Special guest Darrell Woodard, co-chair of The Directors Guild of America’s Training Program for the west coast, recently visited the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. He talked to students about the DGA Training Program, the submission process, and specifically encouraged minorities, women, and veterans to apply. Darrell attributes his successful assistant directing career to the opportunities he’s been given as a participant and graduate of the program himself. Cheryl Bedford, NYFA’s own producing instructor and Chair of Diversity Development, moderated the interview.
The first step of applying to the DGA’s Training Program for the west coast requires the applicant to fill out a form and write a personal essay. For this step, Darrell emphasized that best way you can “stand out” is by “following the rules.” One would be surprised by how often this isn’t done. So ensure you read the directions and fill out everything correctly. If you make it through the first phase, the second involves a group interview in which the applicants are judged on how well they work as team members. The difficulty here lies in not being too overbearing or passive—in other words, you must be a quiet leader. In the final stage you are interviewed intensely by a DGA Training Program committee. Be prepared, as they will leave no stone uncovered in regards to the information you’ve included on your application and your motivations for attending the program.
Mr. Woodward made it clear that assistant directing within the American film industry is NOT the best path to actually directing. In fact, the assistant director may be the closest person to the director, but he or she is the furthest from the director’s chair. The AD position is intentionally designed this way so there is no conflict of interest. While having allegiance to the director, the assistant director must simultaneously maintain autonomy from them. The AD is ultimately beholden to the producer and he must always do what’s best for the production as a whole. Because of this, the AD is obligated to finish the project with or without the director. Although there have been assistant directors who have made the transition to directing, it is not common. Therefore, assistant directing is a career path in and of itself, not a means to the end of becoming a director.
For those passionate about assistant directing, the DGA’s Training Program is as good as it get’s in terms of a platform to launch your career. If ADing is a passion of yours then apply this year! We sincerely thank Darrell Woodward for the time he spent with the New York Film Academy and the opportunities he’s giving up-and-coming professionals through the DGA Training Program.