hollywood unions.

The hyphenates also walked the picket lines, their signs proclaiming themselves as "Writers-and-Directors". Hyphenates picketed in New York and Los Angeles, participating in video interviews that were posted on Voices4Action! In those interviews they spoke eloquently about the creative values shared by writers and directors. They explained that the strike issues were important to both groups. And, most importantly, movies and television shows cannot exist without the collaboration of both.

Contrary to the press' characterization of Guild antagonism, just before the holiday break, Michael Apted, the President of the DGA, issued a letter to the DGA membership, acknowledging with respect that the WGA was a "sister guild," not an adversary.

The significance of hyphenates is becoming increasing clear as Hollywood looks to exploit the opportunities of New Media. Already we can see that the internet is a place where hyphenates are the order of the day. Writer-Directors. Actor-Directors. Actor-Writers. Writer-Director-Actors. Looking to the future, the writer-directors who came together at that first meeting will become an important voice in the next contract negotiation. In three years their numbers will be even larger.

SAG, AFTRA, and the AMPTP will sit down soon and negotiate their new contract. Ultimately, a deal will be worked out, but as with the writers, the actors have to resolve their differences and find common ground with one another so they can face the companies with one voice. We can only hope that there are players like the writer-directors who are working quietly, behind-the-scenes to forge a consensus and move the negotiation to a speedy resolution.

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