How To Become a Director
What Does a Director Do?
A Film Director is essentially a jack-of-all-trades who juggles multiple responsibilities. Director Jared Januschka explains, “The Director is responsible for everything that goes into a production from an artistic standpoint and is required to be well-versed in every aspect of the filmmaking process, enabling him or her to speak with each department in that discipline’s own particular language.
Additionally, while working on one project, they’re often wrapping up another one and laying the foundation for what will be worked on next. It’s a very fluid process that requires strong problem-solving skills.” The clearest way to describe a day-in-the-life of a Director is to go through the different stages of production with the understanding that there is an ebb and flow to the process. These stages include:
Development: A Director will typically pitch multiple projects, including commercials and music videos if they have those skill sets. Frequently, the Director will work with a Graphic Designer, Storyboard Artist, and/or Producer to create a pitch deck. A pitch deck gives the Director’s overall vision of the project and explains how they will be interpreting the script.
It can also include a preliminary budget breakdown, production schedule, and post schedule. Pitch decks come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of detail and creativity. It’s ultimately a document that will get him or her a meeting or interview and can act as a jumping off point for Producers or financiers.
Pre-Production: During pre-production, the Director works with all the production crew heads, as well as the Producer of the film, to lock down the nuts and bolts of production. This involves location scouting, casting, costume design, rehearsals, camera tests, listening to source music, and consulting with the VFX team. They must also plan a shooting schedule during this phase. Basically, the more planning done at this stage, the smoother production will go.
Production: The average day for a Director during principal photography will run 10+ hours and can be any time of the day or night. The day begins with a production meeting with each of the crew heads and then moves into filming. People always have last-minute questions about various aspects of production so Directors expect to be bombarded with problems throughout the day.
They’re often confirming details with each department while the next shot is being set up, then monitoring the actual filming to ensure what’s captured is right for the edit.
Once the Director has decided they’ve gotten what they need from a setup or in a take, it’s their job to tell the crew to move on to the next setup. If they run out of time in the day, shots are combined or cut. The schedule must stay on time.
Due to the cost of labor on set, running into overtime is extremely expensive and can lead to problems with the financier and/or the resources needed to afford post-production services.
After filming has been completed for the day, it’s also the Director’s job to go through the dailies (i.e. the film shot on a given day) and make selections for the Film Editor. This process can take up to a couple of hours, depending on how much footage was shot that day.
Post-Production: After principal photography has been completed, the picture edit begins. There are different workflows for films based on their content but in most cases, a Director will work with an Editor for six to nine months (or longer) to get to picture lock. Picture lock is when all edits have been finalized and all footage that will be in the final version of the film has been selected.
Once this stage has been reached, the film is sent to the Composer, the sound company, and the digital imaging company. Visual Effects will also start doing their final build. The sound company takes care of ADR, Foley, backgrounds, sound design, and mixing of effects. The Cinematographer and Colorist will ensure every frame in the film has proper color. It’s the Director’s job to be involved in every stage of the process and make sure they’re creating a cohesive entity.
Distribution: The Director usually follows the film to most festivals and promotional events. They attend question-and-answer sessions about the project and explain the reasoning behind their artistic choices.
Advancing as a Director is based on creating positive relationships built on trust. The more Producers get to know their work, the more opportunities they’ll get. Most of the time Producers will look over a Director’s resume and watch their previous work to determine if they want to interview them. Additionally, the stronger relationships developed within the crew, the faster the set will run.
“In the beginning, Directors work with smaller budgets where people do multiple jobs but as they prove themselves, they’ll work with larger crews where everyone specializes in a specific aspect of production,” says Januschka.
Education & Training
“The most important training for becoming a Film Director is to watch movies and work on film sets,” says Januschka. This gives an opportunity to see how they’re run and learn from someone else’s mistakes. Some people go to film school to get practical experience while others take on entry-level jobs like being a Production Assistant.
However it’s done, a Director needs to learn how a movie is built and why certain moments work on screen and how to create them. The same shot sequences, themes, and aesthetics have run through cinema since the art form was born. If aspiring Directors are able to grasp film history and how modern film production works they’ll be free to create their own vision.
What Skills Do You Need?
The more a Director understands film history and theory, the easier it will be for them to create a cohesive vision. Additionally, the more they understand each individual department the more they’ll be able to collaborate with the people they hire. It’s a good idea to watch a wide variety of movies, read books on all aspects of filmmaking, and try to work in various departments. Doing this preparation will make the first directing experience smoother.
They should also learn to find a way to relax. “Directing is a highly stressful job so knowing how to unwind is crucial,” Januschka tells us. Relaxation allows the Director to think on the fly and handle unforeseen circumstances. It’s a job that involves patience and constant learning.
Directors all have various styles and methods. The thing they all share is drive and the ability to communicate. This career requires focus and self-motivation. At the end of the day, everything is the Director’s fault. They’re one of the top bosses so they’ve got to be on their toes and have the ability to keep tabs on every aspect of set.
“The better a communicator they are, the more they will know, and time will be saved,” says Januschka. Directors should constantly ask their crew members questions and empower others to come up with a solution. It’s their job to find a way of working that completes the film on time and on budget.
“The lifestyle of a Director varies based on the size and quantity of the projects they’re working on,” Januschka explains. Usually, when it rains it pours and they’ve got to give up almost every second of the day to make sure the film is moving forward. As a result, it’s constant work for months on end then suddenly nothing until the next project is a go.
Depending on the nature of each individual project, the Director can end up working any hour of any week in the year.
The people they work with most are the crew heads for each department which include the Producer, Cinematographer, Key Grip, Gaffer, Head Costume Designer, Story Board Artist, Production Designer, Production Sound Mixer, Re-recording Mixer, Sound Designer, Colorist, Composer, and Visual Effects Supervisor.
They also work with Casting Directors and Associates when solidifying the cast of the production. The job of the Director shifts with every project but it usually involves twelve-hour days, working with each of the department heads on a production.
There are a million different ways to become a Director. At the most basic level, they just need a Producer to hire them. However, that’s easier said than done! As was mentioned earlier, a Producer usually needs to see an example of work before granting an interview. However, that isn’t the only way to secure a position as a Director.
Often Directors will have started as Actors, Screenwriters, Editors, Cinematographers, Production Designers or Visual Effects Supervisors and then developed a relationship with a Producer. “They’re usually hired because the film heavily requires someone with their skill set,” says Januschka.
For example, the action-packed film Atomic Blonde was directed by a Stunt Choreographer. The simplest thing for a Director to do is to make a list of the things they excel at in film production and then make content that demonstrates those skills so a Producer will hire them.
How Much Does a Director make?
For Directors of studio films, the median salary is approximately $1,000,000. The salary range for Directors runs from $400,000 (new/indie Directors) to $12,000,000 (Ridley Scott).
A Director’s earnings will vary depending on if the project is union or non-union. Those just starting out and working non-union will earn less than their colleagues in the union. The Directors Guild of America provides rate cards based on the type of production.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There is a multitude of online resources and professional organizations relevant to the interests of aspiring Directors. “The best thing to do — besides watching a ton of movies, video essays, and behind-the-scenes footage — is to look up local film commissions,” says Januschka. They’ll have a breakdown of non-profit film organizations, classes, and resources in that area. They’re designed to help filmmakers work with the cities so the better the connection, the easier it is when permitting is required.
Additionally, check out all the major film festivals like Sundance. Most of them offer development labs and/or film networking events. Aspiring Directors can meet people who’ve been through the trenches of what they want to do. Festivals are also a good place to meet potential future collaborators.
The Directors Guild of America is another great resource, especially for those in Los Angeles or New York.
- Take an acting class.
- Start messing around with professional film editing software like Premiere Pro or AVID.
- Watch movies: not only what’s contemporary but films from the past and world cinema.
- Pick up a camera and shoot projects with friends and close contacts to practice and make a reel.
- Attend networking events and film festivals.
- Go to film school.
- Watch movies with the sound turned off to learn about shot progression.
- Listen to movies to understand the musicality of sound design, score, and dialogue.
- Get on a set and observe how it’s run.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Directors must create their own content. It can be a tough catch-twenty-two that is often broken by self-financing. However, creating content gives the freedom to create a brand as a Director and showcase the work they want to make.
“If a Producer can look at something they’ve made it will make it easier for them to visualize what a Director will do with their project. A Director should make something they’re personally proud of, no matter the genre, and it’ll be easier to pitch someone on directing their movie.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake young Directors make is they wait for others to give them an opportunity instead of making it themselves. Film directing is a highly competitive industry due to how much it costs to make a film versus how many people want to do it.
“There is so much risk present in making each film that financiers want to bet on people who have proven themselves. If a Director doesn’t create content to showcase their abilities then how can a Producer trust them with their money?”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Directors feel like they’re constantly bombarded with every question imaginable. However, the question people rarely ask themselves is a simple one. How well do they listen to people?
“If someone has a question or an idea that will make a film better, the Director should pull them off to the side and listen to it. Sometimes it’s good to have another crew head there if it concerns their department but usually, it’s good to keep a relaxed atmosphere where the person feels like they have the Director’s undivided attention. It’s much easier to deal with issues one-on-one instead of having a peanut gallery chiming in.”
What do Film Directors do on a daily basis?
A Film Director’s daily duties will vary, based on where they’re at in the filmmaking process. A Director’s work will be very different during pre-production than it will be during pre-production.
Throughout the entire process of making a movie, a Film Director might do any of the following (in order from the start to finish of a film):
- Pitch potential film projects to investors
- Create pitch decks
- Weigh in on film casting, locations, and production/costume design
- Consult and run production meetings with department heads
- Help plan the shooting schedule
- Work with Actors to get their best performances
- Make sure the footage is working
- Call “action” and “cut” on various scenes
- Go through dailies for the Editor
- Work with Editor on picture lock
- Work with Composer on soundtrack
- Work with Colorist on the film’s look
- Do press for the finished film
- Accompany the film to festival appearances and red carpet premieres
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
What qualifications do you need to be a Film Director?
To be hired as a Film Director, you need to have a portfolio of your film work. These days, many Directors also have a BA (or even an MA) from a film school. However, in the film industry, the most important part of getting hired is proving you can do the job.
Therefore, proof of your experience is the most important qualification for a Film Director. It helps immensely to have short or feature-length films you’ve directed that feature recognizable Actors. Additionally, if your film has won an award, generated critical or audience buzz, and done well financially, you have an even better chance of landing the type of Film Director gigs up-and-coming filmmakers dream of.
Is working as a Film Director a good career?
Working as a Film Director is extremely demanding and competitive. The hours are long. The pressure is high. It often takes years toiling in less glamorous roles or in low-paid (or free) projects to get a foot in the door as a Director.
But if film is your passion, being a Film Director is one of the most rewarding, potentially lucrative careers in the industry. Bringing your artistic vision from screenplay to screen is exciting and fulfilling. Film Directors are respected as some of the greatest artists in the film and TV business. They also carry (rightly or wrongly) a tremendous amount of the responsibility for whether a film succeeds or flops.
That’s why some of the most famous Directors in the world today earn as high as $12 million per picture1.
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“How to deal with Actors is a common question for Directors. They’re artists and once hired should be trusted to do their job. A lot of their work is personal, dealing with their own subconscious. If a Director makes them feel empowered, they’ll take emotional risks which result in better work. But if a Director is constantly criticizing and telling them what to do the Actor will clam up. The performance will come off as forced.
“It’s a balance because a lot of Actors have amazing ideas ninety percent of the time and crazy ones ten percent. Sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow and film something even if you know it’s not right. It can always be cut in post. Funnily enough, sometimes it goes the other way and the Director falls in love with something they hated on set in the editing room!”
- 1THR Staff. "Hollywood's Salary Report 2017: Movie Stars to Makeup Artists to Boom Operators". The Hollywood Reporter. published: Dec 28, 2017. retrieved on: April 9, 2020
Jared Januschka graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2011 with a BFA in Performance. In early 2012, he began to produce and direct internet commercials. Within his first year of work, he’d directed over thirty different ads and won international competitions.
Some of his clients included Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Campbell’s Soup, and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Over the next two years, he produced and directed five short films (The Men of Santa Muerte, See How They Run, Cleveland’s Cookie, The Sure Shot, Gostando Dela) while continuing to make commercials.
In early 2015, he acquired the initial financing for his feature film, Shooting in Vain (SIV) and spent the next year in development, attaching talent and raising additional equity.
The film stars Sebastian Gregory, Diana Hopper (Amazon’s Goliath), Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2), Alexandra Park (The Royals), and Ryan Shoos (The Gallows) with final color provided by Tyler Roth of Company 3 Chicago and sound re-recording by Zach Martin of Skywalker Sound. The film premiered at LA’s Dances With Film festival in 2018.