How to Become a Film Director

By TACP Staff on July 03, 2019

A film director is the ultimate artistic-multitasker. In order to fulfill the artistic and dramatic vision of a film, they accept a broad set of responsibilities, including: working with script writers to develop content, guiding the performance of actors, coordinating with the technical crew, and collaborating with editors in post-production. Film directors are ultimately responsible for delivering a final product that artfully visualizes the script and meets the commercial expectations of the business who is funding production.

1. Learn the Basics of Film & Cinema

A film director is responsible for the creative elements in a film’s production. During the filmmaking process, a film director will coach actors, approve any special effects used in the project, authorize costume design, determine filming locations, and make changes, if necessary, to the script.

The job can be stressful, and film directors may go days without sleep when meeting deadlines. In addition, directing and filming require working in a wide range of weather conditions; during rainstorms or extreme heat. On the upside, travel is almost certain, and filming on location in some of the most beautiful regions of the world is just one fringe benefit of the job.  And although many actors make much more than a director, film directors earn a median salary of about $68,440 per year, with a range between $31,780 for a director just starting out, up to $181,780 for a seasoned pro.

Although training and formal instruction are not required in the world of film directing, formal education can up the odds in your favor when pursuing a career as a film director.  However, some in the industry say that all that really matters are the projects you’ve directed in the past and that you director’s reel, a collection of your best work, is all that is needed to land a job.  But, if you decide to earn a degree, finding one that covers a wide-range of subjects related to filmmaking will offer you the best start on your career, unless of course you decide to specialize in one specific area, such as animation or documentaries.

2. Learn Advanced Filmmaking Theory and Techniques

An aspiring director may be inclined to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the film, media or fine arts-related fields. A bachelor’s degree program will usually last for about four years and tends to offer different concentrations, such as fictional or non-fictional directing, narrative, or documentary specialties. Concentrations help students develop essential technical filmmaking skills in the areas of camera application, acting techniques, text analysis, rehearsal procedures, and casting. Students will also learn how to make and utilize brackets, shoot scripts, and properly create storyboards.

Other skills film directors are sure to learn include production, screenwriting, storytelling, and film history. In order to gain hands-on directing experience, students are oftentimes required to enroll in a set number of collaborative projects (with fellow students). It’s important too that aspiring film directors watch movies, short films, documentaries, etc., and take notice of camera angles and set-up, how does the director position the actors, and what is happening in the background.  Additionally, a director can gain a great deal of insight by reading (and writing, if you are a talented writer) screenplays. After all, a director takes the words in a script and turns them into moving pictures. And, just like most everything else that needs to be studied, a director must get accustomed to the language of screenwriting, which is different than novels, newspapers, or plays.

There are other skills necessary to succeed as a director, such as the ability to clearly communicate and collaborate with a team of other creatives, like producers, writers, and actors.  A director must have passion and extensive understanding of filmmaking, be able to delegate, motivate and inspire a team. They must remain calm and think clearly under pressure, have a great deal of self-confidence, be determined to succeed, make sometimes snap decisions, and have artistic and creative skills.

3. Build a Strong Portfolio & Industry Experience

Potential employers and studios are looking for people with technical and artistic skills, and familiarity with filmmaking is beneficial.  However, if you don’t have professional experience, or haven’t graduated with a degree in filmmaking, then a professional portfolio may be the most important element in your repertoire.  Building a creative portfolio can be a long term project if you plan on landing the job of your dreams. You’ll need to write a cinematic arts personal statement, include creative writing samples and short films or videos of past work; preferably your most current work. Examples of digital or traditional artwork, sketches, animations, and film or TV scripts you’ve written are also valuable in getting an interview.  After all, the career of film director is specialized and competitive and you will want to put your best foot forward when applying for a job, even at the lowest level in the industry.

To move forward in your career, you’ll also need to brand yourself so you can get the kind of filmmaking jobs you deserve.  Branding is differentiating yourself in the market.  It’s identifying your biggest strengths and what makes you unique; what makes you authentic and enthusiastic. Maybe you are passionate about documentaries on global warming, or short films about small town USA. Personal branding may also require creating a profile on social media, and use sites like YouTube to highlight your best work. This is especially true of individuals pursuing a career as a film director. Then, ask colleagues and friends how they view your work, what they believe your best at, and what needs improvement.

Many schools encourage film industry internships, so students can develop their skill set and gain knowledge of the film production process. Entering an internship program helps build a strong contact base, which is incredibly important when pursuing a career in the industry. But, if you don’t plan to attend college and therefore don’t have the experience offered by an internship, then joining industry associations and attending industry events will help find and nurture connections.

Because the film industry is so incredibly competitive, many directors tend to pursue additional training and education. The DGA (The Directors Guild of America) is well-known for its assistant director programs that train students on actual film sets. After training, graduates oftentimes become DGA members and work as assistant directors on film projects. Working as an assistant director is an incredibly important step as it can help launch your filmmaking career.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Film Directors

Additional Guides