If you think you might like to pursue a career as a DGA assistant director, there are a few different ways to get into the guild. While not the easiest to qualify for, the best route is via one of the official training programs.
• Headquartered on the West Coast is the Directors Guild—Producer Training Plan (Assistant Directors Training Program), which was established in 1965 by the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. To qualify for this program, you must first apply to take the yearly test. Applications are submitted by November 5th, and the test is given in late January. To qualify to take the test, you must be at least 21 years of age, have employment eligibility to work in the United States, a high school diploma and at least one of the following: (1) a Bachelor's or Associate's degree from an accredited college or university, (2) certification that you are a currently enrolled student who will complete your coursework and graduate with a Bachelor's or Associate's degree no later than June 24th, (3) written proof that you attained at least the level of E-5 in a branch of the U.S. military service, or (4) two years (520 actual work days) of full-time paid employment in film or TV (or its part-time equivalent). You may also use a combination of college credits and work experience to meet the eligibility requirements.
The test is offered in Los Angeles and Chicago and eligible applicants must pay a nonrefundable testing fee of approximately $75. One to two thousand individuals take the test each year. Of those, half generally do well enough to move on to what's called the "assessment center," where group interviews are held. Half of those who make it through the group interviews are asked to come in for individual interviews. Of those, 15 to 20 individuals are chosen to become part of the 400-day program that includes on-the-job training and a series of curriculum-based seminars. To find out more about the program or to download a test application, go online to www.trainingplan.org. The number of the DGPTP is 818/386-2545.
• The two-year New York Assistant Directors Training Program accepts, on average, 250 to 300 applicants each year, and five to seven are accepted into the program. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. A four-year degree and some industry experience are recommended but not essential. The written part of the test is offered in late February. Preliminary interviews are held in April, and final interviews are held in May. For more information on New York's program, call their office at 212/397-0930 or check it out on the web at www.dgatraining program.org/geninfr.htm.
• You are allowed to work third area on a union show until you've accumulated 120 work days. Once your days (and all required substantiation) has been accumulated, you can apply to be placed on the Third Area Qualification List, which is administered by DGA Contract Administration (DGACA). The DGACA will inform you if everything is in order, and a copy of that letter along with your application package will be passed on to the DGA. The Guild then has 30 days in which to agree or object to your application. If they have no objection, you are then placed on the Qualification List, and it's up to you whether to join the DGA.
Third area is considered anywhere outside of the Southern California area which extends from San Luis Obispo to the U.S.Mexican border and the New York triborough area. For a second assistant director, first assistant director, unit production manager or associate director/technical coordinator, 75% of 120 required days must be spent with the actual shooting company and no more than 25% may be spent in prep or office work. For directors, 78 of the 120 days shall have been in directing the actual shooting of film or tape. Likewise, stage managers or associate directors in the live and tape television industry employed 120 days or six years in the nationwide feed of television motion pictures are also eligible to be placed on the Qualification List. For further information on applying for the Third Area Qualification List, check out the DGACA website at www.dgaca.org.
• On the West Coast, to be placed on the Basic Qualification List, you would have to work on non-union shows for a total of 400 days as a 2nd AD, 1st AD, UPM, technical coordinator or associate director/technical coordinator. The Basic List is also administered by the DGACA. For ADs and UPMs, no more than 25% of those days may be spent in prep and 75% must be spent with the actual shooting company. For directors, at least 260 days shall have been in directing the actual shooting of film or tape. Stage managers or associate directors in the live and taped television industry must be employed 400 days or six years in the nationwide feed of television motion pictures.
• The New York-based DGA Commercials Contract Administration administers the Commercials Qualifications List, which covers the New York and Southern California areas as well as third area. Check out their website (www.dga-cql.org) for specific requirements for placement on the Commercials Qualifications List as a 2nd AD. Any individual who has been placed as a Commercial 2nd AD is eligible for "interchange" to the New York Basic List in the same category. To be eligible to "interchange" to the Southern California Basic List as a 2nd AD, you will need to upgrade to a Commercial 1st AD. This requires documentation of having worked at least 150 freelance days as a 2nd AD, with no fewer than 75 days of work on commercial productions.
• If you are working as an AD or UPM on a non-union film that becomes a signatory during the course of the production or are hired early on before a new production entity signs a DGA contract, you may work on the show as an "incumbent." Should you become an incumbent, you will be in a position to join the DGA, but you'll also find yourself in kind of a Catch-22. Once this show has wrapped, you cannot work on other DGA shows until you've fulfilled all your days, nor can you go back to working non-union shows to get your days. If you don't have your days by the end of that first show, you have to get the remainder by working other shows for that particular company, working third area or by being an incumbent for other companies.
When it comes to actual DGA membership, initiation fees, dues, etc. are handled directly through the Guild. Be sure to check out their website for further membership information. It's www.dga.org.
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