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Directors Guild, Studios Reach Contract Deal

The Hollywood directors' union reached a contract deal with major film and television studios on Thursday -- a move likely to turn up pressure to settle a 10-week-old strike by screenwriters.

The tentative three-year labor pact between the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was announced five days after the two sides opened formal talks.

The Directors Guild's existing contract covering 13,000 members, including directors, assistant directors and unit production managers, expires on June 30.

The Directors Guild has a history of reaching swift labor pacts with the studios, but the latest deal has drawn unusually intense scrutiny because of its implications for ending a strike by the Writers Guild of America.

Some 10,500 Writers Guild members walked off the job on Nov. 5, shattering 20 years of Hollywood labor peace, in a dispute that has centered on how writers are paid for work distributed over the Internet.

The Directors Guild deal contains a number of points addressing how directors should be compensated for work in new media, including provisions that essentially double the rate currently paid for Internet downloads, the union said.

It also establishes new "residual" fees to directors for the reuse of material in the form of advertising-supported online streaming and video clips, the union said.

"Two words describe this agreement -- groundbreaking and substantial," said Gil Cates, chairman of the Directors Guild's negotiating committee. "The gains in this contract for directors and their teams are extraordinary -- and there are no rollbacks of any kind."

With the announcement of the directors' deal, attention shifted to the possibility of restarting talks between the studios and striking writers that collapsed in acrimony on Dec. 7.

Since then, much of U.S. television production has ground to a halt, major film projects have been derailed and year-end Hollywood award ceremonies have been scaled back or canceled. Even the fate of the Oscars show next month, which Cates is producing, is in doubt.

Some industry watchers have said an early contract deal with the Directors Guild could hasten renewed talks between the writers and studios, perhaps even providing a template for a Writers Guild settlement.

Writers Guild leaders, while saying they welcomed the Directors Guild talks, have insisted they will resist any industry effort to force a deal on writers that they find unsatisfactory.