How to Become a Director
Before you become the next Spielberg or Scorsese, you’ll need to know how to direct a film. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place, as this post is devoted to helping the aspiring director take those first awkward baby steps in the business. Not only will we discuss the responsibilities of the movie director, but we’ll also examine the different types of directors, as well as mistakes commonly made by beginners. By the time you’re finished with this guide on how to direct a film, you’ll be ready to dazzle Hollywood with your talent.
Directing Movies – What Does the Director Do?
So what does a movie director do? Their primary goal is to oversee the creative vision of a motion picture, which means taking the script and translating it into a series of moving images. It also entails approving every detail related to the on-screen product, including lighting, camera angles, set design, special effects, and more. In some cases, the director will also hire key members of the crew (such as the Director of Photography).
Directors will attend auditions and give input into the casting process. They will then work with any actors hired to bring the script to life. This may include a number of rehearsals or none at all. Since actors can often challenge the director’s vision or bring personal baggage onto the set, it’s important for a film director to be able to work well with other (or at least have the authority to fire any troublemakers).
When filming wraps, the director’s job isn’t done. They play a pivotal role in the post-production process, working with the editor to sift through the various shots and select the ones most appropriate to the narrative. The director must also decide which scenes are included in the film and which get cut out entirely. In addition to editing the film, the director will help oversee the mixing of the film’s score and sound.
How to Become a Director – Three Keys to Being a Good Director
While there are many qualities that make a good director, I believe the following three to be of utmost importance. Learning how to direct a film is crucial, but there’s more to the craft that knowing all the terminology and how equipment works.
- The ability to tell a story
- People skills
Types of Directors
When learning how to direct a film, it’s helpful to know which kind of director you are. The following list runs down some of the most common types, as well as providing some examples.
- Directors who produce their own films – Eli Roth, Robert Rodriguez, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino
- Directors known for B Movies and Z Movies – Uwe Boll, Roger Corman, and Ed Wood
- Directors who compose their own scores – John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez, Satyajit Ray, Charlie Chaplin, and Clint Eastwood
- Directors who allow their actors to improvise – Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, Christopher Guest, Gus Van Sant, and Jean-Luc Godard
- Directors who want cast and crew to follow precise instructions – James Cameron, Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, and Alfred Hitchcock
- Directors who appear in their own films – Kevin Smith, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Mel Brooks, and Charlie Chaplin
- Directors who write their own scripts – John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Tyler Perry, Billy Wilder, Ingmar Bergman, Terrence Malick, and Oliver Stone
- Directors who also serve as editor and/or cinematographer – Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, and Nicolas Roeg
Joining the Director’s Guild
Membership has its privileges. That’s why you should join the Director’s Guild of America if you have a chance. It’s a union that includes directors, assistant directors, and several other positions in film and television. They protect the creative rights of their members, and one must be a member to work for the large studios. In addition, they have training programs where applicants can gain experience working in the industry. And it doesn’t hurt that guild members are guaranteed a minimum salary per week (in 2005, it was between $8000 and $15,000). To learn more about the Director’s Guild of America, be sure to check out their website.
Tips for How to Direct a Film
- Learn about acting – Since you’re going to be working with actors on a daily basis, it helps to understand them. Take some acting classes when you have a chance. Then the next time an actor is pestering you about their character’s motivation, you’ll know where they’re coming from.
- Map out characters – Once you’ve found a script, read over it carefully to establish the progression of each character. You may want to make notes and share them with each actor, as this should save time once filming begins.
- Storyboards – The use of storyboards are an important element of filmmaking, as they allow the entire cast and crew to understand what your vision looks like. If you want to save time (and money), there are numerous types of storyboard software available to assist you.
- Work with your actors – Pre-production doesn’t cost anything, so take advantage of this phase as much as possible. One of the best ideas is to read through the script with your actors and let them to get a feel for things. This also allows you to give notes on each character and the overall progression of the story. Once sets have been located or constructed, it’s also a good idea to perform “blocking,” where actors are instructed where to stand and move for each scene. In some cases, you may disagree with your actors about a certain line or scene. Hear them out, but remember that you’re ultimately the boss of the production.
- Coordinate with the AD and DP – The Director of Photography and Assistant Director are an immense help during filming. The DP will set up shots and help with the overall look of the film, while the AD will make sure that everything runs smoothly on the set and gets done the way you want it. Communicating your vision to these individuals is absolutely vital to the success of the film.
- Be prepared – Arrive early to the set each day and be prepared for all the scenes that are going to be filmed. It’s also a good idea to walk through each scene with the actors before shooting. Many things can go wrong while you’re making a movie, so always have a back-up plan ready to go. So when disaster strikes (and it will), you’ll be ready to roll with the punches.
- Have fun – Remember that directing a movie should be a fun process. After all, you could be working at a fast food restaurant or digging ditches for a living. Savor the experience and keep a positive mental attitude.
Common Mistakes New Directors Make When They’re Learning How to Direct a Film
When learning how to direct a film, it’s just as important to learn what NOT to do. The following list includes some of the most common mistakes by both novice and veteran directors.
- Always accept criticism from professionals – Even if you disagree with their opinions, it’s important to listen to constructive criticism from those with more experience than yourself.
- Don’t listen to criticism from friends and family – Unless they’re also a director, there’s a good chance your mother or girlfriend doesn’t know a thing about the craft of cinema. While there’s no reason to be rude, just don’t take their opinions to heart.
- Give the actors time – Some directors want to rush and not allow their actors proper time to build characters and hone their performances. Make sure to give your actors all the time they need–within reason, of course. Rehearsal is a good way to accomplish this.
- Don’t coddle the actors – If an actor isn’t living up to expectation, don’t be afraid to replace them.
- Don’t accept amateurs – Even a low-budget filmmaker can find professional actors to work with if they known where to look. You don’t have to settle for family and friends, unless you really want to.
That concludes our look at how to direct a film. There’s plenty more to learn about directing, and the Internet has a wide array of articles dedicated to the subject. Here’s hoping this post sparked your interest enough to seek them out. If so, I’ll be looking for your name up in lights.
See also: How to Produce a Film