James Nicholas "Nick" Counter III (21 March 1940 – 6 November 2009) was an American attorney who served as head of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers from its founding in 1982 until March 2009.
Counter was born in Phoenix, Arizona and grew up in the Denver area where he attended Denver East. He majored in electrical engineering at University of Colorado on a Boettcher scholarship. He was a football fullback, lettering as a senior. In their 21-20 win over Missouri in 1959, he scored the winning two-point conversion the year after the play was instated.
He later earned a law degree at Stanford University in 1966, then became a labor lawyer in Los Angeles. Counter spent 27 years as president of the AMPTP, retiring in March of 2009. The industry group negotiates contracts with an array of unions, from creative guilds like the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America to the blue-collar Teamsters and the craft-oriented locals of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. During his 27 year tenure as head of the Alliance, Hollywood shut down only twice, both times when the writers went on strike.
Working mostly behind the scenes, Counter, who was known as Nick, concluded more than 300 labor agreements. Tall, gray-haired and affable, though his temper occasionally flared, he became a public presence only rarely. And that usually happened when things went wrong, as with the two bitterly fought Hollywood writers’ strikes, in 1988 and 2007. When 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America East and the Writers Guild of America West walked out over payments for new media and other issues in November 2007, Counter told reporters to expect a long strike. Much of Hollywood was shut down for three months, before the companies and the guilds reached an accord that only set the stage for the next battle — with the Screen Actors Guild. Counter was best known inside Hollywood for having corralled the alliance’s diverse and often contentious film and television companies into a bargaining unit that was sufficiently disciplined to strike deal after deal with only a handful of breakdowns over nearly three decades. “I never knew him to break his word,” said Gilbert Cates, the secretary-treasurer of the Directors Guild, who had squared off with Counter in a number of contract talks. “It was really important, because he was giving his word for a lot of people who weren’t necessarily in unison.”
Before Counter joined the newly formed alliance in 1982, companies like 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures had drifted away from an earlier bargaining group to conduct negotiations on their own. Counter insisted that the film and television companies keep a united front, not so much to prevail over the unions as to avoid the chaos that had plagued earlier negotiations. Always committed to collective bargaining, he often said that labor talks should not have winners and losers. “Negotiations just end with your ability to make a deal,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1987.
Counter died at the age of 69 in Los Angeles. He is survived by his daughter Samantha Kurtzman-Counter, wife of writer/producer Alex Kurtzman, a grandson Jack and his son J. Nicholas Counter IV. ref name="varietyobit">McNary, Dave (November 6, 2009). Nick Counter dies at 69. Variety</ref>
- Verier, Richard (November 7, 2009). Nick Counter dies at 69; former chief negotiator for major studios. Los Angeles Times
- The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume 82, Issue 3 (1960), page 196.
- J. Nicholas Counter, III biography via Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers
- Nick Counter at the Internet Movie Database
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