A new DGA study has found that the pool of first-time episodic TV directors “is more inclusive than ever,” with women and minorities seeing dramatic employment gains and setting record highs for the second year in a row. The latest numbers, the guild said, “are certainly encouraging, but there’s still room for improvement.”
The guild, which has been tracking first-time director data for the past nine seasons, found that 82 female directors accounted for 41% of the first-time hires in the 2017-18 season, which was up from up from 33% in the prior season and nearly four times higher than the 11% hired in 2009-10.
The study also found that 63 directors of color accounted for 31% of the first-time hires in 2017-18, compared with 27% the year before and only 12% in the 2009-10 season. This year’s data shows that ethnic minority first-timers were hired at twice the rate they were hired in 2014 and 2015 and three-times the 2010 rate.
Women of color also made significant gains, accounting for 13% of the first-timers hired this past season vs. 9% last season and a mere 2% in 2009-10.
Female and minority directors still have a lot of catching up to do, however. The DGA reported in November that women directed only 21% of all episodic shows during the 2016-17 season, while ethnic minorities got 22% of the jobs.
“The hiring improvements covered in this report show an industry that’s headed in the right direction today, but also one with a long road ahead to keep up with the increasingly diverse world tomorrow,” DGA president Thomas Schlamme said in a statement.
In all, 202 directors who had never directed episodic television were hired by studios, networks, and executive producers in the 2017-18 season – a slight decrease from last season’s all-time high of 225, but considerably higher than all the other seasons covered since 2009. The data does not include pilots.
The guild, however, noted that “beneath the surface, progress on inclusion is complicated by a hiring dynamic” known as “gifting” that tends to favor cast and crew members with first-time directing gigs over outside newcomers who intend to make directing a career.
The DGA’s data shows that of this season’s 202 first-time directors, 117 (58%) were “series-affiliated,” meaning they were already connected with their series as actors, writer/producers or crew members. By contrast, only 70 (35%) were “career-track directors,” meaning they had prior directing experience and were either unaffiliated with the series or their affiliation was the result of their prior directing experience.
The DGA also found that series-affiliated directors, as a group, were less diverse. Women directors and directors of color comprised 25% of the series-affiliated group, compared with 38% in the career-track group.
The guild found that the most successful first-time directors were career-track women, with 88% going on to direct other series, while 76% of career-track directors of color went on to direct other series. By contrast, only 18% of series-affiliated male Caucasians went on to direct series to which they were not affiliated.
“The study shows that while some actors, writers and others connected to a series do pursue directing after a first-break opportunity, the vast majority do not,” the guild said. “The ongoing employer practice of ‘gifting’ out directing jobs to these series-connected individuals who do not go on to pursue a career as a director has a damaging effect on new and established directors alike. The practice acts as a bottleneck to the pipeline, limiting first breaks for diverse directors.”
Said Schlamme: “What our study tells us is that there’s no shortage of talented women directors and directors of color ready for a first break,” “But for each hire to truly have an impact on the future, the studios and networks that make the hiring decisions need to open the doors even wider and discover a more inclusive population of candidates who seek directing as a career.”
The guild’s long-term tracking of the career trajectories of 775 first-time directors initially hired from 2009-2016 found that those who were series-affiliated were much less likely to direct in the future. The group’s subsequent employment through the current season found that only 24% of series-affiliated first-time directors went on to direct shows they were not affiliated with in any capacity. Series-affiliated actors and series-affiliated writer/producers, the guild found, “were the least likely to go on and direct on other unaffiliated shows. By contrast, 71% of the career-track directors were subsequently hired to direct on other series.”
“True inclusion,” Schlamme said, “is not just a single hire or a line in a speech, it’s a commitment that must be exercised through ongoing action, day by day. It seems rather clear: to bring real systemic change for the future — and not just stats from season to season — employers must give even more first opportunities to talented diverse voices committed to a career in directing. It’s not just the right thing to do, it is vitally important to keep our industry growing, changing and innovating.”
“In a business where success often hinges on getting that initial break to prove yourself,” the guild said, “probably nothing has more power to make the pool of working directors more inclusive than ensuring that race or gender doesn’t keep any qualified applicant from getting a fair shot at that crucially important first job.”
The DGA has been pressing studios, networks and producers to be more inclusive in hiring for nearly four decades – it even sued two of the studios in 1982. It’s diversity efforts include collective bargaining gains that require television studios to run TV director diversity programs; ongoing meetings with studios, networks and individual series regarding their hiring records, and publicized reports like this one that detail employer hiring trends. The guild also operates TV director mentorship and educational programs to support its members’ career development.