Asked by a friend to work as the 2nd AD on an unreleased independent film titled Saturation 70—then quickly promoted to 1st AD—David McGiffert began his career in entertainment unassumingly and with little knowledge of the industry. That same year he was again invited by a friend to work as the production office assistant—and again promoted to 1st AD—on the Peter Fonda-directed Idaho Transfer (1973), after which he worked on several small indie features. In 1975 he was working out of New York, editing various segments for the first season of Saturday Night Live (then simply known as Saturday Night), when he was hired on his first big budget film as 2nd AD of the second unit where again, keeping in line with the luck of his early career, he was quickly promoted to 1st AD of the second unit then finally to 1st AD to John Guillermin for his remake of King Kong in 1976. It was for this film that he joined the Directors Guild.
Throughout his career, McGiffert has been known as a reliable AD who has worked with such prominent directors as Sydney Pollack, Robert Zemeckis, Taylor Hackford, Tim Burton, Milos Forman, Terry Gilliam, Barry Levinson, and Cameron Crowe, among others. The films he has worked on as an assistant director include Absence of Malice (1981), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Tootsie (1982), Witness (1985), all three installments of the Back to the Future trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Rain Man (1988), The Fisher King (1991), Batman Returns (1992), The Firm (1993), Little Giants (1994), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), A Civil Action (1998), Dudley Do-Right (1999), Man on the Moon (1999), Heartbreakers (2001), Vanilla Sky (2001), Laurel Canyon (2002), The Interpreter (2005), and All the King’s Men (2006). Although almost working exclusively in film, McGiffert has also served as the AD on the television series CHiPs and Tales from the Crypt.
McGiffert was the first assistant director on director Barry Levinson’s team for Rain Man when it won the DGA’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Award in 1989. McGiffert was also credited as an associate producer on the film, which earned the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture.