The Directors Guild of America is one of many unions within the entertainment industry. You’ll need to meet specific requirements to become part of it, and members enjoy unique benefits. If you’re working on a directorial team and are looking to join the DGA, you might have some questions. Read on to find out more right here.
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The DGA represents directors working in film and television. It is a craft union that seeks to organize an individual profession rather than multiple disciplines within the industry. Members include feature film and television directors, plus other members of the directorial team like associate and assistant directors, unit production managers, and stage managers.
Like other entertainment unions, such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, the DGA protects the legal and creative interests of its members through labor agreements. Additionally, the union celebrates its members’ achievements each year at the DGA Awards.
Originally founded in 1936 as the Screen Directors Guild, the DGA formed in 1960 when it merged with the Radio and Television Directors Guild. As of 2022, the DGA is under the leadership of president Lesli Linka Glatter, a noted film and television director whose credits include work on “Homeland,” “True Blood,” and “Mad Men.”
All applications are handled through the guild, and the requirements differ depending on the applicant’s location and specific role. Directors must either be hired by a company that has signed a collective bargaining agreement with the DGA, or develop and direct a feature project that then becomes signatory in the same way. Generally speaking, the process consists of the following requirements:
- Deal memo or commercial project listing form: These forms verify that your work is legitimate and falls within a DGA-covered category.
- Endorsements from three DGA members. Your endorsements must come from current members who can speak to your work and future industry prospects.
- Council application approval. Each category of the DGA’s membership (director, stage manager, and production assistant) has their own council who works to approve or deny candidate’s applications.
- Initiation fees. The DGA’s initiation fees vary depending on your role. Here are the fees that apply through June 30, 2022. (In this case, “low-budget” is defined as below $11 million):
- Director (feature, television): $13,416
- Unit production manager: $12,062
- First AD: $11,470
- Second AD: $7,686
- AD/UPM low-budget: Twice your weekly salary
- Associate director: $6,912
- Stage manager: $6,376
- Director (commercial, documentary, low-budget feature, staff, segment): $3,500
- Production associate (West): $200
- Program production assistant (East): Twice your weekly salary
Additionally, guild members are required to pay $50 in basic dues per quarter. These dues are credited against the member’s obligation to pay 1.5% of their annual gross income (between $10,000 and $300,000), as well as one percent of residuals received under a DGA collective bargaining agreement.
Since the process requires DGA hopefuls to work in the field before membership, networking with film professionals and other members is essential. To help mitigate this barrier to entry, the union offers mentorships under its DGA Assistant Director Training Program. This highly competitive program (hundreds of applicants apply for five to seven spots per year) gives trainees hands-on experience with union productions over a two-year period.
DGA Officers and National Board Members Courtesy DGA
As of 2022, the DGA reported more than 18,600 members in its online directory. This represents all members of the directorial team working in feature films, television, commercials, sports programs, and various other media productions. There has been a significant increase in membership over the past few decades; the guild reported around 12,000 members in the year 2000.
While a director can still work on productions without joining the DGA, there are many benefits to becoming a member of the union, such as:
- Economic rights: The DGA is responsible for industry wide agreements that govern minimum salary requirements and on-set working conditions for its members. According to the 2021–22 DGA rate card, guild directors working on films with budgets higher than $11 million make a minimum weekly salary of $21,131 on features and $15,091 on shorts and documentaries.
The minimum salaries for TV shows is even more varied. A DGA director working on a half-hour network show, for example, is mandated to make at least $29,163 an episode, while an hourlong network show nets the director $49,526. Whether the show runs on basic cable, airs during primetime, or is a pilot episode also affects the minimum rates.
These agreements also contain provisions on preparation time, overtime, observed holidays, and required severance pay for directors working on guild productions.
- Creative rights: The guild also protects its members’ creative interests across all aspects of the filmmaking process. DGA members have the right to be actively involved in the first edit of their films or television episodes without interference. They also must be allowed to participate in casting, reshoots, additional photography, and automated dialogue replacement (ADR).
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- Pension and health plans: Eligible DGA members can receive a pension and a health plan once they reach the requisite minimum earnings per year. The union’s current health insurance premiums are $780 per year for one dependent and $1,200 per year for two or more dependents, with an annual deductible of $325 per calendar year per person.
- Residual payments: DGA contracts include the right to residuals for any guild production exhibited or distributed beyond its initial release. According to the DGA's website, for theatrical releases, guild members are entitled to 1.2% of the distributor’s gross in residuals, while basic cable releases can net directors up to 1.8%. The DGA reports over $300 million total residuals for its members each year.
- Contractual and legal protection: The DGA provides members help with legal and contractual issues, ranging from informal advice for settling disputes to assistance from the DGA’s legal department for arbitration and court appearances.
- Special events: There are various networking and educational opportunities hosted by the DGA each year. Members are invited to participate, and can stay connected with their colleagues and remain up to date on industry trends and best practices. DGA members can also take part in seminars and workshops that connect them with others in the industry and help them stay up-to-date on industry trends.
- Screenings: Members have free access to certain public screenings and are eligible to receive “for your consideration” screeners throughout awards season.