Working Your Way Up
Once you are actually out in the working world you are going to want to continue with freelance work, beginning as a set production assistant. This is the starting point for a lot of people who are working their way up, and you have several choices from where to go from there. The path that you are taking may end up keeping you as a production assistant longer, which may be important if you intend to be an assistant director in film and television.
Two things are going to take place when you are working as a production assistant. When you are working on union oriented projects you are going to begin racking up days worked, which will be indicated by call sheets that you should save. To register with the Director's Guilde of America as a second assistant director you must first accumulate 600 days as a production assistant, which means full production days that you worked. This takes several years, often over five, yet union production assistant jobs tend to be a reasonable starting wage. From here you create a book with your call sheets and submit that to the DGA, which based on very specific guidelines can then accept you as a second assistant director.
The second thing that will take place is that you will actually move up to other positions faster than you will be able to accumulate your production assistant days. You may then be able to work your way up to 2nd second assistant director, production coordinator, second assistant director, and even first assistant director, all on smaller non-union projects. You need fewer days as a 2nd second assistant director, and even fewer as a first assistant director, to apply to the DGA. You can then begin to mix and match, and your days as an assistant director will count more than your production assistant days and end up allowing your in to the union with fewer required work days. For example, you will only need 120 days as a second assistant, first assistant, unit production manager, or associate director to then submit to the Third Area Qualification. The specifics are going to change for regions, positions, and application processes, but the basic process remains the same.