How to Become a Film Director in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a film director. Learn about the education requirements, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Film Director?

Film directors manage actors and production staff during the making of movies or other pieces of video media. They interpret a writer's script, direct the actors to perform in a certain way, and oversee choreography, lighting, music choices and many other aspects of making a film. Directors are in charge of a piece of media's creative direction and need to have strong communication and leadership skills in order to deliver on their ideas. They will also be involved at the post production level of a project, working with musicians, editors and producers to ensure the final product is as they envisioned.

More information on this career can be found in the table below:

Degree Required Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
Experience Required Internship (recommended), membership in the Director's Guild of America (DGA)
Key Skills Leadership, communication, creativity, management
Education Field of Study Film and video production
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (producers & directors)*
Median Salary (2015) $68,440 (producers & directors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Film Directors Do?

As a film director, you need to be able to interpret a script creatively and communicate script changes. You direct actors, makeup artists, writers and technicians to bring the film to life. This typically involves you deciding where and how to shoot the film and making decisions about the acting and scenes. You may also help actors formulate their characters and work with makeup artists and costume designers to depict the characters most effectively.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

The first step you could take on your film director career path would be to prepare in high school. High school courses in film, theater, drama and acting can help you gain familiarity with the basics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that some directors gained film experience by starting out as actors (www.bls.gov). You may be able to better advise actors as a future director by acquiring knowledge of how they work and perform.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

Many aspiring film directors complete Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree programs in film and video production. As a student in one of these BFA programs, you'll study topics in screenwriting, film editing, cinematography, aesthetics, directing, motion pictures history, sound design and production. You may be required to produce several film projects to demonstrate your practical and advanced film making skills. You can also apply for internships with local film production companies during your schooling.

Step 3: Apply to the Directors Guild of America

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is an organization that provides access to training and professional connections required for career advancement as a film director. You may need to provide proof of employment as a director, supply references and pay an initiation fee related to your membership category (www.dga.org). The DGA works to protect your legal and creative rights as a practicing film director.

Step 4: Establish Your Reputation

Although completing a bachelor's degree program and being a DGA member can give you some experience, you'll need to establish your reputation as a capable, creative director. You may gain experience and networking opportunities by working in a support role under a more established director. You'll also need to spend time directing independent films to get your name and work out there.

Step 5: Build Your Career as a Director

As a film director entering the field, you'll typically start working for small production companies to build experience. You may need to acquire skills and connections to gain access to bigger budgets and projects. Your success can depend on your management abilities, which includes being able to delegate effectively, recognize talent and sustain professional relationships.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many different careers that utilize skills similar to directors and require an equivalent educational background. A bachelor's degree in film and video production will also prepare you to become a film/video editor or a camera operator. Camera operators are in charge of recording a high-quality camera image and adhering to the director's creative vision, while editors are responsible for the post production aspect of creating a film or television show. If you are interested in the performing arts more generally, you may want to become an actor or choreographer, two career paths that can be attained either through training and experience or by completing a bachelor's degree program in your chosen discipline.

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