Directors are in a quandary over when to begin their contract talks with the major studios.
But that option is fraught with complications now that writers are in their second week of a strike against the studios that has generated deep animosity between the sides.
In such an emotionally charged climate, directors have so far been reluctant to pull the trigger on their negotiations because the move probably would be perceived by writers as undercutting their fight.
Writers fear that directors might accept pay terms, especially in the area of Internet residuals, that are less favorable than those they are demanding in their own deal, setting an undesirable precedent.
The Directors Guild of America, which represents 13,400 members, is said to be concerned that starting talks now might short-circuit efforts to end the strike quickly and get writers and studios back to negotiating.
"The directors do have a bit of a dilemma," said entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel, former associate counsel for the Writers Guild of America, West. "They want to make a deal, and it's to their advantage to be the leaders. By the same token, directors don't want to appear opportunistic and look as though they're swooping in on the writers guild during their hour of distress and cutting the legs out from underneath the strike."
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Directors hope writers resolve their dispute first, letting them set the template for contracts that they and actors could subsequently adopt.
In a recent letter to its members, the DGA said that in deference to the writers, no talks had yet been scheduled with studios.
But the directors' negotiating committee has met three times this fall, most recently Saturday.
On Wednesday, negotiating committee Chairman Gil Cates said in a statement: "We are carefully evaluating the current very fluid situation at this time, and no dates for our negotiations have yet been scheduled."
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to comment.
For their part, studio executives appear ready to begin bargaining with directors, but the parties haven't discussed a timetable and are waiting for directors to initiate the process.
Bargaining with directors during a strike, however, could be just as tricky for the studios. The move would undoubtedly inflame the writers, possibly making the prospect of a resolution even more elusive.
On the other hand, an early deal with directors could give studios more leverage in their negotiations with writers.
"We're now focusing on what kind of deal we can get with the directors," one studio executive said. "They want to make a deal."
Directors have typically been able to negotiate deals without the kind of rancor that leads to work stoppages.
In fact, in their 71-year history, directors have struck just once, in 1987 -- and it barely qualified. Responding to a cut in residual payments, the walkout lasted five minutes on the West Coast and three hours and five minutes on the East Coast. The lack of labor unrest is hardly surprising, given that directors are inherently closer to management than writers by virtue of their jobs.