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DGA Trainee Program

Reader (and aspiring identity thief) Anonymous PA writes:

From a PA perspective, what are your thoughts on the DGA Training Program? Have you ever worked with a DGA Trainee?

I’ve worked with many DGA trainees.  All kind, good-hearted people who have not yet had their souls crushed under the oppressive weight of ADdom.

I’ve made my feelings about assistant directors well known in the past, so I won’t reiterate them here.  Suffice it to say that it’s a job I wouldn’t enjoy, nor would I be any good at.

That being said, if you actually want to be an AD, whether because you’re a misanthrope or you just hate people, the DGA Trainee Program sounds like a pretty good deal, from what I’ve heard.

Like most unions, the DGA requires that you work a certain number of hours before you can join.  I don’t remember the specifics, but you have to work some ridiculous number of days as a PA (something on the order of 300) before you can be a 2nd 2nd AD.  On top of that, a certain number of those days (maybe 50?) must be worked outside of New York and Los Angeles.

The trainee program allows you to circumvent all that.  Once you’re accepted into the program, you are instantly a DGA member.  Of course, the Guild takes over your life.

You work on every kind of shoot– feature, TV, commercial, industrial, big budgets, small budgets, budgets that climb on rocks.  I think you work up to fifty days on any single project (assuming it lasts that long).  Then, on weekends, you take classes.  This goes on for two years.

And when you’re done, you get to be a 2nd 2nd!

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28 Responses

  1. This is the only short cut into the DGA. I came into LA nearly 3 years ago with some money saved while I rented a spot out on my friends couch in Burbank. I knew absolutely no one else in LA. I volunteered for low to no budget projects and my network expanded from there. I’ve been working on Indie projects and bigger projects. That’s how you do it. You work your ass off with a smile. People hire you on your personality and work ethic alone most of the time. If your not good with people, you better be really good at your craft. Otherwise, you won’t get anywhere. Remember to save all of your call sheets and pay stubs so you can eventually build your “book” for the DGA. You have to keep plugging away, no matter how impossible it seems. You can succeed in this business! Try harder!

    1. Also, I forgot to add that I never went to Film School. I’m sorry, but it’s a waste of time in my opinion. You can learn everything on the job.

  2. Question: So The DGA program is probably my best bet for obtaining a job in Hollywood? It is my goal to become a Filmmaker one day. So are there other programs that are less hard to get involved in besides this program? If this is the best way then I will have to take this road in, however; if someone knows of a different road. Let me know. Thanks,

    1. It’s a very selective program, so I would not put all my hope eggs in that one basket. It’s a way, but not the way. Your best bet is to come to Los Angeles and take any job you can get.

    2. Hahaha not a “best bet” when it’s harder to get into than Ivy League schools. Definitely not a “best bet for obtaining a job in Hollywood”. It is the best path to becoming an assistant director, and you should have a really good idea of what that job is and what it takes before you consider applying. Based on your line of questions, you do not.

  3. Hi, I am currently a PA in San Francisco for a TV show and am thinking about applying to the DGA program. I wanted to know if anyone had any recent experience with them, and I had a few questions about how my current work will make me a better candidate. Thanks in advance!

  4. Hey Steven,

    Thanks for the information on the DGA program, very insightful. I do have a question for you. I am actually applying to the program for 2010, but I’m not sure if I have a chance since i have no PA experience on my resume. I do have experience working on student films in college and making my own in my high school film program, but I’m not sure if that’s enough. I’m currently looking for a PA job but haven’t found one yet. So i’m wondering if my lack of PA experience will simply get my application thrown out?

    BTW do you have any helpful incites on the process of the interviews before the final selection?

    The last question that I have is that since 1% get into the program, the chances are slim that I will get accepted. If not I still would like to work my way up to a 2nd Ad position and then to a First. After working as a PA will it be hard to start working and learning as a 2nd 2nd AD? Do I need to talk to a 2nd or first AD to get a position as a 2nd 2nd and work my way up? I’m not sure how it works. I’m asking you because it seems to me from your IMDb credits that you started as a 2nd assistant director.

    Thanks for your time,

    Jason

  5. Allow me to give a little insight on the subject of “the program” as we graduates refer to it. A little back story on me: I was a non-union AD for many years prior to joining the program. In fact I had accumlated the necessary 400 days of work to join the guild. But, if any of you have gone through the process of turning in your days or know someone who has then you know DGACA always throws out several days. So when I found out I was accepted to the program (a feat very very difficult to do, 1% of the applicants get in). I chose to do “the program.” (Side note: when I applied to the program there was a 6 hour test you had to pass, which they no longer administer.)

    The program was difficult. 400 days of work or basically two years of your life is taken away. You are not allowed to take vacations or trips to say your friend’s wedding. I had to get permission to go home when my father was in the hospital with a life threatening open heart surgery. The program does this so they can place you on a show at any given moment.

    Now, you do not get to choose what show you will be placed on. So consequently, you do not get to choose who you work with, nor do the people you work with get to choose you. So, there is a great dislike among ADs of the fact they are told who will work for them. Don’t forget only 1% of the applicants get in to the program, but eventually some of those people who didn’t get in to the program get in the guild the other way (400 non-union AD days or 620 PA days, there are two other ways but I won’t waste time with that). Now these people are in charge of the trianee, and believe me when I tell you, there are some out there who hold a grudge about it. As best we can, Trainees try to maintain a positive demeanor, but they take quite a beating during their 400 days.

    I’m not trying to paint a bad picture here. When I graduated, I had a job ADing the very next day. And, I have been employed on a top rated TV show ever since (same show for 3 years now). I got the chance to work with some really good people. I walked away from the program with knowledge and a huge Rolodex (network). I would not trade it for anything. I just want to be realistic with you. It’s tough but well worth it.

    If you know the story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory then you know about the “golden ticket.”. Well the DGA Trainee Program or ADPTP is the “golden ticket” in the movie business.

    I wish you all the best, and look forward to working with you some day.

    Sincerely,

    Steven Hacker

    1. Just curious, what kind of questions did they ask you on the 6-hour exam? I don’t have a clue and there are no hints anywhere to be found.

      1. Did you ever get to take the test? if so what type of information was on it? i would really like to know since i can’t find a clue about it online and was told the math portion is extremely hard

        1. Same… I’m taking the test in under an hour lol, trying to find some last minute advice!

          1. How did you do on the test? What is the test consist of? What’s the interview going to be like?

          2. Are there any insights about the process after the first cut? Tests? Interviews? Psychological tests? Thanks.

  6. As someone who’s known quite a few of these DGA Trainee’s I’d have to say they’re all very happy with joining the program. It’s sort of a clique and they all help each other get jobs etc. Very powerful network in town in my opinion.

  7. I had no idea the DGA mandates you guys do 50 days outside of Los Angeles and New York. That’s ridiculous.

    1. Enh, I don’t know. Having done a bit of out-of-town shooting, I would say that they run slightly differently than an LA or NY production- at the very least, you’re dealing with the fact that everybody from keys on up is from out of town, so you’re dealing with (on the AD side) travel days, door-to-door call times, in/out dates, etc. Since the point of the Trainee program is to get you all the experience you can fit into your young little brain, it makes sense that they would want you to experience a third-area production, the way they make you work every other kind of production.

    1. Allow me to give a little ingsiht on the subject of the program as we graduates refer to it. A little back story on me: I was a non-union AD for many years prior to joining the program. In fact I had accumlated the necessary 400 days of work to join the guild. But, if any of you have gone through the process of turning in your days or know someone who has then you know DGACA always throws out several days. So when I found out I was accepted to the program (a feat very very difficult to do, 1% of the applicants get in). I chose to do the program. (Side note: when I applied to the program there was a 6 hour test you had to pass, which they no longer administer.)The program was difficult. 400 days of work or basically two years of your life is taken away. You are not allowed to take vacations or trips to say your friend’s wedding. I had to get permission to go home when my father was in the hospital with a life threatening open heart surgery. The program does this so they can place you on a show at any given moment. Now, you do not get to choose what show you will be placed on. So consequently, you do not get to choose who you work with, nor do the people you work with get to choose you. So, there is a great dislike among ADs of the fact they are told who will work for them. Don’t forget only 1% of the applicants get in to the program, but eventually some of those people who didn’t get in to the program get in the guild the other way (400 non-union AD days or 620 PA days, there are two other ways but I won’t waste time with that). Now these people are in charge of the trianee, and believe me when I tell you, there are some out there who hold a grudge about it. As best we can, Trainees try to maintain a positive demeanor, but they take quite a beating during their 400 days.I’m not trying to paint a bad picture here. When I graduated, I had a job ADing the very next day. And, I have been employed on a top rated TV show ever since (same show for 3 years now). I got the chance to work with some really good people. I walked away from the program with knowledge and a huge Rolodex (network). I would not trade it for anything. I just want to be realistic with you. It’s tough but well worth it. If you know the story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory then you know about the golden ticket. . Well the DGA Trainee Program or ADPTP is the golden ticket in the movie business. I wish you all the best, and look forward to working with you some day. Sincerely,Steven Hacker

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