Women and minorities have seen significant gains among first-time directors in episodic television, a new study from the Directors Guild of America shows.
The study of the just-concluded 2016-17 season, released Wednesday, shows the percentage of ethnic minority first-time TV directors more than doubling since 2009-10 and the percentage of women nearly tripling.
“Finally, after years of our efforts to educate the industry, hold employers accountable through our contracts, and push them to do better, we’re seeing signs of meaningful improvement,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme.
The report is being released three months after Schlamme succeeded Paris Barclay as DGA president. He’s won nine Emmys and three DGA Awards and teamed with Aaron Sorkin on directing and executive producing “The West Wing,” “Sports Night,” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”
“The fact is, it all starts with the pipeline,” said Schlamme. “The hiring decisions employers make today can have enormous impact on the composition of the pool in two years, five years, ten years’ time. Our research shows that when employers actually do the work of being inclusive, they find talented directors who overwhelmingly succeed in establishing longer-term careers.”
The DGA has been studying first-time hires since the 2009-10 season. The new report shows that 56 (or 25%) of all first-time hires in the 2016-17 season were ethnic minorities, up from 24 in the 2015-16 season; 73 (or 32%) were women, up from 38 in the prior season; and 18 (or 8%) were female minorities, up from six.
Men and Caucasians saw the percentages decline year-over-year, but the absolute numbers still grew to new highs. Employers hired a record 152 males (68% of first-time hires in the 2016-17 season), up from 120 in the 2015-16 season with 108 male Caucasians (48%), up from 102 (65% in the prior season). In the 2016-17 season, an all-time high of 225 directors who had never before directed episodic television were hired by studios, networks, and executive producers – representing a steep 42% increase in “freshman” TV directors.
“The rapid growth in the proportion of episodes given to first-time TV directors is the result of some factors that are very positive, and others that require further monitoring,” Schlamme noted. “On the one hand, we’re delighted to see the jump in first breaks for talented women and minority directors who are building long-term careers. This validates what we’ve advocated for years and demonstrates what’s possible when employers adopt more inclusive hiring practices.”
Schlamme also said that too many first-time jobs are still being reserved for individuals who work on a series in some other capacity – and are much less likely to continue a career in directing, according to DGA statisics. “If the goal is to feed the pipeline with the directors of the future, it’s important that employers provide the first-time opportunities to those most likely to go on and become career directors,” he added.
The report also includes findings from the DGA study of the career trajectories of first-time directors hired between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 seasons. Of the overall group of 618 first-timers tracked over the time period, 66% (or 407) were “series-affiliated” hires, meaning they were already affiliated with the series for which they were hired (as actors, crew, editors, producers, writers, etc.), while 28% (171) were “career-track directors,” meaning they were unaffiliated with the series but had previously directed in other categories.
The DGA data showed only 40% of series-affiliated directors went on to work as directors on other series, while 71% of career-track directors went on to direct episodes on other series.
“The most successful career-track directors were women and minorities, with 97% of the first-time women directors (28 out of 29) and 85% of the minorities (28 out of 33) going on to direct on other series,” the report said. “Despite this strong record among career-track directors, employers hired a record 125 series-affiliated individuals as first-time TV directors in the 2016-17 season – up from 106 the year prior.”
Last year’s study found that 81% — or 619 of 863 — of all first-time episodic directors were male during a seven-year span. Only 19% (144) were female and only 14% (107) were minority directors. The study period covered the 2009-10 through 2015-16 seasons. Bethany Rooney, co-chair of the DGA Diversity Task Force, said a year ago that employers were not addressing the problem.