The Education and Job of a Film Director

How Does One Become A Film Director?

Often times people go to the movies and become enchanted by the wonderful world set before them on the celluloid screen. As one gets involved with the storytelling as it unfolds before your very eyes, a viewer begins to notice things such as the good choice of location, the intense acting on-screen, the well-written script, and a host of other materials easy seen and understood by the human eye. Accolades from the public usually center upon two things, the acting and the story then not much else. But for those with a critical eye, they know that for all the praise heaped upon these other people who were part of the production, there was only one person who brought it all together to make everything work seamlessly together. That is the job of a film director.

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A film director is filmdom’s equivalent of the captain of a ship. His job is to make sure that all aspects of a film’s production, from the actors cast to the craft services, run in such a manner that no aspect of the film production will be adversely affected. Such is the job of the most important person on the production team that, according to Filmmakers.com “ A good director makes sure that all parts of a film are creatively produced and brought together in a single totality. A director interprets the script, coaches the performers, works together with the editor, etc., interrelating them all to create a work of art.”

A director’s job seems quite a simple task. It only requires that the person creating the film understands the film concept and knows how to execute it. Although it sounds simple enough, the truth is that it is a Herculean task that requires that everyone involved in the production mesh well with the director and understand his vision. Again, this aspect of a director’s job is best explained by the people over at Filmmakers.com in the sense that “ The position of the director in the traditional filmmaking process varies greatly and is extremely complex. The film director is seen as a leader of others, as providing a kind of guiding force. According to this view, the outcome is more or less predetermined by requirements of the script, camerawork, acting, and editing; the director providing certain organizational context to the picture.” (Dougan, “The Film Director,” par. 2)

However, each director sees his function in the making of the movie in various ways. For example, a director may say that his job is to take the script from page to screen. Others believe that since the film is considered a moving form of art, then there should be an artistic feel to the film execution, such as in the case of Alfonso Cuaron whose films evoke a sense of a painting that has come to life. Although, it would seem like the majority of film directors are most preoccupied with getting the best kind of acting that they can out of an actor’s execution of a role. As such, they tend to become a control freak who oversees even the most minute aspect of the production to make the actor shine.

Given what we now know about the job description of a film director, one may wonder as to how a film director gets his start. Does it require any sort of formal education? An apprenticeship perhaps? Or is it something that can be learned on the job? In truth, there is no correct answer to such a question because the job can be learned using any of the aforementioned methods. The only important qualification for a film director is that he loves to make films.

Some filmmakers are born. Steven Spielberg was making short films using a handheld camera that his parents had given him one year long before he was in college and knew what he wanted to be in life. This is what one would perhaps call “Film Education Through The School Of Hard Knocks”. If you love watching television or movies, the chances are that you have the highly imaginative mind of a film director and your budding talents are simply waiting to be explored. These are the people who learn by observation and emulation. They are the ones who proliferate on youtube and join independent film festivals. These are the breed of film directors who use their gut feeling when directing. They are the most hands-on kind of film directors because they had to do everything themselves when they were starting. Mistakes, sometimes costly mistakes were done and they had to dig themselves out of that problem. They are the ones who direct films that have a sense of reality to them because they are not hindered by filmmaking theories and rules. They just go out there and do what they know deep within to be right for the film.

However, since most families prefer to have college graduates in their midst, and some budding filmmakers would like to know how to direct “in the style of”, they often choose to go to an institution of higher learning to learn all the ropes concerned with film making. Such a career-building move is most often started during the high school years of the person. According to The Education Portal, there are five steps towards a formal acquiring a formal Film Director diploma or certification. These steps are; “ Step one: Earn a high school diploma: Earning a high school diploma or GED equivalent is the first step in how to be a film director. Important courses include film, history, and theater. Step two: Gain an apprenticeship: Working as an apprentice under more experienced employees in the film industry will help gain technical skills as well as artistic skills. Apprenticeships may last anywhere from one to three years and may help hone the variety of skills that it takes to be a film director. Step three: Earn an associate’s degree: While on-the-job training is essential, having an academic background to support your work experience can be beneficial in the long run. An associate’s degree in theater, film, or multimedia studies can be an important step in how to be a film director. Step four: Earn a bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming a necessary step in how to be a film director. Courses toward a bachelor’s degree cover film production, art, graphic design, multimedia studies, and audio systems. Step five: Complete on-the-job training: Most employers require new hires to complete a training period when they first start working. This may be to evaluate the employees’ existing skill level and bring them up to par with the rest of the employees. Different studios will complete training in different ways. “ ( “How To Become A Film Director,” par. 2)

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However, there are some exceptions to these rules. Not all film directors need to have learned on an independent basis, neither do they need to have acquired formal education. In Hollywood, it is not uncommon to see a scriptwriter peddling and eventually directing his film, or perhaps taking a person from the production or camera department who has an eye for making films and having the producers entrust him with bringing a script to life.

One has to understand though that becoming a successful film director is not something that happens overnight. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, they all paid their dues languishing in the B-movie department and making do with minuscule salaries before they hit pay dirt with films that got them noticed because it made money at the box office. The fact is, not all directors win Oscar awards or get multi-million dollar paychecks for the films they helm. Some spend all their careers just getting by with their salaries but they stick with their chosen career anyway. The reason they do so is because of the love of the craft. To quote; “ It’s this tremendous sense of accomplishment. This thing outlives you. Long after you’re gone, there will still be this piece of work people can look at and hopefully appreciate.” (Arkins. “Dream Job: Film Director,” par. 7)

Three years ago, a median film director saw yearly earnings between $37,980 and $88,700. Those who fell in the middle of the salary bracket pulled in an average of $56,310. The motion picture and video industry paid their directors about $70,750 while those in television and radio pulled in around $47,530

As of May 2006, the industry had about 163,000 working in the combined fields of acting, producing, and directing. Since this is somewhat of a seasonal type of job, there is no way to accurately predict how many of these numbers were employed at the time. The jobs can usually be found in either of the 2 acting capitals of the country. You are either employed in film and television in California or Los Angeles. Maybe an actor can try his luck on the Great White Way over in Broadway, New York City. There are also some cities with off-Broadway or small theater shows where directors and actors can hone their crafts while waiting for their big break. Small town television stations also have homegrown shows that also employ director’s for station-produced films.

Getting a job as a film director in the mainstream is just as hard to get as a coveted film role. The competition is fierce and there are only so many films directing jobs to go around. Not all prospective projects could get green-lighted by a studio and therefore, not all director’s jobs that one may get attached to could see an actual day of filmmaking.

If one is to consider how unsure the income is for a filmmaker, it would seem like a job that nobody should want. Yet somehow, there is a steady stream of bright-eyed individuals walking through the door of production houses asking to be given a break. They are the storytellers who want their visions and stories to come to life. They know how to bring the work of others to people in such a way that a whole world can appreciate the central storyline. They are the painters of a new generation, the historians of an era. These people work in films. They record our lives for posterity. They are respectfully called Film Directors.

Bibliography / References

Filmmakers.com.2009.

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“Dream Job: Film Director”. Salary.com. Web.

“Actors, Producers, And Directors”. BLS – Occupational Outlook Handbook , 2008-09 Edition. Web.

“How To Be A Film Director”. EducationPortal. 2009. Web.

“Film Director”. Prospects. December 2008. Web.

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