Art Directors Guild Suspends Training Program: ‘We Cannot in Good Conscience Encourage You to Pursue Our Profession’

Update: The ADG has issued a statement: “Due to an internal technical error, applicants to our Production Design Initiative (PDI) program received an email that had not been edited or fact-checked.” The full statement is at the bottom. 

Art Directors Guild is suspending its Production Design Initiative program, designed to give hands-on training and job placement opportunities to those seeking a career in the field, according to an email sent to prospective applicants and acquired by IndieWire. (Read the full statement below.)

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In the email, ADG cited its membership’s 75 percent unemployment as the reason, concluding: “Given this situation we cannot in good conscience encourage you to pursue our profession while so many of our members remain unemployed.”

The ADG is one of the largest IATSE locals with approximately 3,000 members, and houses a wide range of art department professions including production designers, art directors, set designers, illustrators, model makers, as well as matte, scenic, previs, and graphic artists.

The industry has not resumed a full, pre-strikes level of productions, and it remains unclear if a return to that status quo is possible in a Hollywood gripped by ever-higher costs, ever-lower revenue, and increased production abroad.

This comes in the midst of IATSE renegotiating a new three-year contract with the AMPTP in an effort to avoid a strike, and as crew are hyper-focused on the labor issues facing their profession. Like others in IATSE, ADG members have gone through a particularly hard stretch with loss of work during the pandemic, WGA and SAG strikes, and the current contraction that’s slowed TV and movie production and sent more of it overseas.

In the current negotiations, the top issue for the AMPTP and IATSE will be the funding of health and pension benefits directly funded by residuals. The Basic Agreement signatory companies expect a $670 million shortfall in health and pension over the next three years due to fewer productions overall and/or more content produced outside the Basic jurisdiction.

The language used in that message, which came after the ADG’s five-and-a-half-hour annual membership meeting, is eerily similar to what would-be PDI trainees received. “While I don’t want to see any members leave our union family, I know more than a few who are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or losing their home,” ADG leadership wrote to its members at the end of April. “I’ve spoken with several who are questioning whether to pivot to other endeavors. This information might be very useful to them as they contemplate their futures.”

In 2022, there were 24 PDI program participants; in 2023, there were 26. Participants were expected to work 260 consecutive or non-consecutive days that would train them for art department roles. They could be placed to work on features, episodic productions, commercials, reality shows, live events, or theme park initiatives — and were paid and insured as full production assistants.

This is a huge blow to creating a consistent pipeline of future talent. Per the ADG’s own language, this was “one of the most ambitious initiatives administered by a Hollywood labor union… Through this opportunity [participants] will become informed about the contributions of the many members of the Art Department, including production designers, art directors, set designers, model-makers, illustrators, previs, graphic, scenic, and title artists.”

IndieWire has reached out to the Art Directors Guild for further comment. Read the entire statement below.

Dear PDI Applicants,

Due to historic and unprecedented circumstances within the entertainment industry we must suspend the review of all PDI applications for the 2024 calendar year. We realize this decision will come as a surprise and disappointment to many.

Since Covid our industry has been in a state of historic change and evolution. The reason for our decision to suspend the 2024 PD Initiative is due to the serious downturn in current employment opportunities for our membership, both in North America and globally. Currently more than 75% of our members are unemployed and many have not been working for 18 months or more.

Because of these circumstances there is even less of an opportunity for employment within the entertainment industry at this time.

Given this situation we cannot in good conscience encourage you to pursue our profession while so many of our members remain unemployed. This is due to multiple reasons, the 2023 strikes, the on-going 2024 labor negotiations, and a once in a generation change within the entertainment
industry as it searches for new business models to govern its content creation and distribution. We hope that this is a temporary condition, and we intend to resume the PD Initiative in 2025. At that time, you may reapply should you still be interested.

In the meantime, we encourage you to work on your portfolios and work-skills training. Also, this decision does not preclude you from making a direct outreach to current and future productions and their designers should you see an opportunity for employment as a Production Assistant within their art departments.

Most importantly, stay informed and continue to build your personal networks. We are discussing the hosting of a webinar for our PDI community and for you as well to review our current situation and its future trends. We will update you once we have a confirmed plan, date, and designer panelists.

Sincerely yours,

The ADG PDI Leadership Team

The updated statement from the ADG:

Due to an internal technical error, applicants to our Production Design Initiative (PDI) program received an email that had not been edited or fact-checked and was not intended to be widely distributed. As an early draft, the data points included in the email (such as “more than 75% of our members are unemployed and many have not been working for 18 months or more”) were not fact-checked and may be inaccurate.

Additionally, our overall message to membership was not accurately captured throughout the email. Our guild, alongside the entire motion picture/entertainment industry, has felt the effects of a global pandemic, an industry-wide strike and shift in the business models that underpin our industry. However, none of this dampens our optimism about the future of our industry and the future of production design as a profession.

This temporary pause in our PDI program during a year of contract negotiation gives our staff and membership the ability to focus on our movement of “Many Crafts, One Fight.” This labor movement alongside our peers and colleagues only strengthens our excitement for the future of the industry.

We plan to resume the PDI program in 2025.

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