BECOME A FILM DIRECTOR (INTRO)
So you have decided that you want to be a film director, huh? Good! Now you want to know how to become a film director. To become a successful movie director there are some crucial things that you must know and do and we will highlight them in this article and much more.
WHAT IS A FILM DIRECTOR?
First of all, we need to clarify, exactly what is a film director? Though the responses can vary there are some fundamental descriptions that will be included in all thorough definitions of what is a film director.
A FILM DIRECTOR IS:
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSONS ON A FILM SET: It comes as no surprise, the movie director is of significant importance on a film set. The reason is because the director is the one who determines the creative vision and makes big decisions regarding the production.
That production may be a film, television, play, short films, documentaries, reality TV and more.
A FILM DIRECTOR IS KNOWLEDGEABLE OF HIS/HER CRAFT: Film directors are some of the most knowledgeable people on set when it comes to the art of filmmaking. A film director’s knowledge spans all departments of filmmaking.
Successful directors can adequately and competently discuss the filmmaking process and responsibility of all heads of film departments and staff on set. Whether it’s the production department, wardrobe, make up, camera, the director has a strong grasp on each subject.
A FILM DIRECTOR INTERPRETS THE SCRIPT AND SETS THE TONE OF THE FILM: A director must have a thorough understanding of the script in order to interpret that script. And with the interpretation of the script, the director will then set the tone of the film.
A FILM DIRECTOR DIRECTS ACTORS: Did you think that actors just got in front of the camera and acted as they pleased? No, not at all! The responsibility of the actors is to act in accordance with the direction, guidance given to them by the film director.
A FILM DIRECTOR DIRECTS THE CAMERA: Those amazing shots that you see on your screen are thought out by the director and brought to life by the director’s director of photography (DP) and executed by the camera person. When directing, These are Camera Movements: 7 Essential Movements.
A FILM DIRECTOR WORKS WITH THE CASTING DIRECTOR: Having the right cast can make or break a film, so why would the director, who is the ultimate creative of a film leave it up to a single person to hire the actors? He/she doesn’t!
The director works with the casting director to make sure that the right people are hired for the available roles.
A FILM DIRECTOR WORKS WITH EDITORS TO ASSEMBLE THE FILM: A film director is in constant connection with the film’s editor from pre-production all the way through post-production. After the film is wrapped up, or, “in the can,” the film director’s journey to complete the film continues.
The film director will often or regularly sit with the editor to make sure that the film is being edited in a way that is true to his vision of the film. These are Three Must Know Cuts When Film Editing.
A FILM DIRECTOR WORKS WITH THE SOUND AND MUSIC DEPARTMENT: We mentioned earlier that a director is responsible for the tone of the film. Therefore, he/she must work closely with the sound and music department as their jobs are crucial to setting the tone of the film, among other reasons.
WHAT DOES A DIRECTOR DO IN PRE-PRODUCTION?
There are cases when directors write the screenplay that they are going to direct. Independently of whether the director wrote the screenplay or not, in pre-production the film director needs to comb through the script thoroughly to conclude if rewrites or revisions are needed.
The film director needs to be working with the department heads. From the cinematographer to casting director, AD and so on, the film director needs to be in communication with them to assure that everyone is onboard as to what the tone of the film is. The director will give them the creative instructions and they are to execute on them along with the crew in their department.
Directors may want to storyboard certain scenes of a movie to communicate their desired look and feel of the film to certain department heads like the cinematographer and production designer. And in most cases, film directors will always have a shot list for every scene.
A movie director may also choose to be present during location scouting to assure that the best locations that correlate with his/her vision are being chosen.
WHAT DOES A DIRECTOR DO IN PRODUCTION
The bulk of the work for production is done in pre-production, as just discussed. Therefore production is a straightforward process. In production the director is primarily focused on directing actors and getting the best performance from them.
With that said, the production stage is probably the busiest, most time consuming and exhausting period of making a movie for a movie director. The hours a director will work during production varies considerably. The director may work 10-12 hours one day and then work a completely different set of hours the next day. The director is the most responsible for getting the film “in the can,” so working long days, evenings and weekends is part of the workload as well.
The movie director’s soft skills are a great asset as the director will feel out and discover how actors like to work and guide them and inspire them to bring out their best performance. The director also blocks and stages actors.
Directing the camera is also a crucial part of production as shots and framing are the vocabulary of a film.
WHAT DOES A DIRECTOR DO IN POST PRODUCTION
In post production the director spends time communicating with the editors either via notes or by actively participating in the process.
When the final edit of the film is complete, the film moves on to sound design. The director will sit in on the sessions as sound design is created and will offer feedback.
In post production the editors and director will prepare a “director’s cut.” The director’s cut will then be sent over for review to the producers and financiers before it is approved/signed off as the final cut.
Out of the three phases of making a film, the post-production is surely the least hectic for the movie director. Being so, it gives the director an opportunity to look for their next project.
Depending on the size of the film and the involvement of the director, the director may be working on film from start to finish for at least one year.
HOW TO BECOME A FILM DIRECTOR
There is no set in stone route when it comes to how to become a film director. There actually are many routes to become a film director. Movie directors have come from many fields, for example, photography, theatre, among others. Movie directors have started in many departments within the film industry from screenwriters, camera persons and assistant directors, to name a few.
Though, independent of the route that your passion for film takes you to become a film director, it is a profession that requires comprehensive knowledge of film and/or TV drama production.
As far as gaining this comprehensive knowledge, the path differs. Some inspiring directors choose to start their careers by getting work as a runner on set or in a production office and seek to make their way up through entry-level positions as production assistants. Have a read of How To Become A Production Assistant.
WAYS TO BECOME A FILM DIRECTOR
As previously stated, there are many ways on how to become a film director. Below we highlight a few of them:
STUDY FILMS AND DIRECTORS
An absolute simple and most accessible way to become a film director is by studying films. Study great films and films that may not be the best. Stuy what makes the films good or not. Is it the lighting, is the actors’ performances, is it the camera angles? Or is it a combination of all of them?
In either case, given that your desire is to become a director, focus primarily on identifying the director’s film style. The great directors have a directing style that makes them stand out. Some are more visual, not a lot of dialogue in their films. Some directors move the camera in astounding ways whereas others don’t move the camera at all.
Study the directors to the point that you can identify their style and recognize their style with other directors use their style in a “homage” way.
With that said, you don’t have to have an in depth knowledge of every director and their style. However, getting that kind of knowledge of at least three directors will really give you a confident approach to filmmaking as a director.
WRITE A SHORT FILM AND DIRECT IT
Don’t sit around and wait for someone to bring you a script and ask you to direct it. The probability of that is significantly low. Rather, take the initiative and write your own screenplay, we recommend a short film script, and shoot it.
When you write your own script you are essentially creating work for yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone, a producer, or anybody to give you work. Once you have the screenplay, now decide if you’re going to shoot it on your phone, buy equipment or rent equipment. Though you should think about what equipment you will use before you begin writing the script. That will give you a better idea of what your expectations are.
Now, get some actors together and shoot the thing! Now you’ll be on your way to building a portfolio that you can show to potential producers, etc. Oh, and don’t stop at one short film. Repeat the process and you’ll see that you’ll just keep getting better and better.
Who knows, you may in the process catch a lucky break or decide that you are ready to tackle a feature film production.
PS: If you don’t want to write your own script, you should! No, there are people out there with scripts that are looking for someone to direct them.
FILM SCHOOL (OPTIONAL)
Though it may be helpful, you don’t need to go to film school to become a director.
Film school is helpful to many because of the theory and hands-on experience it will provide you. Film schools will have high end equipment and will be working with the latest technology in filmmaking. In addition, you will be learning to use them from people who may be working professionals.
Film school is also a great way to network and meet other fellow filmmakers. Some film schools may even be able to connect you to internships (may be paid or not).
If you do decide to go the film school route, bear in mind that not all film schools offer film degrees. Therefore, be sure to keep this in mind as you decide on what film school you want to go to.
EXPERIENCE & SKILLS
Directing actors is only one part of being a film director. As previously emphasized in this article, a director must know how to engage with pretty much every member of the crew.
This means that a director must have a handle on all of the major facets of making a movie. Some of those facets include production design, screenwriting, sound, editing and cinematography.
It’s not that a director has to be an expert in these fields, however, a director must know how to communicate his/her vision for the film effectively to the respective department heads.
These unique skills can be learned formally but they are generally honed hands on a movie set.
A director’s salary can vary greatly from one medium to another, eg., TV, commercial, film, etc, as well as from project to project.
Key factors that will determine a film director’s wage are the director’s experience and the film’s budget. For example, if a director is directing a film that is backed by a major studio, the director is very likely to earn $1 million dollars or more.
Also, bear in mind that the figures a director earns is determined if the director is part of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) or not. The DGA sets the rates for its members.
CURRENT DGA DIRECTOR RATES
Currently, the weekly rate for a high-budget film is $20,616 and $14,723 for a short or documentary.
And in television a Director in the DGA can earn a minimum of $80,532 per episode for a half-hour network (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) show. That rate can increase for a longer show but can also be significantly lower for programs that air on cable or streaming.
Keep in mind that if a director is not a member of the DGA the rates can be significantly less.
CAREER AS A FILM DIRECTOR
The common desire to be a Film Director makes it a highly competitive field to break into.
Unless a Director takes it upon themselves to produce a film, they’re likely vying for a limited number of opportunities along with hundreds of other creatives with similar experience and expertise.
With a greater focus on providing opportunities for individuals who historically have had a more difficult time breaking into the directing world, namely women and people of color, several programs have been created over the last few years to help aspiring Directors.
Aspiring Film Directors may also find success outside of cinema. Those looking to direct may want to consider alternate fields like TV or commercial directing. While still competitive fields to enter, they can overall provide more opportunities for Directors.
HOW DO FILM DIRECTORS GET WORK?
Directors may be employed by TV broadcasters, film or television production companies, or work on a freelance basis.
What you need most of all to become a film director is passion, dedication, a willingness to learn and also, network! And perhaps, the most important, patience. You must recognise that to become a recognizable director and one that is consistently working will take time. You may have to make a numerous amount of films before this happens.
The outcome of your career as a film director is dependent on many variables and no one can tell you what it will be. However, you can be planning and working to take it in a direction that is more likely to give you the outcome that you desire.
Now, go direct!