How to Become a Film Director – Complete Guide

In this post you will learn about how to become a film director. A film director is the driving force behind a film, directing the actors and on-screen visuals they are present throughout the whole film making process.

You will learn about the qualifications to become a film director, work routes, making an income and job role breakdown.

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What does it take to be a movie director

One of the first lessons you learn when working in the film industry is that everyone wants to be a director.

I remember the awkward silence on one of my first film sets after I announced to several crew members during a lunch break that I was hoping to progress to director one day.

It’s not that they didn’t believe that I could be a director but simply what I said was nothing new. Personally I was young, naive and didn’t even fully understand what the job role was. After several years of working in the film industry I released that I didn’t actually want to be a film director. This would have deeply confused my younger self but a lot of us start out in the film industry convinced we know where we are heading only for that goal to change and evolve as we learn more about ourselves.

I’m not saying this to scare you but to let you know that directing is the dream job role. The dream that drives a lot of people when they first start out in the industry. It is only through working on sets, making films and spending time within the industry that will let you know if this is the right job role for yourself.

Initial Experience

Make A Short Film – The very first thing you should do if you are interested in directing is to make a short film. This film doesn’t need to have a budget and can be shot on your mobile phone. This is the best way to learn the basics of film making. Write a short screenplay, find actors, shoot and edit it.

Formal Education – Like all creative job roles you don’t need qualifications to become a film director. However many directors choose to study, either taking on a course in film production or attending film school. Film school’s are more expensive but can offer more professional, focused training. Whether you attend film school or not is a personal choice.

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Work For Others – Spend time working for other student and indie filmmakers. The chance to work on a larger set or professional production will teach you a lot (professional sets are run a lot differently than low budgets, this will give the opportunity to see these differences close up). You can work any job role to get onto sets and learn from others. See if there are low budget taking place near you the need help.

Routes Into Direction

There is no one route into film directing, some directors start out as directors from the beginning making short films and independent features with the hope of getting known, and being trusted with larger budgets. Others work their way up the film crew ladder starting out in a junior job role before progressing to director. Often directors do a mixture of working for others and producing their own films.

The Independent Director – The independent director often will start out making low budget films. They make films in the hope to get picked up for larger productions, an award win at a major festival could lead to being trusted on higher budgets projects. The independent director might works as a director from the get-go, skipping the traditional route and progressing from short films to features. Directors can start off directing smaller productions such as educational videos, commercials and music videos.

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The Traditional Route –  Traditionally directors work themselves up the crew ladder. Starting out as PA’s or Assistants in any department and progressing slowly up the ladder until they become trusted to be hired as directors. The plus side of this route as opposed to independent is that you are taught the professional way of working on set, gain experience working amongst a professional crew, and network within the industry.

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Making Money

In this section we will look at the jobs directors or upcoming directors can do to make money. There are a lot of options, consider what lifestyle you are looking for and what jobs are available near you.

Videographer – A videographer is a general filmmaker, often shooting and editing a video themselves. Examples of jobs are shooting events, weddings, corporate gigs, small scale commercials it will take several years of experience and making contacts but you can make a living as a videographer.

Freelance Film Crew – Start out within an entry level job on a film set and work your way up to larger productions It can be hard to find these first-time jobs but this will give you the experience of working amongst professionals in the industry.

Full-Time Job – There are full-time jobs in film. These will start out as admin type jobs but could progress to more creative work later on. Find these jobs on regular job sites or advertised on company’s own career pages.

YouTuber – Its likely that some directors in the future will come from online. YouTube is a real job and although it will take years to make a living this way, creating an audience online could come in handy later when promoting your films.

Any Job Role Will Do – You don’t need to work in the film industry to be a director, arguably this will give you more time to make films. Industry work can be unreliable and might not fit around your current lifestyle. You can make an income from any job role and pursue directing on the side.

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Types Of Directors

There are different types of directors, although you might only be able to name famous directors there are still thousands of shows being created every year that have directors attached.

Independent Director – Producing your own films and entering them into film festivals and competitions. In time directors will be trusted for higher budget funding.

Speciality Director – Some directors focus on certain types of media such as music videos, commercials, new media. Others will find focus in other industries such as Games.

Director For Hire – Often these directors have agents and are hired by producers to oversee a production. You will find on a TV series that every episode will have a different director in charge – this is to shoot multiple episodes at the same time but also stop directors having too much creative control and leaves the control in the producer / creators hands.

Star Vehicle Directors – Famous directors start out in any of the above job types. It is becoming rarer to find famous well-known directors, perhaps due to the changes in media consumption. The future of the auteur director is unknown.

Director Job Role Breakdown

What do movie directors do? Although there is a lot that goes into the job role of director the following is a short breakdown of tasks -

Pre-Production – They may be hired by a producer. They cast and crew the film alongside the producer. They might storyboard shots for the film, they discuss the creative style of the film with all head of departments. Attending meetings and location scouts. Rehearse any necessary scenes with actors.

Production – Be on set at all times, direct the actors, help decide shots and creative style with the Director Of Photography. Listen to and advice all heads of departments. Work alongside the producer to get the film made on time.

Post-Production – Oversee the edit, advise the music department. Direct any ADR with the actors. Lock the final edit. Be present during premier screenings and promotion for the film. Wait nervously to see if the film brings in a profit.

Job Outlook

It will take a long time to progress to a professional director. There are no fixed work routes, every director will choose their own path to go down. Progression in film relies on building up a portfolio and gaining a strong reputation within the industry.

The first step to becoming a director is to research the job role, make your own short films, watch films and start finding work on film sets. If you have any questions on this blog post you can find me on Twitter here - @amyclarkefilms

Resources - Stephen Follows - How to become a film director | Prospects job role breakdown | Interview with Al Carreta | Cineman | The Director’s Logbook - How to be a film director