Case study

Director — Tom Marshall

Studying for his degree was just the beginning of Tom's career in film. Find out how he got into the industry, and what the rewards and challenges of his role are

How did you become a director?

I became a director by directing my own films. At first, they were films that nobody saw, but then I wrote and directed a short film that cost a few hundred pounds to make and it was accepted into some film festivals.

The film picked up a few awards and got me noticed by a regional screen agency that funded short films, which led to my first publicly-funded short film and then to a second, which gave me a track record and enough credibility to apply for a Channel 4 scheme. The Channel 4 job was the 'golden ticket' I needed to be noticed by a London agent, which led to further broadcast television work.

What's a typical day like as a director?

My work is divided into three stages: the prep, the shoot and post production of a film.

During the prep stage, I'm scouting locations and casting actors, then refining the film's script based on the locations, cast and budget available.

During the shoot I'm essentially running the show. I have to make sure we film what was agreed during the pre-production period and that we stick to the production schedule.

In post-production I'm working on the edit of the film, during which time I receive feedback on the film's progress from producers and executives. I also guide the project through to delivery, at which point I present the final version. The aim is to present something as close to the original vision as possible.

What do you enjoy most about directing?

I most enjoy being in post-production, particularly in the edit.

Putting images together and them working just like you imagined, adding a piece of music and some images to a piece and suddenly giving it a whole new dimension or taking a risk with a sequence only to discover it works and is a million times better than you thought it was going to be are some of my favourite parts of the job.

These are the times when I think to myself that I can't believe that I'm getting paid to do this.

What are the challenges?

The last couple of weeks of the pre-production stage is the most challenging part of my job - you're running out of time, the shoot is fast approaching and you have to come to terms with the reality of your budget and your schedule.

The shoot is equally demanding as I'm responsible for completing a required amount of filming every day in order to stay on schedule. When things aren't going how you planned, or when you're working outside and at the mercy of the weather, getting things done can be difficult.

You have to be resilient and creative in high-pressure moments where everyone is looking to you for answers.

How relevant is your degree to your work?

My undergraduate degree in film production gave me access to theoretical knowledge and practical experience and a way to make films and practice my craft for three years.

However, that's the bare minimum. You have to do those other things that further develop your craft, help you stand out and get you noticed. You need to constantly be doing other work outside of your degree: making films, getting experience on others films, getting involved in societies, festivals or setting up a YouTube channel.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

The more work I've done, the more experience I’ve gained and the better I have become at my craft - in turn, the more confident I've become in my own ability. My awareness and appreciation of the role of director is greater too and with that my understanding of the responsibility I carry.

In terms of ambitions, I would like to shoot a major motion picture or a major TV show for Netflix or Amazon.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to work as a director?

You need to watch lots of films, make lots of films and get those films seen.

Success in the film industry requires getting noticed. You need talent, but if no-one has an opportunity to see that talent then you'll struggle to progress. Develop your skills, grow your contacts and give yourself that competitive advantage.

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