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 2017-18 season, released Thursday, shows 31% (63) of first-time hires in the 2017-18 season were directors of color — an increase from 27% in the 2016-17 season; 41% (82) of first-time hires were women, up 33% from the prior season, with 13% (27) of first-time hires being women of color for a 9% gain.
DGA President Thomas Schlamme said that while he was pleased by the improvements, networks need to do more.
“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,” he said. “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.”
“What our study tells us is that there’s no shortage of talented women directors and directors of color ready for a first break,” Schlamme added. “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 DGA also noted that progress on inclusion is complicated by a hiring dynamic in the industry in which some actors, writers and others connected to a series pursue directing after a first-break directing opportunity, but the vast majority do not continue directing.
“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 guild said. “The practice acts as a bottleneck to the pipeline, limiting first breaks for diverse directors. In all, some 202 directors who had never before 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.”
Of the 202 first-time directors, 58% were “series affiliated,” meaning they were already connected with the series while only 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 said long-term analysis tracking the career trajectories of 775 first-time directors initially hired in past seasons (between 2009/10 – 2015/16) found that only 24% of series affiliated first time directors went on to direct shows they were not affiliated with in any capacity. By contrast, 71% of the career-track directors were subsequently hired to direct on other series.
The analysis 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. Additionally, 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 moved on to other series. Only 18% of series affiliated male Caucasians continued with directing on series they were not affiliated with.
“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,” Schlamme said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it is vitally important to keep our industry growing, changing and innovating.”