BY AMY DAWES
With the arrival of broadcast television in the late '40s, the TV industry begat its own commercials, which gave rise to the significant new craft involved in directing them. Much of this activity was centered in New York, where commercial directors joined with documentary filmmakers to form a guild of their own in 1957.
Called the Screen Directors International Guild, it encompassed, at its peak, more than 800 members and had branches in the Midwest and Canada. Almost from the outset, attempts were made at a merger with the Directors Guild, but many hurdles had to be overcome and talks went nowhere.
Chief among the issues was that SDIG members feared they would become in effect "the poor relations" to the West Coast filmmakers, losing influence and autonomy in the merger.
"We had a perception of our importance locally, which was just as significant as the DGA out on the West Coast," said George L. George, longtime SDIG executive secretary. "We were the bosses here."
Some directors were also concerned that if jurisdictional barriers were removed, Hollywood directors would surge into Manhattan and scoop up the jobs by which they earned their daily bread. The bad blood mounted. The New Yorkers felt the west coasters were "arrogant" in their approach to those who plied the Madison Avenue trade.
But after the New York-based Radio & Television Directors Guild merged with the Screen Directors Guild in 1960, relations improved considerably. SDIG directors now felt they had some of their own in the newly formed DGA—men who understood and respected the New York scene.
Finally, in 1964, the SDIG's newly elected president, Leslie Urbach, sent a letter to the DGA requesting that it reactivate the merger committee. To help smooth things over, H.C. Potter, a former Broadway stage director who had turned to filmmaking, became the DGA's National Board liaison with the negotiating members of the SDIG. "He was open-minded and honest, really a pleasure to deal with, and we dealt that way with him," said George.
The merger was finalized in October 1965 and the good news was that the feared disenfranchisement of the easterners did not occur. SDIG members elected to the National Board were "accorded all the attention and respect their position warrants," George would report a year after the merger. He also noted that "pay scales and working conditions have been improved significantly." And the anticipated flood of directors heading East to seek work in commercials did not materialize either. At the eastern region membership meeting held in New York the summer after the agreement, not a single voice was raised to question any aspect of it. "This silence," George surmised, "perhaps more than any positive statement, stands as eloquent testimony to the merger's full success."