In a sign of Hollywood’s escalating internal tensions, a prominent Directors Guild of America member openly advocated against the election of 10 writer-directors to the guild’s board earlier this month on the grounds that they were “primarily writers” and hailed from “fringe groups.”
In a leaked email that has been shared widely in the creative community, Linda Montanti, chair of the guild’s Western AD/UPM Council, urged a bloc of DGA voters to not support the board candidacies of a number of multihyphenates who are members of both the DGA and WGA — some of whom have been outspoken about strike issues. The list includes writer-producer Boots Riley, Oscar-winning “CODA” writer-director Sian Heder, actor-filmmaker Justine Bateman, actor-writer Paul Scheer and “Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin. The unorthodox move prompted DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter to contact the members affected to assure them that Montanti’s move was not condoned by top DGA leaders.
Two days ahead of the DGA’s Aug. 5 biennial National Convention held at the DGA Theater, Montanti sent an email message to an unknown number of fellow union members with the subject line: “Director members from fringe groups that we have been asked not to support.” At the time it had not been made public that the names referenced in Montanti’s email were seeking election to the board. None of those mentioned in Montanti’s email were ultimately voted in.
The email has outraged many industry insiders and has been shared freely with members of the Writers Guild of America via private channels. The WGA is four months into a strike against Hollywood’s major studios and streamers, while SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July 14. The DGA, on the other hand, reached a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that was ratified by members in June. That dynamic alone has inflamed historic tensions between the WGA and DGA. Montanti sent the message from her personal email but used a signature that included her title as chair of the council that oversees West Coast issues for assistant directors and unit production managers.
DGA critics who are familiar with the flap over Montanti’s message say it points to rigidity within the guild and the aversion by its established players to the more “activist” stances taken by the WGA and, of late, SAG-AFTRA, sources said. The relatively public nature of the email and its pointed message about fellow DGA members is rare example of politicking inside the union that usually keeps its family business private.
Montanti’s note specifically flagged “Sorry to Bother You” filmmaker Riley as “anti-DGA.” It also included “Queen Sugar” showrunner Shaz Bennett, “A Teacher” director Hannah Fidell, “Cat Person” director Susanna Fogel, “Vida” showrunner Tanya Saracho and “Little America” director Tara Miele. According to multiple insiders, the email puts in writing longstanding views held by more establishment sects of the DGA – that some of its writer members are prone to pot-stirring, one person familiar with the union said. Writer-directors are represented at the top of the DGA by hyphenates including Ron Howard (who is the guild’s national second vice president) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (third vice president).
“Here is a list of director members who are primarily writers who are trying to get on the board, and who we have been asked not to support,” wrote Montanti in the email. The group is comprised of assistant directors and unit production managers in film and television in the Western United States. Variety confirmed the authenticity of the email with multiple people who received or were forwarded the communication. Montanti wrote the message from a personal email account on August 4, and did not specify who asked her to request that votes be withheld from the listed candidates.
She concluded the email by writing, “I wanted you all to have the list in case it comes up. We still have our slate, and hope that these 10 directors don’t get in the way.”
Through representatives, eight of the people on the list declined to comment on this story. Reps for Saracho and Bennett did not return requests for comment. Montanti did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A DGA spokesman called the message and its comments about members “unacceptable,” and he emphasized that it was not part of a coordinated effort by leaders to sway the Aug. 5 vote.
“The DGA in no way condones the creation or circulation of the ‘do not elect’ list that was circulated to a small group of delegates at our recent Convention. The DGA was not made aware of the list until after the convention,” a DGA spokesman told Variety. “Singling out individual writer-director members, some of whom are in DGA leadership, is simply unacceptable. Such campaigning does not meet the standards the DGA seeks to uphold. The DGA would never refer to any of its members individually or collectively as ‘fringe.’”
Last Thursday, with noise over Montanti’s note getting louder, DGA president Glatter personally called the names on the list, two insiders said. The director-producer, known for her work on “Homeland” and many other TV series, followed up with an email to over 200 writer-director DGA members who communicate on a WhatsApp thread.
“I am extremely upset and saddened by this, and in no way condone this behavior. The letter exposes tensions that exists between the WGA and DGA, leaving some of our greatest storytellers, who live in both worlds, feeling stranded between two guilds they love,” Glatter wrote. She stressed that while Montanti used her DGA title in the email signature, the email was “not an official DGA communication.”
Glatter also said she’s in the process of organizing a special meeting to address the issue and “repair the trust and start to build open and honest communication and that starts with us.”
Montanti’s reference to members as being aligned with “fringe groups” is a point of confusion to some. All 10 names on the list other than Saracho are signatories to the Union Solidarity Coalition. That organization was founded this year specifically by writer-directors who were “moved to connect with crew affected by the 2023 WGA strike,” the official site states. The coalition threw a fundraiser in July for members of crew union IATSE to cover healthcare costs that will arise as a result of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. One person with knowledge of Union Solidarity Coalition said it was hardly a radical organization.
Five people who viewed Montanti’s email were dismayed to see Riley, the creator and showrunner behind this summer’s Amazon Prime Video series “I’m A Virgo,” characterized as “anti-DGA.” Riley has been vocal and visible in his support for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA work stoppages.
“I’m a member of the DGA, which sent a letter saying DGA members who are also WGA could still perform services that the WGA has asked us not to do during the strike,” Riley posted on Twitter in May. “I, and a bunch of other dual DGA/WGA members, have decided we won’t be taking that advice.” A week later, Riley penned an op-ed expanding on that post.
Riley wrote that the DGA letter said the union “can’t legally advise its members to stop working. But in the face of all of that, multi-hyphenate WGA members, showrunners and directors, in droves, have stopped all work on their projects — sacrificing and showing a level of solidarity that was not seen in the 2007 strike.”
Another individual who read the email said Montanti’s advocacy was “union-on-union crime,” and noted that there’s a “real resistance to activism in the DGA.” That source and others said Montanti’s email was brazen — reinforcing the belief by some that the DGA seeks to isolate writer-director members. “But that’s been going on for 30 years,” the source said.
Glatter was re-elected to a second term as president at the guild’s National Convention. Newly elected members to the guild’s national board were high-wattage names including Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and “The Leftovers” director Nicole Kassell, all of whom are also WGA members, as well as Academy Awards producer-director Glenn Weiss. Alternate board members elected included Ava DuVernay and Phil Lord, both of whom are also WGA members.
From Variety US