Published on: 06 July 2017 in Directors UK

25 years of Directors UK

Reading time: 15 minutes and 22 seconds

Today Directors UK stands as the professional association for all screen directors in the UK. We ensure that directors are recognised for their work, we distribute payments, we host events and Q&As with the best and most interesting directors working today, and we campaign for better pay, working conditions and diversity throughout the industry. But how did we get here?

Directors UK began life as the DPRS back in 1992, and so in this – our 25th anniversary year – we want to take a look back at the history of the organisation. We’re going to chart the development of Directors UK from a small off-shoot of the DGGB to the collective of over 6,500 directors it is today.

Break-away and new beginnings

1992. Gladiators, Men Behaving Badly and Heartbeat were premiering on TV. Cinemagoers were watching Wayne’s World, Reservoir Dogs and Aladdin. Prime Minister John Major defied the polls (imagine!) to remain in Downing Street. The US said goodbye to Bush I and hello to Bill Clinton. The Cold War officially came to an end. And, perhaps most significantly, the Directors and Producers Rights Society (DPRS) became an organisation in its own right.

The DPRS was initially established by the Directors Guild of Great Britain (DGGB) in 1987. Prior to the DGGB there had been a whole alphabet of acronyms representing directors, with different organisations representing directors of different stripes and at different broadcasters. The lack of a single, centralised voice for directors meant that the scant remuneration that the major broadcasters had granted directors in the late ’70s had by 1990 once again disappeared. Things were not looking good.

<i>Long-serving DPRS Chair Pennant Roberts</i>
Long-serving DPRS Chair Pennant Roberts

But there was a glimmer of hope, and we all have the EU and Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins) to thank for it. As home video recording expanded, a number of European countries had managed to introduce special levies on private copying, blank tape sales and cable transmissions. This meant that money was being collected on behalf of the authors of any given TV programme shown in countries like France, Switzerland and Belgium – irrespective of the author or production’s country of origin. The only problem was that directors were not at this point considered “authors” of their work under UK law. But a successful claim made by superstar drum-botherer Phil Collins – for royalties from a German concert film – changed all that and provided the legal precedent that local rights laws had to be adhered to. European collecting agencies could now happily collect money for UK directors, although the UK couldn’t (and because UK law doesn’t allow for levies on private copying, still can’t) return the favour to our European neighbours. Our sincere apologies to Monsieurs Godard and Besson.

Precedent having been set, the DGGB promptly created the DPRS to collect and distribute this new stream of European payments, with the first claim being made to Switzerland’s Suissimage in 1987. As the DPRS’s distribution network continued to grow it began to join committees and pressure groups in Europe to help bolster the call for stronger remuneration and recognition. While this was going on the DGGB had itself begun proceedings to become a union, and so the DPRS, led by CEO Suzan Dormer and Board Chair Pennant Roberts, decided to split from its parent organisation so that it could concentrate on the representation and remuneration of all UK screen directors, regardless of their personal union affiliation.

And so it was in 1992 that the first iteration of the organisation you see today was truly born.

Directors as authors

The next step in our evolution was once again dictated by happenings in Europe. In 1992 the EC Council had adopted a new directive that aimed to harmonise copyright law across all works, making the principal director the undisputed author of a film or TV episode. Well, we say undisputed, but the UK was clearly far too busy with Britpop and Oasis v. Blur to notice as it took us until 1996 (just in time for the Spice Girls) to make the required changes to the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. But we got there in the end, and for the first time directors were legal copyright-holders in the UK.

<i>CEO Suzan Dormer (centre), Chair Charles Sturridge (second from right) and other early members of the Directors UK Board</i>
CEO Suzan Dormer (centre), Chair Charles Sturridge (second from right) and other early members of the Directors UK Board

Similarly slow on the uptake were the UK broadcasters and producers, who were insisting that directors and all other authors should agree via contract that their right to remuneration was already covered by their initial fee - what’s referred to as a ‘buyout’. The DPRS didn’t agree, recognising that the new law firmly established the case for residual payments and so we spent the next few years trying to negotiate a system of individual payments for each programme as broadcast (as the BBC and ITV had previously paid out throughout the 80s).

However, it soon became clear that the broadcasters were never going to go for this option, and so an alternative had to be found. It was suggested that rather than pursue payments for individual episodes, DPRS could instead negotiate a single lump sum payment, which the broadcasters would pay out each year, and which we would divide up and distribute to directors ourselves.

While the broadcasters were a lot more open to this idea, they still weren’t going to give up without a fight. And so, working out of our first proper DPRS offices in Strutton Ground in Victoria, the Board, led by Suzan and original Chair Piers Haggard, were able to discreetly persuade over 80% of drama directors to assign all their ‘rights to secondary use’ to DPRS. What this meant was that we could go to the broadcasters and explain that in order to be assigned these directors’ rights in future they would need to pay us a lump sum in exchange. Directors weren’t withdrawing their labour in a traditional sense – they were still going to work and directing – it was just that unless the broadcasters came to an agreement they wouldn’t be able to transmit that work more than once, and wouldn’t be able to sell it on.

<i>Piers Haggard OBE, a perennial champion of directors’ rights</i>
Piers Haggard OBE, a perennial champion of directors’ rights

A five-week stand-off followed. Do you remember those five long weeks? It was like the Winter of Discontent, except it was in the summer and with episodes of Coronation Street piling up on street corners instead of unburied bodies. But by the end of it we’d convinced all the major UK TV production companies and broadcasters to get round the table and in 2001 an agreement for secondary rights payments for TV directors was finally secured. On Sunday 1 July 2001 the first UK Rights Agreement came into force, providing us with a five-year lump sum deal.

The Century Group and the birth of Directors UK

The UK Rights Agreement was a massive step forward for directors, as was the second increased UK Rights Agreement, which DPRS (now based in Bedford Row in Holborn) negotiated in 2006 for another five-year period. But the times were rapidly changing. Since 2001 the number of digital channels had proliferated; reality TV was now king; Doctor Who had made a triumphant return to our screens; and Celebrity Wrestling had – albeit briefly – totally been a thing.

If directors were going to respond to the changes the industry was going through, and comprehensively address the steady erosion of directors’ pay and status, then it was more important than ever before that directors had a single united body to represent them. Encouraged by British director Michael Apted (who was then the President of the Directors Guild of America and had seen first-hand what directors could do when they stood together), a group of leading film and television directors met at the Century Club in London in 2006 to discuss what directors could do to improve their conditions, status and pay.

<i>The newly-elected Directors UK Board in 2008</i>
The newly-elected Directors UK Board in 2008

The Century Group met with us as well as the DGGB and BECTU, and it was decided that our recent success with the UK Rights Agreement made DPRS the best foundation on which to build the kind of organisation that would deliver on these aims. Over the next two years the Century Group and the DPRS Board worked together to mould the company into the fully representative, campaigning membership organisation that directors – and the wider industry – needed. And at the company AGM in November 2007 Directors UK formally came into being. 

The existing DPRS Board resigned so that members could vote in a whole new Board to lead us through this next stage. Included amongst the resigning Board members was Pennant Roberts, who had chaired the organisation for almost 20 years. Directors UK was then publicly launched in June 2008 with Paul Greengrass as our first President and Charles Sturridge as Chair.

One of you, many of us

Having joined Directors UK as our new CEO in 2010, Andrew Chowns helped usher in the next phase of our development, with the launch of a brand new membership scheme that made Directors UK open to – and fully representative of – all directors. Previously, while Directors UK represented all screen directors working in the UK, our origins as a collecting society effectively meant that those directors whose work had yet to generate significant residual payments were ineligible to join up and serve as active members of the organisation.

2011’s new membership scheme changed all that – offering different levels of membership and opening the organisation up to all professional directors, even if their work was unlikely to generate payments related to secondary use. By greatly expanding the membership in this way, we were now able to offer our members a more comprehensive set of benefits and services than ever before, with an expanded events line-up, a new legal advice service, a series of great benefits, offers and discounts, and a brand spanking new website.

The third UK Rights Agreement soon followed as well, providing us with another increased lump sum to distribute over the next three-year period. While in 2012, after much negotiation, we were pleased to announce a new Creative Rights Partnership with the BBC, setting out best practice employment standards for freelance TV factual and drama directors working for the Corporation.

2014 saw us hold the first Directors’ Festival, a now-annual celebration of all things directing that we hope to continue for many years to come. Joining us for that first year were Amma Asante, Tom HooperMike NewellJed Mercurio, Geoff Posner and Nikki Parsons amongst many other session panellists – plus, of course, over one hundred attending members.

In fact our whole events programme has gone from strength to strength. We’ve hosted our ever-popular director Q&As with a veritable who’s who of the world’s biggest filmmakers: Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Sarah Gavron, Sam Mendes, Steve McQueen, Asif Kapadia, Susanna White, Danny Boyle, George Miller, Stephen Frears, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Richard Linklater and even Steven Spielberg have all graced the Directors UK stage over the last few years.

Beyond celebrating individual directors and the craft of directing, Directors UK has remained focussed on the more serious side of the business as well, continuing our work to improve directors’ rights and to maintain those we already fought so hard to secure. Despite the prospect of Brexit a large part of our work in this area concerns Europe, as European legislation has – and will continue to have – a huge effect on UK directors. We have been working closely with our sister organisations in Europe – SAA and FERA – to make sure that directors are part of the ongoing Copyright Directive debate and we have called for an unwaivable right to remuneration for all online use of our members’ work. In the UK we have lobbied MPs, lords and civil servants on the BBC Charter Renewal and Ofcom regulation of the BBC, as well as the repeal of Section 73 of the UK Copyright Act – which for the first time opens the door for payments for repeats on cable and satellite channels. We are also contributing to government consultations on the status and rights of freelance creatives.

<i>Beryl Richards, Directors UK Chair 2015-17</i>
Beryl Richards, Directors UK Chair 2015-17

It was also in this period that we firmly established ourselves as a campaigning body with real industry clout. In 2014 we published our first report, Who’s Calling the Shots?, which presented hard and fast data on the number of women directing the TV programmes we all watch. The report sent shockwaves through the industry and ensured that we were a key part of the increasingly unavoidable discussion about gender equality that is still sadly ongoing. In 2015 we published Adjusting the Colour Balance, which looked at the appalling lack of BAME directors working in UK television. And in 2016 we returned to gender equality, with our report Cut Out of the Picture, which called on the industry to split public film funds 50:50 between men and women – a pledge that several public funding bodies soon committed themselves to. Against this backdrop we welcomed Beryl Richards as our new Chair in 2015. Beryl played a huge role in our gender campaigns and she continued to push Directors UK towards improving conditions for directors of all backgrounds. Her hard work culminated in a special Achievement of the Year award at the 2016 Women in Film and Television Awards.

We moved offices three times in this period. In November 2009 we moved to Covent Garden for the first time, occupying one floor of a Bedford Street office building. While in March 2013 we moved to the other side of Covent Garden, taking up larger offices in Dryden Street, complete with a dedicated events space and members’ area. And in September 2016 we moved just a couple of streets across to our current home at 22 Stukeley Street - similarly equipped with dedicated areas for members’ use, and for hosting screenings and other events.

2015 saw us negotiate the fourth UK rights Agreement, resulting in a four-year deal and yet another increased sum to share amongst our members. But the negotiating didn’t end there: we established a deal to ensure that UK film directors, writers and producers would share an equal third of the BFI’s ‘Locked Box’ recoupment, to be used for future film development and production. And we signed pay deals with ITV Studios in 2015 and the BBC in 2017.

There was also an increased emphasis on providing for directors throughout their entire careers – and beyond. Firstly, we took on a greater commitment to career development and training. We have established a series of mentoring schemes, training courses, workshops, competitions and masterclasses, with Directors UK members learning their craft and developing their skills on programmes such as Call the Midwife, The Tunnel, Who Do You Think You Are?, Humans, Undercover, Mr. Selfridge, Silent Witness, Casualty, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Doctors. And secondly, we teamed up with Stage Directors UK and the Directors Guild Trust to launch the Directors Charitable Foundation, a charity dedicated to supporting TV, film and theatre directors who require training and development, and providing assistance to directors in financial distress.

Looking to the future

All of which brings us to 2017 and our silver anniversary. A year that started with the appointment of the third Directors UK Chair, Steve Smith, and saw us hold the fourth Directors’ Festival last weekend.

Our 25 years in the business have seen revolutions and counter-revolutions, the next big things that were and the next big things that weren’t. From 2,000 members to over 6,500. From four main terrestrial channels to hundreds of satellite, cable and digital offerings. From a single member of staff to 25 and counting. From celluloid and SFX to digital and VFX. From linear TV to Netflix and chill. From a single room in Victoria to several rooms across two floors in Covent Garden. From The Crystal Maze to…The Crystal Maze. Ok, that last one was a bad example.

But it is in the nature of this industry that things don’t stand still for long. Who knows what the future will hold? As we face the next 25 years, what we can say is that Directors UK will change with the times and always strive to get the best possible return for directors and their work; that we’ll be there making sure directors are protected and their work promoted and treasured. From one of you, to many of us.

<i>Some of our current Board members celebrating 25 years of Directors UK at the Directors’ Festival 2017</i>
Some of our current Board members celebrating 25 years of Directors UK at the Directors’ Festival 2017