How Much Can a Director Change a Script During the Writers Strike? The Guilds Are At Odds

As the writers strike rages on and writer-directors are facing tough choices about which work they will or will not do, the Directors Guild of America has issued some new guidance on members’ rights and responsibilities when it comes to minor or incidental script changes.

The message, sent to members on Wednesday, drills down on a series of specific responsibilities the WGA considers a form of writing and has banned during the strike, called “(a) through (h)” duties. These services, which include cutting for time and small changes to dialogue made during or before production, are allowed to be performed by non-writers per the WGA’s contract, even though the union has said it considers them writing work. During the strike, the WGA has taken the position that “hyphenates” (writers who also work in other capacities, such as directors, actors and producers) cannot perform (a) through (h) services for a struck company.

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The rub lies in how (a) through (h) services overlap with directing duties, as the directors’ union is not on strike and its contract is still in effect. In its Wednesday message, the DGA reminds members of its “no-strike” clause which states that over the course of the three-year agreement the union “will not call or engage in or assist any strike, slow-down or stoppage of work” and will “use its best efforts in good faith to require its members to perform their services for the Employer, even though other persons or groups of persons may be on strike.” (The DGA is currently negotiating its next three-year agreement, as its current deal expires June 30.)

The union stated, as it has before, that while this clause is “clear,” individuals “cannot be forced to work,” though members risk breach of contract claims if they have a personal services agreement or being replaced on the job if they decide not to cross a picket line.

When it comes to (a) through (h) services for dual WGA and DGA members, directors who are employed only as a director on a project and not as a writer “are required by our collective bargaining agreements and your personal services agreement, if you have one, to continue performing those services,” the DGA states. It adds, “This may require you to perform ‘(a) through (h) services.'” The DGA takes the position that the WGA strike rules do not specifically prohibit members directing scripts that are not their own from performing the (a) through (h) tasks, but still adds, “your employer is required to indemnify you from any monetary loss arising from any WGA disciplinary action if it requests in writing that you perform those services.” If the employer does not request those services in writing, the DGA states, a director has the right to refuse the work and can be temporarily replaced but not disciplined.

The union’s message for directors who are helming projects based on their own scripts is slightly different. The DGA argues that (a) through (h) services are “minor or incidental script changes customarily performed by directors as part of their directing services.” Though the WGA has threatened to discipline members for performing these duties, hyphenate directors “are required by the ‘no strike clause’ in the DGA Basic Agreement to continue providing directing services during the WGA strike, and their responsibilities traditionally include ‘(a) through (h)’ services,” the union states.

Once again, writer-directors in this position can refuse to do those duties if the employer does not request directing services in writing, risking only temporary replacement. If an employer does request these services in writing, “you must continue to perform your DGA-covered services and your employer must indemnify you from any monetary loss, including costs of defense, arising from any WGA disciplinary action against you. You should also consult your attorney,” the DGA states.

This has set up some confusion for writer-directors who are caught between conflicting union messages, and certain dual members of the WGA and DGA have publicly stated they have individually decided to not perform their (a) through (h) duties. Sorry to Bother You writer-director Boots Riley took to Twitter on Thursday to say “I, and a bunch of other dual DGA/WGA members, have decided we won’t be taking that advice” provided in the DGA message. He added, “It’s understood that this is a move of solidarity which will make the strike go faster.” Showrunner and director Christopher Cantwell (Halt and Catch Fire) stated that he’s aligned with this approach while fellow showrunner-director Will Graham (Daisy Jones & The Six) tweeted “strongly agree” in reply to Riley’s post.

The consequences for breaking the WGA strike rules vary, but can be serious: “Discipline may include, but is not limited to, any or all of the following: expulsion or suspension from Guild membership, imposition of monetary fines, or censure,” the WGA strike rules state.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the DGA said, “The DGA supports the writers in their efforts to achieve a fair deal with the AMPTP.  At the same time, the DGA has a duty to clarify information about our members’ rights and responsibilities in their contracts, including potential actions that could put them in breach of contract.” The union continued, “We have advised our members accordingly of their rights and responsibilities so they can make informed decisions regarding their employment. Although we differ from the WGA in our position on the specific legal and contractual issues in this one area, we remain in support of the writers’ ultimate objective: a fair deal with the AMPTP.”

The DGA has repeatedly supported the WGA’s 2023 negotiations efforts, with top negotiators recently attending the union’s meeting at the Shrine. “The DGA continues to support the WGA’s efforts to obtain a fair and reasonable contract for their members and urges the AMPTP to work with the WGA toward that end,” the guild stated in its latest message.

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