Art Directors Guild Suspends Training and Job Placement Program Amid Production Slowdown

The IATSE local’s Production Design Initiative has been paused for 2024 with plans to resume next year

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include comment from the Art Directors Guild regarding some of the statistics cited in a memo sent to applicants of the Production Design Initiative.

The Art Directors Guild has suspended its Production Design Initiative for the year as jobs in the entertainment industry have been slow to return after last year’s writers and actors strikes.

In the memo, first published by IndieWire and available to read in full below, the ADG cited the “serious downturn in current employment opportunities for our membership” as the reason for suspending the program, which places applicants looking to get a foothold in production design work in jobs as assistants in films, TV shows, commercials, live events and theme parks, among others.

“Currently more than 75% of our members are unemployed and many have not been working for 18 months or more,” the memo continued. “Given this situation we cannot in good conscience encourage you to pursue our profession while so many of our members remain unemployed.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for ADG confirmed that the Production Design Initiative was on pause for the year, but said that the memo sent out to applicants was an “early draft” that “had not been edited or fact-checked.” The spokesperson added that the statistic in the memo about three-fours of the local’s membership not being employed was “not fact-checked” and may be inaccurate.”

“Additionally, our overall message to membership was not accurately captured throughout the email,” the spokesperson said. 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.”

While the exact numbers at each local are unclear, insiders at IATSE have told TheWrap that a significant number of members of the below-the-line entertainment union have not found employment since the end of Hollywood’s double strike lats November

Members have voiced concern that the lack of unemployment is creating a talent drain in Hollywood. With the strikes exhausting their financial reserves and made it impossible to keep up with the cost of living in Los Angeles and other cities that serve as major production hubs, some below-the-line workers have considered pivoting to other fields.

Prior to the strike, productions began to dry up as studios anticipated a work stoppage, and in the months after their end, jobs have been slow to come back as studios have significantly downsized their production spending in an effort to make their streaming services profitable.

“We hope that this is a temporary condition, and we intend to resume the PD Initiative in 2025,” the memo, which urged applicants to continue developing their portfolios and to continue networking with potential employers, said.

The PDI suspension also comes as IATSE is in the midst of the most critical stage of its contract bargaining process with Hollywood studios. Through April, the 13 West Coast IATSE locals, including ADG, met with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to discuss craft-specific issues in the contract.

Now IATSE is negotiating the key issues in the contract, including contributions to the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan, which is expecting a $670 million shortfall through 2027 due to the drop in productions. Other major issues such as wages, turnarounds and regulations over the use of artificial intelligence will also be on the table.

Read the memo in full 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 ongoing 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

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