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Steven Spielberg. Quentin Tarantino. Alfred Hitchcock. Martin Scorsese. Do you have dreams of adding your name to the list of famous film directors? It may seem like a reach, but pursuing a career in film directing is certainly possible. In fact, there are many different roads you can take to become a film director.
In the guide below, learn everything you need to know about how to become a film director, including what film directors do, how much they earn, and film degree requirements.
Film directing is the role of managing the entire creative vision of a movie. Directors are responsible for interpreting the script, setting the movie’s overall tone, and then providing guidance to help the crew and actors capture that vision. Film directors oversee both the technical and artistic roles throughout the entire movie creation process.
Generally, the only position above a film director is the producer or production company. (In some cases, however, a film director can also be the producer.) The production company focuses on the logistics and business decisions related to creating the movie, while the film director handles the creative aspects.
Film directors generally have their hands in every creative aspect of film production, from set design to choosing and guiding the actors. Generally, that requires them to have a mix of technical skills and soft skills.
For example, a director should be familiar with lighting techniques and camera angles, so they can make sure the crew captures a scene in a way that will bring the film’s overall vision to life. However, they also need to be skilled in communication to effectively convey the vision for each scene (and the movie as a whole) to each crew member and actor.
The film director is involved in every phase of the filmmaking process, including pre-production, production, and post-production. A film director job description may include the following responsibilities:
- Assemble a team, including an assistant director, cinematographer, location manager, and more
- Interpret the script and communicate your vision for the movie to your team
- Create storyboards and shot lists to ensure you capture every aspect of your vision
- Work with individual crew members or teams to translate your vision into each scene, which can influence lighting, lens choice, music, and more
- Play a role in selecting actors and guiding them through scenes
- Review the film editor’s work to ensure you agree with cuts
- Work with post-production teams, such as the music and visual effects teams, to ensure they understand your vision
- Provide final sign-off on the film
With an understanding of the elements of a film director job description, you can move on to the bigger challenge: how to be a film director.
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There are a surprising number of paths to becoming a film director—and it doesn’t always start with a film degree.
Do You Need a Film Directing Degree?
Some film directors do start by attending film school, which is entirely dedicated to teaching the many aspects of filmmaking, including cinematography, screenwriting, 3D animation and digital effects, and producing. Well-known film schools include the American Film Institute and New York Film Academy.
However, many other colleges and universities also offer film directing degrees, even if they don’t have a dedicated film school. Universities may offer a range of different programs and concentrations, but relevant film directing degrees include a master of fine arts (MFA) in filmmaking, master of arts (MA) in film and media production, bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in filmmaking, or an associate of fine arts (AFA) in filmmaking.
One significant benefit of film school and film-related college programs is that they offer opportunities to create connections with other players in the industry. By the time you graduate from your program, you will likely have a strong network of professionals in your field, which can be beneficial when you begin to look for jobs.
Can You Substitute Experience for a Degree?
You don’t have to earn a film degree to become a director. Instead, you can work your way up through experience—and that experience doesn’t even have to be specifically in film directing. Many of today’s directors started as screenwriters, film editors, critics, or even actors.
If you’re just starting out, aim to join a film crew in any capacity, whether you work as an intern, production assistant, or gaffer. This will help you get a foot in the door and learn some of the technical skills that can be helpful when you begin directing your own projects.
From that point, you may earn spots on bigger projects—and eventually make your way to the role of director. Or, you may begin producing independent films on the side, which can help you build a reputation that attracts producers to you.
Film Director Salary
Film directors are typically paid by the movie, and because film projects can vary widely—from shorts to feature films to documentaries—it’s difficult to pinpoint the average film director salary. Some sources report that directors make between $250,000 and $2 million per year, while the most well-known directors can make well over that top number, as they receive a percentage of box office earnings.
Ultimately, it comes down to experience, skill, and maybe even a little bit of luck. But if you work hard and rise up in the ranks, you have nearly unlimited earning potential.
Once you have a grasp on the path to becoming a film director, how do you find someone to hire you? In most cases, it comes down to showcasing your work to film studios or creating their own independent films.
Hollywood and Studios
Film director jobs aren’t like most jobs—you won’t simply find an online job listing that you can apply to. Especially when it comes to Hollywood or major film studio productions, you must have an established reputation as a film director before someone will approach you with a film directing job.
However, if your goal is to land a Hollywood film directing role, it’s helpful to develop a director’s reel to showcase your work. This acts as a visual portfolio, so studios can see your work and determine if you would be a good fit for a project. It’s important to showcase your unique style, approach, and preferences in your reel, so you will attract projects that complement your strengths and interests.
This is also where networking can pay off—the more connections you’ve built, the more people you will be able to get your director’s reel in front of.
Some aspiring film directors also choose to hire an agent to help them grow their careers. Agents typically have large networks of connections, which helps them find opportunities for you. And, they generally have the experience and know-how to help you negotiate and secure contracts. Agents generally take a commission per project.
Studios aren’t the only source of film director jobs. By directing your own independent films, you can essentially create your own role. Directing an independent film can be as simple as using your smartphone and a crew of friends to create a short movie. Or, it can be as complex and involved, with a full-length script and hired crew.
To gain exposure, you can submit your projects to film festivals. While the most well-known festivals—events like Sundance and Tribeca Film Festival—may be difficult to get into, there are smaller, more accessible festivals as well. Showcasing your film at a festival can provide invaluable exposure and open the door for your next directing job.
Lights, Camera, Action!
The scene’s been set—now, it’s time to take action. If you want to learn how to be a film director, it will take a lot of discipline, motivation, and hard work to rise through the ranks. But if you have a creative vision for a movie, it will be worth the effort to see the fruits of your labor on the big screen.
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