June 21, 2013
This is a particularly bittersweet letter for me to write, because on June 22, at the Biennial Convention, I will be stepping down after four years as your President.
When I was first elected President in 2009, our nation was in dire economic straits from the recession. Although no one could be sure of the future, I was secure in the knowledge that our Guild had weathered many storms in its history and that we would continue to find innovative ways to protect and secure our creative and economic rights. Well, we’re still here and thriving.
I am proud of the many achievements of the DGA these past four years, including: our wonderful 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2011; negotiating two Commercial contracts with the very first Creative Rights provisions for commercial directors, the long and continuing fight to protect copyright and authors’ rights against Internet Theft; the launch of the new DGA website with new functionalities like paying dues online, the ability to report earnings and review residuals and watch streaming video; and probably my most popular decision, to allow members to receive Awards DVD screeners, and the first realignment of DGA Awards and Awards procedures in 13 years. But I believe our most important achievement during my tenure was the remarkably successful negotiation in 2010 of our current Basic Agreement and Freelance Live & Tape Television Agreement. Going in, we had one major priority: securing the protection of our Health Plan which was frankly, vulnerable, and through those negotiations, we achieved the largest increase in Employer contribution rates to our Health Plan since it was founded in 1960. I am proud to say that these significant and hard-fought gains have put us in very good stead as we plan for our upcoming negotiations.
As I look back at these achievements, I am profoundly aware of what a great journey my Guild participation has engendered – one I’d like to share with you. I joined the Guild in the 1970s when I was a documentary filmmaker at KCET, the local public television station. In 1978, I won an Academy Award for a dramatic short subject which got me my first feature, The Idolmaker. For my next few films, the DGA was just an organization I belonged to … providing me with a crack professional AD staff and a production manager to break my balls. But I began to take notice of the invaluable privileges this Guild provided me with. First and foremost: my 10-week Director’s Cut – absolutely incredible!
At the invitation of Robert Wise I joined the DGA’s Special Projects Committee and then the Creative Rights Committee, and in 1986 I became an alternate on the Western Directors Council. Up to that time I really didn’t know how this organization functioned – basically, I just paid my dues and collected my residual checks – but on the Council, I got a pleasant surprise. I’d thought that bringing a group of directors together to conduct the Guild’s business would be anarchy – men and women who stalwartly push through their singular vision on the set, would never give way to another point of view, right? Totally Wrong!
Whether directors or members of a director’s team, we are all pragmatists – result-oriented. We know how to deliver on deadline to meet release and air dates. What I discovered on that Council was that the directors listened to everyone’s POV – differing points of view – and then, amazingly, they actually changed their minds and invariably joined with the majority to do the right thing.
As my Guild service progressed – being elected as a permanent member of the Western Council, then as a Board Member, then as 5th Vice President – I found that I genuinely liked my fellow directors. And I was also taken by the fact that this organization values its heritage … we respect our past and listen to those who’ve served this organization well. I learned about our Past Presidents: Vidor, Capra, Stevens … and the proud tradition they engendered.
All of this experience, plus the knowledge that I would be partners with Jay Roth, our esteemed National Executive Director, motivated me to run for President of this great Guild, and I was thrilled to be elected four years ago. People often ask: “How are you able to be President of the Guild and still work?” I always tell them that the key is understanding how the Guild functions. We have a long-standing history of being led by active working leadership. The Board and the President establish policy and make policy decisions. Whether I am on-set or in post-production, I make myself available to make those calls, no matter where I am in the world – and if I am not, I have a fine group of officers to back me up, including Steven Soderbergh and Michael Apted. Or Paris Barclay, Thomas Schlamme, Betty Thomas, Bill Brady, Gary Donatelli or Vince Misiano, six of the most talented vice-presidents I have had the pleasure to work with. And all of us have the support of our excellent executive staff. Now that I’m stepping down, I have no doubt that my successor will take this Guild to new heights, using the solid foundation built by our founders. But what I’m really hoping, is that my words here in the DGA Monthly will inspire some of you out there to step forward and help lead this great Guild. I’m a “Lifer”… I’ll always be around to do whatever this Guild asks of me, but we need new blood to keep the DGA’s flame burning brightly for the next 77 years. Believe me, it’s been a total pleasure to serve all of you and be a part of our incredible history.