While many film directors have a film or media degree, the key to a successful career is experience, producing quality work and building a positive industry reputation

Directors are integral to the success of any film project. As a director you'll contribute to all the creative elements of a production and will be responsible for shaping them into a cohesive film.

In order to do this you'll need a strong creative vision and the ability to communicate your ideas to a variety of people throughout the production process. This will include your production team, crew, actors and those responsible for financing the film.

Responsibilities

As a film director, you'll need to:

  • read scripts
  • work with writers and provide feedback on the further development of scripts
  • select actors - sometimes working with casting directors and producers during this selection process
  • monitor rehearsals
  • direct actors during the filming
  • select locations for filming
  • hold meetings with key departments such as camera, art department and costume during the planning stages and throughout the filming
  • agree the budget and schedule of the film with the producer
  • be responsible for staying on budget and schedule
  • supervise all creative aspects of the production
  • work with the editor to present the final version of the film
  • select music for the final film and/or work with a composer to decide on the musical score
  • build and develop a network of contacts including writers, producers, film festivals and public funding bodies
  • maintain contemporary technical skills
  • have an awareness and knowledge of emerging industry trends.

Salary

Employment is usually offered on a freelance/self-employed basis and the fees you will command as a freelance director will vary considerably, depending on the size and scale of the project and the level of experience of the director.

Information about freelance rates and other general topics is available from Directors UK, which also contains a 'Find a director' listing where you can promote yourself.

Income from directing work is often erratic so it may be necessary to work alongside full or part-time jobs. If this is the case, you may be able to find work which is related to your directing, such as teaching and lecturing or other industry roles such as editing, assistant directing or production management.

Working hours

Like many roles in film and television, directing often involves working unsocial hours in the evenings and at weekends. During the production phase, a typical filming day is between 10-12 hours. However as a director you should expect to supplement this work with extra time spent in meetings discussing other aspects of the production.

Filming is often on location and you should be prepared to travel within the UK, and sometimes abroad, for work.

What to expect

  • It can take a long time to develop and plan a project. The development phase is often unpaid, or you may only receive expenses until the project has received the necessary financial backing to proceed into production. You'll need resilience and the ability to remain motivated during these times.
  • The nature of freelance work can cause employment insecurity.
  • A lot of work is in London and in the large cities but location filming can take place anywhere in the country and even abroad. For this reason, mobility is important and you should be prepared to be flexible and willing to travel for interviews, meetings and filming.

Qualifications

There are no specific qualifications, entry examinations or professional memberships required to become a film director. However, you'll have to convince individuals such as producers and financiers, and organisations such as public funding bodies, broadcasters and film distributors, that you're someone worth supporting.

A degree in film production, or a related subject, provides a way of keeping abreast of new technical developments and industry trends, while developing your craft.

Therefore, your route into directing should be seen as acquiring skills and gaining experience while developing a network of contacts and a reputation for producing work of interest and quality.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • creative ability
  • initiative and problem-solving skills
  • strong communication skills
  • diplomacy and sensitivity
  • motivational and leadership skills
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • strong time-management skills
  • attention to detail.

Work experience

Gaining as much experience as possible working on film and broadcast television projects will provide you with real-world insight into how films are made and how a production is run.

Aspiring directors often combine work as runners and assistants on projects alongside making their own self-funded or low-budget film projects in order to develop their directing skills and build their reputation.

Look for job vacancies at:

Work experience provides an opportunity for you to network and build your contacts. Those working within the industry have often followed a similar career path of paid or voluntary work experience so networking is expected and supported.

Location filming takes place across the whole of the UK on a regular basis. Film productions often seek the assistance of local film agencies to help them find local crew and locations. Staff at these agencies can help you find paid and voluntary work experience on film productions.

Creative industries agencies include:

Employers

Directing jobs are rarely advertised. Working as a director is largely dependent on word of mouth and developing a reputation.

Within the film industry directors are usually employed on a freelance, self-employed basis by independent production companies. They can make films for the large and small screen, delivering them to film distributors, sales agents and broadcasters.

Independent production companies and individual producers often initially develop projects without a director attached before seeking a director as they begin seeking finance for the project. The choice of director is often key to receiving financial backing for a project, as it's the director's experience, reputation and artistic value that will help to convince or satisfy the requirements of individuals or organisations funding the film project.

Directors seeking employment should research production companies in order to discover the projects they have in development.

Attending networking events in order to meet contacts from production companies, broadcasters and screen agencies is also important at every stage of a director's career. Be prepared to make direct approaches to production companies with evidence of your work such as short films, your showreel or a CV detailing your experience.

Being represented by a talent agent is another route into finding employment as a director. Employers often use agents to find directors. The majority of agents working in the audio-visual industry are based in London. An agent will promote you to potential employers and negotiate deals on your behalf.

Competition for representation by an agent is fierce and agents will only take on a small number of clients per year. The key to gaining representation relies on building a track record and a body of work that an agent can use to sell you and your talents to potential employers.

You may find representation with:

Professional development

The government-funded organisation Creative Skillset works with the creative industries to develop skills and talent. It also provides information and access to free and subsidised training.

Training for the TV industry is offered through courses provided by the Indie Training Fund (ITF). These courses are related to production and will help you develop the essential skills and knowledge you need to succeed as a film director. Undertaking them will also help you to develop industry connections and contacts.

Creative industries agencies including Northern Film & Media, Screen Yorkshire, Film London and Screen South occasionally offer training courses and opportunities to engage in professional development. This is often through initiatives aimed at new talent such as short film commissions/schemes.

Career prospects

You'll generally work as a self-employed freelancer on fixed-term contracts. The length of your contracts will be dictated by the size and scale of each project.

There is no fixed route for career development or promotion and progression ultimately relies on building a portfolio of work and gaining a reputation in a particular format or genre which allows you take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

The way your career develops may in part be down to your own creative interests. One possible direction is that you could progress from short film and broadcast television work to independent feature films, studio films and large-scale TV productions.