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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.

Present and Future

Film directors sprang into being with the birth of the industry in the early 1900s. Some important directors who have brought their visions to light include D. W. Griffith ( Birth of a Nation), Orson Welles ( Citizen Kane), Alfred Hitchcock ( Rope), and Martin Scorsese ( Raging Bull). Directing will either become larger and more megalithic as a profession, as suggested by the consolidation of major film companies. Alternatively, it may lean toward small and independent projects, as the popularity of such independent film festivals as Sundance heralds. In the first event, directing possibilities will be limited and difficult—extremely difficult—to obtain. In the second event, directing positions will be more available but much less remunerative. In either case, the road to becoming a director is long, and the odds are slim, but the rewards for individuals who succeed are great.

Quality of Life


Hopeful directors start out doing production work and learning how to piece a film together. Academic lessons from film school are supplemented with practical experience in the different facets of making a movie, from choosing locations and getting proper permits to budgeting, scheduling, and arranging transportation. These early years are marked by low responsibility, long hours, little pay, and an enormous amount of learning.


Five years into the profession, young directors have had a chance to produce at least a short film to enter in competitions or to use as an audition reel. Areas of strengths and weaknesses have been identified; individuals willing to pay the hard wages of growing as filmmakers will work on their weaknesses. They may become subdirectors with discrete areas of authority. Opportunities exist for directors who have made strong networking connections and have distinguished themselves through good work and aggressive selfpromotion. People who are less vocal about their accomplishments either remain in assistant positions or leave the profession altogether. As a matter of fact, even directors who have good reputations begin to leave the profession due to the long hours and competing offers in specialty industries for much more certain pay.


A mere 35 percent who began with the intention of becoming a director are still around, and many of them leave the field over the next five years. Directors who remain have significant opportunities available to them, if they have managed to refine their craft, communicate their vision clearly,match up a script with a production company, and land the job of directing it. If it seems like the success stories at the 10-year mark are qualified by a number of ifs, that’s because they are. The success rate in this field is abysmal. But individuals who manage to fight their way to the top reap financial and emotional rewards.