HOLLYWOOD—It's a little-known fact that the Directors Guild of America (DGA), essentially the union for all mainstream directors, not only collects money that foreign countries owe to its members, but also collects those levies for non-members—and a cursory look at the foreign levies list reveals at least 30 adult directors for whom the DGA currently has a check waiting.
"Foreign levies are a tax that's put on blank media," explained DGA Foreign Levies Representative Jesse Kingsley, "and essentially it's the result of legislation that was passed to try to fight media piracy. So the way it works, the countries that agreed to this legislation agreed to put a tax on blank DVDs or any medium that a movie or TV show could possibly be copied onto, and then this tax is collected and sent to us along with a list of what they have shown on television or what they have screened. It's broadcast lists that are given to us by the countries themselves."
Somewhat surprisingly, the lists of movies supplied to the DGA by countries such as France, Germany, Italy and others also contain adult titles, and as the DGA website explains, "Copyright laws in many European countries recognize directors and writers as 'authors' of motion pictures, as opposed to U.S. copyright law, which recognizes the employer (e.g. the Studio) as the sole author under the American 'work for hire' doctrine."
"The Studios asserted that they were the sole 'authors' of the films and television programs that they had produced," the site continues, "and on this basis the Studios demanded that they receive all of the foreign levies. The Studios based this position on U.S. copyright law (the 'work for hire' doctrine), the assignment and results and proceeds clauses in their personal services contracts with directors and writers, and their collective bargaining agreements with the Guilds. In 1988, the DGA and WGA challenged the Studios' claim to 100% of the authors' levies. The Guilds asserted that directors and writers were the authors under European copyright law and thus were entitled to the authors' share of the foreign levies."
The agreement between the DGA and the Studios has been in place since June 1, 1990, and apparently there are still many movies from the past 20 years for which levies may have been collected, but for which the DGA has not been able to identify and/or locate a recipient of the foreign levies collected.
The site even answers the question of why the Directors Guild is collecting money for directors who aren't even members of the guild.
"After the Guilds and the Studios reached their agreement and went to foreign collecting societies to ask them to start distributing money to the U.S., it became clear that the foreign collecting societies desired to send the U.S. directors' share to one recipient only," the Foreign Levies web page FAQ states. "For example, authorities in Germany, the largest European market, conditioned their approval of the settlement between the Guilds and the Studios on the requirement that levies on all American films and television programs should be distributed to the DGA and WGA without regard to whether the director or writer was a member or non-member of the Guild. The subsequent agreement with the German collecting society required that the DGA would receive and distribute levies collected on all American films and television programs. Later agreements in other countries followed the German model. Although the DGA agreed to this requirement, at no time has the DGA claimed to represent non-members and in fact the collection agreement expressly states the DGA does not make any representations regarding its representation of non-members."
A quick look through the list reveals at least 30 adult directors for whom the DGA is holding funds, including James Avalon, Lem Amero, Axel and Lasse Braun, Jim DiGiorgio, Wesley Emerson, Nic Cramer, Roberta Findlay, Cecil Howard, Michael Ninn, Ralph Parfait, Ona Zee, Michael Zen, Eric Edwards, Scotty Fox, Ernest Greene, Kris Kramski, Rebecca Lord, Anthony R. Lovett, Jonathan Morgan, Nick Orleans, Gary Orona, Jack Remy, Joey Silvera and John Stagliano, as well as several who are no longer with us: Gerard Damiano, Alex DeRenzy, Chuck Vincent, Irving Klaw ('50s bondage director of Bettie Page), John Leslie, Joe Sarno, Allan Shustak and Armand Weston. The list also includes softcore director Tinto Brass.
Of course, several of the above names are pseudonyms, so AVN asked Kingsley if that would be a problem?
"Not at all," he responded. "Essentially, what we need from a director in order to collect foreign levies is—most of these are probably going to be non-members of the guild, so we have a form, a non-member form, and they fill it out, and it essentially says 'I am this person and I have directed the following titles,' and we mail out the foreign levies via check, so we need some kind of mailing address to mail the check out to. And then we require their Social Security number and a copy of a photo ID, and in the case of a pseudonym, what the director has to do is to put their actual name, whatever name is on their photo ID, and then is parentheses, their alias, and then there's certainly no trouble at all."
And what about the families of directors who've died?
"That's a different circumstance; it's a little trickier to collect for that," Kingsley said. "What we need, there's a whole slew of documents we require if the director has been deceased in order to release foreign levies to an estate. What we need is a death certificate, a copy of a will, an affidavit filled out by any beneficiaries of the estate—it's a little more paperwork in that case, but not unattainable."
Kingsley said that any inquiries about payment can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In clicking on some of the names on the Foreign Levies list, however, we noticed that some very prolific directors are only credited with a few movies, so we questioned Kingsley about that.
"All of the titles that we process are generated overseas," Kingsley said. "Once we get the lists, we have to go through those titles and as part of the requirements of the legislation, we must try to find and pay the directors of these titles they give us, so that's why we look for these non-members and pay these foreign levies. Those levies are totally separate from any kind of royalty or residual that the director may have earned via other contracts; it's all based on this legislation."
But would it help if directors on the list were to send a list of all of the movies they've directed?
"Certainly, that would help," Kingsley agreed, "because oftentimes, these countries will send us these lists, and we'll have to research and find who directed what, and in case we have any titles where the country omitted to give us the director's name or there was some kind of garble in translation, we keep lists of all those titles that we're still trying to find the directors for, and if these directors give us their director credits, we can go through it and go, 'Oh, this person directed this,' and then we can pay them."
And what about adult directors who aren't currently on the list; should they send lists of titles as well?
"I don't think it would be beneficial," Kingsley stated. "I would say the best thing for them to do is to periodically check our website and see if their names come on there, and that's the best advice I can give for them."
However, the DGA website does include a page where non-member directors can register information regarding non-covered works for which they believe foreign levies are or may become due.
"This information may be used by DGA staff to help assign non-covered works; however, the registration function is non-binding and only one of many sources the DGA may use," the site says. "In all cases, information received by DGA from foreign collecting societies, pursuant to its agreements with them, shall be controlling."
Further information can be obtained by writing to email@example.com.