Q:I'm really interested in AD'ing as a career, and my main questions right now are about being in the union. I have a lot of friends who applied to be in the DGA this semester and they are strongly advocating it. But I have worked with a lot of AD's who aren't in the union and say that they prefer that instead. Their main defense is that it is easier in New York to not be in the union because you can then go on many more smaller projects which seem to be the most common in the city. Thoughts?
As far as the DGA goes, there’s pros and cons of each side. First, let me say that your friends are more likely talking about the DGA training program, as opposed to applying to become a full-fledged member (you said semester, so I assume you’re still in school?). The DGA Training Program is totally different. It’s basically a two-year program in which, if you’re accepted (they only accept between 8-15 a year), you then become a DGA Trainee, and the DGA ships you around to all sorts of different shows, mostly very high-budget, blockbusters or established TV shows, and you get hands on experience working with well-established AD teams. You can check out more info here:
If I’m way off base here and they actually are talking about joining the DGA straight out of college, then that’s a whole different thing. I don’t know HOW they’d be able to join the DGA straight out of college, as the requirements for even being able to be considered to join are ridiculous. You have to have a minimum number of working days as a PA on DGA shows (I think the number is about 600…yes…600 days…), or a minimum number of working days as a non-union AD days as a 1st AD or a 2nd AD. You can check out the different day requirements here:
And for the East Coast, here:
As far as being in the DGA, there’s some huge advantages. There’s health benefits, minimum salaries (no more negotiating your day rate), guaranteed residuals, free screenings for all DGA movies and TV shows (usually before they’re released in the theaters), and lots more. Check out more about that here:
I worked my ass off on non-union jobs for about 4 years (after college) before I even had the confidence, or the required paperwork and proof of my experience, to be able to even think about joining.
There’s benefits of remaining non-union as well, and plenty of big-time ADs choose to remain non-union, like Michael Lerman, AD for the new James Bond movies: check out a cool article about him here, in it he talks about being non-union:
I didn’t join the union till my late 20’s, and to be honest, thinking about it now, if I would have joined earlier with less experience, I probably wouldn’t have gotten hired on many union jobs, if any. One of the things about a union show, is that the reason they’re union shows is so they can hire from a “professional” pool of talent. So as a union AD, you have a standard to uphold as well, an almost responsibility to uphold the reputation…and it can be a heavy burden sometimes…it’s all about your street cred.
My thoughts are this…it’s not a decision to rush into lightly. It will impact your working life tremendously, and you should think on it. If you want my advice, work as much as you can as an AD on non-union stuff to build your resume first…the union has been around for a while and it’s not going anywhere. Don’t get caught up in the dream of working on huge budget stuff as an AD…probably the worst thing you could do as an AD first starting out is to get in over your head and fail miserably (not to scare you), and on a big-union job, your reputation would be in serious jeopardy if things go south. That’s why you start on smaller stuff. Figure out your style as an AD, make as many mistakes as you can, take responsibility for them, but learn from them and don’t ever repeat them. The more you work, the better you become, and the more you work, the more tricks you’ll have up your sleeve, because the more situations you will have been in to pull from your experience, make sense?
If you want to get the flavor of the big union jobs without the responsibility of 1st AD, try as much as you can to get a PA gig on one of the big TV shows or features here in NYC. Listen, learn.
I hope this helps, and feel free to reach out any time.
NOW GET BACK TO SET
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