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Career: Film Director

A Day in the life of a Film Director

“What I really want to do is direct.” If this applies to you, read on. Directors turn a script into a movie; they are responsible for the quality of the final product and its success. In most cases, directors work on films far longer than any actor, technician, or editor, from the first day of brainstorming to the final release; it is no wonder that directing is physically,mentally, and emotionally draining. Directors work with actors; makeup artists; cinematographers; writers; and film, sound, and lighting technicians. They determine all the particulars of how scenes are to be shot, from visual requirements to the placement of the actors and the appropriateness of the script. Directors cast actors who can bring their vision to the screen. Sound judgment and an open mind are important during these initial phases. A director guides actors to a greater understanding of their characters’ motivations and encourages them to perform at a high level—sometimes by gently cajoling and sometimes by yelling—anything to get the job done. A director’s unique vision of the final product and ability to communicate that vision effectively and immediately are critical. After the film has been shot, editorial skills are important. Directors must have a good feel for pacing and structure and must know how to integrate and cut scenes so they work effectively. Issues of finance are important in this industry—making films is expensive. First-time directors find it difficult to get work with any large-budget house, so many of them start with small-budget directing, using existing sites and sets creatively, convincing technical assistants to work for little (or more often, convincing friends to work free), and using editing and cutting rooms during off hours to save money. One director surveyed funded his first film entirely on his credit cards.

Paying Your Dues

Nearly all film directors are film school graduates. Film school students must complete their own short films by graduation; you should be prepared to work under difficult conditions, share space, and convince actors to work for little or no money. Aspiring film directors prove themselves by directing stage productions, doing film lighting design, or establishing a history of assistant or associate directorships. This last route is the most common, as professional experience and networking contacts can be combined in a brief but intense period of time. There is no specific ladder to climb. Many aspiring directors develop clips of their work as a display of their talent when applying for industrial, television, or commercial directing jobs, which pay well and serve as working credentials. Individuals entering this career should be warned that 20-hour days are not unusual.

Associated Careers

For the most part, directors who leave enter another area of the entertainment industry. A number of them use their financing experience to move into the producing end of film development. Others move into script development or teaching. Some directors become critics, reviewers, or reporters for film-related magazines. Still 0thers become movie or television writers. A few become actors. People who go into business enter a wide variety of fields including costume supply, lighting rentals, casting agencies, site location, and acting schools.

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