The Definitive Guide on How to Become a Director

In this guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know on how to become a film director.

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This post will be focusing on the career side of directing. The following advice is based on my own experience and observations of the film industry.  I will also link to the best additional resources I can find online. 

I intend to approach this post will a positive yet honest outlook. Film Directing is one of most desired job roles in the world, the manner of achieving this role will differ person to person.

In the coming chapters You will learn about -

  • The Qualifications to become a Film Director
  • The different Film Director Career Paths
  • How to find Film Directing work
  • How to become a Successful film director

Qualifications

What qualifications do you need to become a Film Director? Unlike other professional job roles film directing does not require any formal education. You will find just as many successful directors without a degree than those with one. 

However an attendance at a good film school can provide you with industry contacts and a professional introduction to film. Studying film can also give you access to equipment, the time to develop your show reel and meet like minded people with the same aspirations as yourself.

Whether you gain a degree or attend a film school will depend on a few factors – what country you live in, if you can financially afford to go and how you prefer to learn. I wrote a detailed post on film schools with the Pros and Cons of attending. You can read my full film school post here

Skills

To become a director you will need to develop a series of skills.

A film director needs to have an outstanding creative vision, strong leadership skills, extensive understanding of the film industry and determination. These skills can be taught through practice and from watching others direct. A full list of required skills can be found on the Creative Skillset website  - Read here

It is also worth mentioning there is no one breed of director. There are successful directors with both Extroverted and Introverted personalities (Quentin Tarantino and Ang Lee). Traits such as your culture, gender and race do not matter. The future image of directing will hopefully become more diverse. 

Career Paths

There is no one career path into film directing. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of directing - you will need to find your own way to advance in the job role. 

The best way to start a film career is to begin making your own short films. You can learn the basics of how a film is made through making your own low budget productions. At some point in life you will need to begin to make an income from film. I have identified three main work routes into film direction -

The Traditional Route – The Traditional way into film directing is to work your way up through the job ranks. You can start out within any job role and climb up to director. There are many successful directors who start out as Runners, Camera Assistants, Editors - the job role you work within does not matter. You learn by watching other directors direct.

The Independent Route - Making your own independent film productions has been the career path for many directors over the past three decades. Filmmakers create there own films, and enter them into film festivals with the hope of finding distribution. A screening at a major film festival can lead to further directing work and attract the attention of investors. To make an income whilst pursuing this route you will need to find another way to financial support yourself. 

The Freelance Director – A freelance director may work within Theater, TV, Corporate Productions or Commercials. Some directors start out as directors straight away advancing from lower budget productions to more professional work. To do this you will need to build up a show reel of work and industry contacts. These jobs are acquired from job sites, from an agent, through your own contacts and by approaching businesses directly. 

Further research into how to become a director and the career routes successful directors have chosen can be found Via Stephen Follows website - Read here

Finding Work

When you have the skills, experience and show reel to support yourself as a director you will need to find work. Film directing work can come from many different places -

1. You are hired by a company – There are full time contracted directing jobs. These can be found within TV, Commercial company's, Creative agency's, Corporate Businesses. You can find these jobs on regular job sites or on the career pages of company's websites. Such as the BBC

2. You sell your films -  Going further into the independent route, you create a film and sell it directly to distributors. In doing so you either make an income from your distribution deal or generate enough buzz from your production that producers and investors are eager to hire you on other productions.

3. You find an agent - Being part of an agency is no guarantee of work but they can help. There are agencies which focus on Features, TV and niches such as Music Videos. When you feel you have a strong enough portfolio you can approach these company's directly or they may find you through film festivals and recommendations.  

You need to become a skilled director before you are hired in this job role. Through working in the industry, making your own films and building up a show reel. It can be tough to break into directing as you will need to make an income from other work before you are hired. 

How to become sucessful

How to become a successful filmmaker? First you need to define 'success' for yourself. Would it mean directing major features films, winning awards, being part of a great company. How you see success will be different from others. Here are some pointers to keep in mind whilst pursuing a directing career -

Film is a long game - Unlike other job roles you don't need to be successful young to be a film director. How long it takes for each individual to find success can vary (often those who do succeed early have money, initial contacts and a lot of luck). We all learn and develop in our own time.

Planning your career - It's beneficial to have a plan when approaching a life long vocation such as directing. Your plans will change and alter as you learn more about the industry and yourself. Your plan may be to attend a film school or to work in the industry. All routes into film will teach you more about your career and as such no one route is better than the other. Take the first step and keep going forwards.   

Continue Learning - No matter what stage you are at in film, there is always new skills to learn. Whether this be technical skills such as learning to use a camera, or developing your own interpersonal skills. Even if you are not working directly in film you can work on making yourself a more skilled director.

I hope this short guide has helped you learn more about how to become a director. Directing is a tough, competitive job. It can take decades to become a professional director. Film directors often work a number of jobs roles both in and out of the industry before they begin to get hired. 

Do you aspire to become a director? Let me know in the comments section below how you plan to navigate this career, I will answer all questions in full. 

Resources that may be helpful – The Directors logbook How to be a film director Video | Beyond Film School What is success in the film industry Video |Stephen Follows How to become a film director article | Prospects Film Director Profile