The number of female first-time episodic TV directors has nearly tripled since 2009, and the number of minority first-time helmers has nearly doubled, according to the latest report from the DGA. Even so, the vast majority of first-timers are white males: Of the 619 first-timers who got the opportunity to direct an episode of a TV series from 2009-2015, only 19% (144) were female and just 14% (107) were minorities. And the DGA says that many of those first-time directing gigs were given as one-time “perks” to cast members and others already affiliated with those shows.
According to the guild’s report, the overall number of first-time TV directors has increased each year since 2010 — more than doubling since 2010 to 153 last year. The percentage of women and minority first-timers has fluctuated, rising in most years and settling at 23% women and 15% minorities last year. Seven years ago, women and minorities each had 12%.
While the overall trend is upward, the pace is slow. The guild says the hiring of first-time minority directors “has remained flat over the last seven seasons” — even though their numbers have nearly doubled from 12 in 2009 to 23 last year. The guild also described “a slight upward trend” in the hiring of women first-time directors over the last seven years — even though their numbers nearly tripled from 12 in 2009 to 35 last year.
The DGA noted, however, that because the overall pool of first-time directors is small — and the pool of women and minority first-timers is even smaller — “a handful of individual hires can impact the percentage in either direction.”
The report, which does not include TV pilots, found that two-thirds of first-timers hired during the 2009-2010 to 2013-2014 seasons had already been affiliated with the show they’d been given a chance to direct, either as actors, writers, producers, editors or other crew members.
While it is not uncommon for stars to be given an opportunity to direct an episode of their own shows, the DGA report makes a strong case that women and minority cast and crew members who are given directing “perks” are much less likely to direct again than are the outsiders with directing experience brought in to direct their first episodic show. The data shows these experienced directors were not only more likely to develop TV-directing careers, but they also were more diverse: 96% (24 out of 25) of the females with previous directing experience who’d been given a first shot at directing an episodic show went on to direct another, while only 44% of the affiliated female first-timers got another chance. The report also found that 56% of the outside minority first-timers went on to direct another episodic show, compared to just 34% of their affiliated counterparts.
“To change the hiring pool, you have to change the pipeline,” said Bethany Rooney, co-chair of the DGA Diversity Task Force. “Year after year when we put out our TV director diversity report, the media and public are stunned that the numbers remain virtually the same. But how can it change when employers hand out so many first-time director assignments as perks? If they were serious about inclusion, they would commit to do two simple things: First, look around and see that there’s already a sizable group of experienced women and minority directors ready to work and poised for success – and they would hire them. And second, they would more carefully consider these first-time directing jobs, and develop merit-based criteria for them — with an eye toward director career development. In the end, it’s all about who is a good director.”
Added Task Force co-chair Todd Holland: “Employers should be thinking about their role in shaping and developing the talent pool. After all, it’s the Platinum Age of television. The profile of the television director is rising as series rely more on stylistic and visual choices in storytelling, and audiences demand greater inclusion — on both sides of the camera.”