Directors Strike 2023: will the DGA go on strike – and what might happen across film and TV next if they do?

As the Writers Strike continues and the Screen Actors Guild vote to authorise a strike, the Directors Guild prepare for its own contract negotiations with the AMPTP

With the Writers Strike approaching the end of its first month, and the Screen Actors Guild currently balloting its members to measure support for industrial action, all eyes are on the Directors Guild. 

The Directors Guild of America (a labour union representing directors, assistant directors, and other directorial staff) is currently negotiating a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (a trade association that represents film studios, broadcast television networks, and streaming services). These negotiations – which began on Wednesday 10 May, a little over a week after the WGA strike began – will determine how directors are paid for their work going forward.

The DGA hasn’t so far called on its members to vote to authorise a strike. Such a vote wouldn’t automatically guarantee industrial action, but it would empower DGA leadership to call one should negotiations necessitate it (as was the case with the WGA, which held a similar vote in April, and SAG-AFTRA, which is currently holding their own vote). At the moment, it’s currently unclear whether or not the Guild will hold such a vote. 

What are the issues at stake?

SAG-AFTRA members attend a picket in support of striking WGA members in May 2023 (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)SAG-AFTRA members attend a picket in support of striking WGA members in May 2023 (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
SAG-AFTRA members attend a picket in support of striking WGA members in May 2023 (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Ahead of contract negotiations, DGA leadership put particular emphasis on global streaming residuals (the royalty payments a director receives when a film or television episode they worked on is streamed online around the world). Writing in Variety, DGA president and former Mad Men director Lesli Linka Glatter argued that as “streaming platforms have gained millions of subscribers around the world, [studios] haven’t allowed directors and our teams to share fairly in the international growth of these platforms or the global distribution of our work.”

A similar sentiment was expressed in a statement to guild members, in which DGA leadership said that “the vast majority of SVOD subscriber growth is based abroad and many of the streaming services’ business models are now focused on global growth. As we prepare to bargain for a strong and modern contract, we’re committed to negotiate a residual formula that provides our fair share of the global growth of this industry and the distribution of our work around the world.”

Other priorities for the DGA, listed on their website as part of a statement to members when negotiations began, include wage increases to address inflation, pension security, and protections for assistant and associate directors. Efforts to increase diversity, improve on-set safety and working conditions, and further enshrining directors’ creative vision have also emerged as key issues. 

Because the WGA is currently on strike, and SAG-AFTRA is currently undertaking its own negotiations with the AMPTP, it’s likely that any deal between the DGA and the AMPTP would have to include a ‘favoured nations’ clause (i.e. the DGA will be able to gain the benefit of any subsequent better terms achieved by the other guilds too). 

Will Max make a DGA strike more likely?

Something that might prove unexpectedly relevant is the issue of proper credits. US streaming service HBO Max recently underwent an update/rebrand, and as part of this released a new app simply called Max. It was quickly criticised for lumping writers, directors, and producers under the shared credit “creators”, rather than acknowledging specific credits (or the order they should be in - for example, on the page for Raging Bull, author of the original book Peter Savage is listed ahead of director Martin Scorsese). 

DGA President Lesli Linker Glatter described this change as “a grave insult to our members and our union”, and went on to say that “This devaluation of the individual contributions of artists is a disturbing trend and the DGA will not stand for it.  We intend on taking the strongest possible actions, in solidarity with the WGA, to ensure every artist receives the individual credit they deserve.”

In and of itself, this wouldn’t necessarily to lead to a strike - though it is worth noting that credit and attribution is something closely negotiated by the unions, rather than something done arbitrarily - but it is clearly going to prompt greater frustration from the DGA. Certainly, it’s the most publicly and directly critical of the studios that DGA leadership have been so far, with many speculating that this will understandably prompt a tougher stance in negotiations.

Has the Directors Guild ever gone on strike before?

While both the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA have a history of industrial action, the DGA has only ever gone on strike once before – for about three hours in the morning of Monday 13 July 1987. The shortest strike in Hollywood history, it was motivated again by the issue of residual payments (in that case those associated the sale of VHS tapes and the rise of pay-per-view television rather than streaming). 

Part of why that strike ended was because the different groups making up the AMPTP had, in that instance, little reason to agree with each other and negotiate together – a traditional television channel, under normal circumstances a competitor with pay-per-view cable channels, had no reason to be invested in pay-per-view residuals. A proposed concession by the DGA on pay-per-view residuals was tied to a request for an increase in royalties accompanying the sale of VHS tapes, which proved to be a greater sticking point for the assembled members of the AMPTP, and it wasn’t long before the producers had agreed to the initial DGA demands.

What would happen if the DGA strike?

Total production shutdown, especially if a strike was in conjunction with a WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike too. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say exactly what would happen – a DGA strike is near unprecedented just on its own, let alone alongside action undertaken by the other guilds too – but it’s likely that it’d bring the AMPTP back to the negotiating table with all three unions very quickly.  

Since negotiations began, the DGA have issued relatively few public statements. They have, however, indicated a desire to reach a new contract agreement before SAG-AFTRA begin negotiating with the AMPTP in early June – suggesting that we’ll know what’s going to happen relatively soon, one way or another.  

What are the key dates going forward?

Wednesday 10 May: the DGA and the AMPTP begin formal contract negotiations

Monday 5 June: the SAG-AFTRA strike authorisation vote ends 

Wednesday 7 June: SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP begin formal contract negotiations

Friday 30 June: the DGA’s current contract with the AMPTP ends

Friday 30 June: SAG-AFTRA’s current contract with the AMPTP ends