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DGA Study Reveals First-Time TV Directors Represent the Most Inclusive Pool Yet, But the Numbers Hide a Troubling Issue

The survey of first-time TV directors found that hiring series-affiliated writers/producers and actors to direct has a negative affect on inclusivity.

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The Director’s Guild of America (DGA) has released the results of its first-time episodic TV director inclusion study, which precedes its full season inclusion report. The study examines diversity in the pool of new TV directors, and also tracks the number of first-time hires who go on to direct other projects, thus moving into the pool of working directors. In an effort to foster more inclusivity, the DGA has been tracking and reporting publicly on trends in first-time TV directing hires for nearly a decade.

The new report focuses on first-time hires from the last nine seasons, from 2009/10 through 2017/18, and found that the percentages of jobs going to first-time women directors and directors of color hit record highs for the second year in a row. Specifically, 31% (63) of first-time hires in the 2017/18 season were directors of color; 41% (82) of first-time hires were women; and 13% (27) of first-time hires were women of color.

“True inclusion 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,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme (“The Americans,” “The West Wing.”) “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.”

But the study also found a troubling trend in hiring practices, which involves “gifting” directing jobs to people involved with the show in other departments. Actors, writers, and producers given a break with a directing job are less likely to go on to pursue directing as a career, and also represent a less diverse group in general. “The practice acts as a bottleneck to the pipeline, limiting first breaks for diverse directors,” the report reads.

Of the 202 first-time directors hired for the 2017/18 season, 58% were “series-affiliated,” meaning they were already connected with the show in another capacity, while just 35% were “career-track” directors, meaning they had prior directing experience. Only 24% of series-affiliated directors went on to direct other projects, while 71% of career-track directors were hired on other shows. Women directors and directors of color made up 25% of the series-affiliated group, compared with 38% of the career-track group.

“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,” said Schlamme. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it is vitally important to keep our industry growing, changing and innovating.”

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