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Jennifer Wilkinson as 1st AD on the set of CSI NY

JENNIFER WILKINSON (Class of '92)

In the summer of 1990, I became a DGA Trainee on the mean streets of New York. I was twenty one years old and a year out of college with a degree in film production that would never serve me any real purpose except as the prerequisite for the training program. In my first few days on my first project, we had a principal cast that began with twelve VERY Recognizable actors, three hundred and fifty extras on an all night shoot at the Plaza Hotel AND a rainstorm so severe that the force of the water broke the lens on a 12K lamp. I did not, at that time, possess any rain gear. I did not really know what a production report was meant to accomplish, nor how to do an extras breakdown, but I remember doing both while sitting on various curbs--with the out-of-town AD staff in bars nearby. During my time in New York, I worked on the TV legend that virtually every new York trainee works on, worked with the film legend that one New York trainee a year works with, and got to go out of town for a major action movie that would see me complete my days as a trainee and get bumped up.

Like many of us, I love the movies, and did not set out to work in television, thinking it the inferior of the two art forms. I have now built myself a career I am proud of. The job of an AD is the same in television as it is in features, but the pace is vastly different. An hour long episode might take eight days to shoot, meaning it's not unusual to shoot eight pages on a given day. I've worked with animals and children, done water work, wire work, explosions, car crashes, helicopter landings, and endless stunts. Becoming an AD has forced me to face both my strengths and my weaknesses, and has required me to work on both. I've become a better person because of what's been asked of me in the process of becoming a better AD, and the opposite is also true. I'm the kind of person that does well with that kind of spiritual challenge, but I know it might not be what everyone responds to.. You have to like people at least a little to do this for a long time.

I once worked for thirty four hours straight on a film, counted ninety six hours as my longest work week, slept fewer than four hours a night for weeks at a stretch, have frequently seen the sun come up before wrap, It's mentally taxing, emotionally draining, spiritually challenging, intellectually numbing, and physically exhausting. It can make you feel like you're doing just what you wanted to do, and you're really LIVING, albeit in a sort of off-kilter way that puts your schedule, your humor and your job experience outside of most other people's.

You'll need self-confidence to do this job, but it'll need to be tempered with humility, empathy, and a really good sense of humor, not least of all about yourself. You'll need to be firm when it's called for, flexible most of the time, and a better actor than most of the cast. You'll need computer skills, good handwriting, a facility with an espresso maker, good rain gear, a reliable cell phone, and several really good, probably expensive pairs of shoes. Buy good socks, too, the kind with Lycra (to help circulation) and extra cushions where you need them.. Keep good notes.. Learning is never wasted, and in this job, it's required.

I'm glad to have been a trainee and I'm glad to have done it in New York, as the city requires of you a certain dynamic that can easily get lost on an LA backlot. Like everything else in life, it's what you make of it. What do you want "it" to be?

That's YOUR question.

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