The director is the ultimate creative voice of a film; he or she holds the core vision of the project and leads the cast and crew through preproduction, principal photography, and post-production. Like a general on the field of battle, the director sees the whole picture, and is the one who plans strategy, delegates tasks, and inspires the troops to achieve the goal.
In most cases, the director selects crew heads like the DP (an important hire, and often the person who works most closely with the director to achieve his vision), assistant directors, second unit directors, and an editor. These staffing decisions must be approved by the producer and may be written into the director’s deal memo. Likewise, the director is usually given the discretion to fire and replace crewmembers as needed.
During preproduction the director is provided with the shooting script, any pertinent supporting material, and a detailed budget. She or he may have the authority to make changes to the script and works with the producer, DP, unit production manager (or line producer), to establish a shooting schedule, determine locations, and hire production crew. The director also collaborates with a casting director to cast the actors, usually subject to the producer’s approval. Decisions on costume and set design, cameras, and all other creative elements fall to the final approval of the director and are determined during preproduction.
In addition to directing action in front of and behind the camera, this person is responsible for rehearsing the actors, establishing their blocking, and coaching their performance. During post-production the director supervises editing, dubbing, looping, and any pick-up shots that must be added. He or she is ultimately charged with delivering the finished product on time and on budget.
Skills & Education
Numerous notable directors have been quoted regarding their notions of the necessity of film school; reviews are mixed. Yes, a certain natural talent is required, but if you’re not related to Ron Howard or the Weinstein brothers, a college degree in film and television production is a valuable addition of skills to that inborn talent. This education will give you the necessary technical expertise in the operation of production gear (cameras, lighting, audio recording, grip equipment), as well as the theoretical knowledge of the art and technique of filmmaking. Courses in still photography, literature, and theater can also be worthwhile to someone who is expected to direct and interpret story, images, and performance. As for on-set skills, directors need to inspire their troops to perform—an ability to delegate efficiently while managing to keep an eye on all the moving parts is a necessity.
What to Expect
Membership in the Directors Guild of America is a requirement to work for signatories of the organization, which most major studios are. Rarely does one fall into the director’s chair without significant prior experience in the film and television industry, but a talented few find success with independent productions that leverage their life savings against a risky dream. Tarantino gained fame from his appearance at the Sundance Film Festival with his self-written project, Reservoir Dogs; Steven Spielberg was an assistant editor (not credited) on Wagon Train; and James Cameron worked as a miniature model-maker at Roger Corman Studios. The trick is to get noticed, either by rising through the ranks of the production crew or through screenings of your own independent work. Passion is of the utmost importance; it will push you through the uncertain times and inspire your ability to create.