How to Become a TV or Film Director

So, you want to know how to become a film director, eh?

Well, here’s the good news, we have a pretty comprehensive guide to exactly how you would do that. We’re going to through everything about learning how to become a film director. We’ll go through what a typical day as a director entails, what is a typical film director’s salary, and most importantly, what you should be doing right now to become a director. Here’s the bad news, it isn’t easy. A job like being a TV or film director is the dream job for a lot of people, like being a unicorn farmer or an international Spy (without all the killing) so if you want your career to take a turn for the better, you’re going to have to work hard, for say, the next 50 years.

We have some excellent courses on ‘How to Direct a Short Film‘, ‘How to Write a Short Film‘ and ‘Working with Actors‘ by Adrian Mead. Adrian has worked on some the best UK TV and Films in recent times, he shares his expert knowledge and tips to make you a better Director.

Is being a TV or film director right for you?

Having made the point that being a film director is by no means an easy career to get into, you have to ask yourself, is it right for you? You might even get lucky, you might be awesome at networking and before you know it, you’re the assistant director on the Jumanji remake. What are the chances of that? Really? Successful film directors are in this business because of passion. It will take hard work, dedication and sometimes years, just to get your foot in the door.

The days will be long, the nights will be longer. You’ll have to think on your feet, you’ll have to answer every question thrown at you, you’ll have to problem solve and then, if you’re great at that, you might be able to meet some people who know some people to get you in at a studio. In the meantime, you’ll be watching movies and reading along with the script on your lap, you’ll probably be working on your own scripts too, maybe attending an acting class to get better at understanding how to work with actors.

If you read all that and thought, “Man, this sounds like a blag!” then it probably will be a blag for you. But if you read that and thought, “I can’t wait, sign me up!” then read on, you’ll do just fine, kid.

I would travel down to Hell and wrestle a film away from the devil if it was necessary.

– Werner Herzog

What do TV or Film Directors do?

Sure, while proclaiming that you’re a TV or film director when you’re asked for fiftieth time what you do for a living at your high school reunion would be a great feeling (not that you would have the time to attend), the next inevitable question will be about what you do, so let’s find out.

Film Director Fede Alvarez on the set of TriStar Pictures' horror EVIL DEAD.
Director Fede Alvarez on the set of TriStar Pictures’ horror EVIL DEAD.

As a director, you’ll have complete control over the set, the actors, sound and music, editing, costumes, the budget and pretty much everything else that goes into making a movie. The most important aspect of being a director, is being able to juggle everyone and everything on set, whilst creating the vision of the film. You’re a storyteller.

That’s a lot to be in control of, so inevitably you will be delegating to your team. Which leads to the next part of being a director, collaboration.

Collaboration is Key

You know what you’re doing but sometimes even the best directors in the world need to concentrate on one task. That could be talking with the actors about story or character motivation, or it could be working with the set designers on the set that needs to be finished yesterday. Whatever it is that takes your focus, you can bet that there’s twenty other questions waiting to be answered, so delegate and collaborate.

You have to be a people person, you have to lead by example. If you’ve been on a set before, you’ll know that the director sets the tone of the film, the work environment and the work ethic of everyone involved. If you, as the director, are working 15 hour days, that will filter through to your team. If on the other hand, you like to take long lunches and have a lie in, so will everyone else. Lead by example and reap the rewards.

Dreaming of that Shiny Oscar?

Most people who want to become a director will see their favorite director picking up that lovely Oscar and being hailed as a genius to a standing ovation. It’s a great dream to have and here at GetFilming, we think you should dream big! But it’s also important to realise that until you get to that point, you’ll be earning a much more modest income than those super successful directors. If you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong career.

What is the Workplace like?

The job of a director can be a stressful one, if you’ve read this far, you’ll be getting the idea. The success of the movie depends on the director so you need to be on your toes all day, every day – or drink copious amounts of coffee. You’ll be firefighting all day long and you’ll probably be able to answer every question about every intimate detail of the production, if you don’t, you need to learn because you’re going to be asked about it.

Film Directors best friend.
Meet, coffee. It’s here to help.

Typically, a film production can take up to a year to complete or sometimes even longer. With the rise of streaming service like Netflix and Hulu, TV is becoming a more desired area to work in, with longer contracts and huge budgets that are rivaling film, you could be in it for the long haul.

Whatever area you work in, you’ll not only have to concentrate on the job at hand, but you’ll be looking for your next opportunity. What happens after that year working on a project that, as a director, you are so involved in that it occupies most of your thoughts? Well, you’ll need a new job so you best be reading as many scripts as possible and networking like crazy. Strike while the iron is hot. Even for the indie filmmaker, you’ll need to have projects lined up, otherwise that short film you wrote, directed, edited and won awards for at a short film festival will count for nothing if no-one remembers it.

Getting your Foot in the Door

You’ve decided that you’re going to be a director. Awesome. So…what now? There are a lot of opportunities out there for wannabe directors. You only have to search around the internet for five minutes and you can find a lot of opportunity. Everything from reading random people’s scripts and providing feedback to them to offering your services for free in any capacity – the more time you spend on set, the better. You could be a runner on a short film for your friends, it doesn’t matter at first, it’s about gaining experience and working with better and better people each time you do it. Craigslist, Gumtree and Mandy.com are three excellent resources to look for opportunities in film.

Networking is key to this career, you can network by being open and available and then, with experience, you’ll be better at spotting the real opportunities.

As a director, you’ll need to know your way around a script, so read scripts! Create your own scripts too and get them out there for feedback (PROTIP: Reddit is an excellent resource for script feedback). Then make your film! Why not? Even if you are filming on your phone, it doesn’t matter, you can film it with a potato if that’s all you have, a quality director would make it work.

Once you’ve made some short films, or a pilot of your sitcom (or whatever it is that you’re making) you should submit it to some festivals. A quick search on twitter will give you hundreds upon hundreds of short film festivals, there are a lot you can submit to online and there are some that will offer feedback to you too. Use this as a way to network and to hone your craft and maybe, just maybe, you’ll win an award. Then you’ll have momentum, so make your next film, join bigger crews and projects and send some more scripts out.

Have you heard of a little site called YouTube? I thought you might have done. Just take a look on there, you can find so much original content these days, which is amazing from a consumer point of view. So what’s stopping you getting your film made and online?

YouTube said 1 billion unique users were now visiting the video-sharing website every month, or nearly one out of every two people on the Internet.

That’s a fair few people watching video created by people like you. If you create content that is good enough, it will be watched and shared and with that many people on YouTube each day, you could quickly have an incredibly popular video or channel.

I know what you’re thinking; I want to be a director, not a filmmaker! Well, to be a TV or film director, you have to know how to make a film. Sure, over the years as you progress up the ladder you can dedicate your time more towards directing, but until that point, you have to do everything you can to be involved in film.

If you feel there’s a specific part of film making you are less knowledgeable on, or even if you just want to be involved in multiple projects then you could try HitRecord. HitRecord is a website created by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it’s an excellent resource for anyone who has aspirations to be involved in the movie business. They are a new kind of online community working together as a production company. Essentially, you can take content other users have created and add your own take on it, you can collaborate on projects and what’s that word…network!

Film Directors like these. It is a movie script.
Here we see a script, in some lovely lighting.

What should I be doing?

You should be doing lot’s of things and then when you think you’ve done enough, do more! Here’s a few ideas to occupy your time.

Watch films and TV

Seriously, I know sitting down in front of Netflix for 12 hours isn’t easy, but come on, you can do it. Don’t just watch the show or film though, think about it, why did that character say those particular words? How did that scene tell me it was a sad scene? How do I know they are brother and sister? How could that have been done better?

Reading Scripts

Combine watching TV and film with reading their respective scripts. You can find a ton of free scripts online or just go to amazon and buy them! There’s nothing better than reading through a script whilst watching the film to truly understand how a film director translates the words on the page to screen.

Make Short Films

Either make your own films or join other teams of people to make a short film. A couple of people from the team here at GF recently made their fifth short film, you can read about that here. 48hfp’s are amazing for building up your portfolio and they will teach you so much about the film making process. As a director, the high stress environment of 48hfp’s are perfect to put your skills to the test.

Work on Your Show Reel

You should be working on your show reel all the time and the more you work on other people’s projects, the more you will have to show for it. Until eventually, your TV or film director show reel will feature only work you have directed. No-one has ever been hired as a director just because they said they could do it, they’ve been hired because they have shown they can do it.

Learn More

You should never stop learning, ever. From people around you, from websites like this, from books, documentaries, podcasts and online courses. Surround yourself with knowledge and you’ll get better and better at directing. Online education is a great place to look to, we have a course on ‘Directing a Short Film’ which is an excellent resource to learn all about this craft.

Networking

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to network. In person, online, on twitter and on Facebook. Offer to work for people, do an incredible job for them, go above and beyond, reach out to people and before you know it, they’ll be contacting you!

Join an Acting Group

You’ll be working with actors everyday on set, so you need to know how they think and what get’s them going. Inevitably, the more successful you are, the more successful the actors around you are and sometimes, just sometimes, they can be temperamental, so you’re going to want to know how to deal with this. Joining an acting class is a great place to start.

Learn Story, Write Screenplays

Adrian Mead, one of the excellent tutors here at GF will be the first person to tell you, you need to write! In fact, his course ‘How to Write a Short Script’ is an excellent place to start. As a TV or film director, you will need to know scripts inside out. So what’s the best way to learn this? Write some!

Typical Salary

This varies hugely, the amount you can be paid as a film director is much like that of an actor. It varies from project to project and it can change massively. If, for example, suddenly that film you entered into Sundance Film Festival becomes a huge hit, you can bet your pay per movie will become a little bigger too.

Typically, a lot of directors will tie themselves into the success of a movie via ticket sales. So if the film does well, then so will you. An average salary for a film director is around £50k ($70k) with directors in the motion picture industry earning slightly more. Pay in this industry is really tied to your success and success is tied to hard work.

Is it for you? Good luck!

So, is being a TV or film director right for you? We hope so! From our point of view as both filmmakers and huge fans of TV and film, we want to encourage as many people as possible to create. In fact, it’s the whole point of this website, just get filming! There’s only one person who can decide whether or not you can make it as a director and that’s you. Not your friends, not your family and not us. Stop thinking about it and get out there, we’ll see you at the Oscars.

Have we missed anything? What are your tips for becoming a TV or film director? Let us know in the comments below.