What does a Director do and how to become one

Becoming A Director 

You’ve all sat down at one moment to watch either a film, television show, or live theater production. Curious about what goes into this type of visual storytelling? Or better yet, have you ever wondered about who exactly is running the show when it comes to visual production? 

That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Director. The Director is the individual who makes the difficult decisions for the show. The Director is the one that brings the vision for how the film production or performance should play out. They are also the individuals that everyone involved with a production report to. 

From okay-ing every shot to speaking with the producers, the Director’s job is non-stop. While directors may seem like they have it all together, they have the world on their shoulders. Often when it comes to production, the Director is the first one to be thought of. 

Names such as Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, and even George Lucas are all famous Hollywood directors. They are also individuals who have been scrutinized for their work. There is much that a director must handle and make to look effortless. 

Being a director might be for you if you enjoy expressing yourself through storytelling. Or even if you enjoy the grind of challenging work. Here is a little more information on the day-to-day life of a director on the job. Look over this information and see if these are the types of goals you have in mind for your future. Keep in mind that there are many types of directors. 

Theater directors can be a very different world than film or even television. Follows is a look at what a complex job a director has and a few of the ways you might break into the industry. 

What does a director do in film

When you think of the film industry, chances are several directors pop into your head. We all can name at least one person who has a film that has influenced our lives. A successful film director is the one who has their name plastered on the films that we love. 

Take movie director Ron Howard for example. Without Howard, we wouldn’t have movies such as A Beautiful Mind or Willow. In 2018 he even took over Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story to make it his own vision. 

The film director job description would be the person who makes all of the large-scale creative decisions in a movie. They work devotedly with a film crew to bring their vision to life. These people are the ones that choose the setting, frame the shots, and work with actors to perform their scenes. After all, the Director’s vision gets shown to the audience when it comes down to the finished product.

 The specific duties of a film director include the following. 

  • Taking charge of the entire production 
  • Works with the casting director
  • Provides guidance to the Location Scouts
  • Making heads or tales out of the script
  • Works with the department heads to create the production schedule
  • Provides guidance to the production designer
  • Manages the shooting schedule
  • Influencing actors in their portrayals 
  • Guides the film editors to make the final print
  • Developing their personal vision for an audience 

These are only a few of the jobs that a director is not responsible for when it comes to putting together their film. A director does a lot more than facilitate the work of others. They are the bones of a motion picture. The Director must approve everything that goes into a film before being admitted into production. 

One of the biggest questions anyone considering becoming a director is salary. This question can be a very complicated one. It all depends on what the production that the Director is in charge of is. The top Hollywood directors can average anywhere from $250,000 to even $2 million per film. These directors have worked their way up to the top and are responsible for some of the biggest. 

 It isn’t all about Hollywood directors. 

There are directors for films that are much smaller than Hollywood level that still make a good salary. These are the directors behind documentaries and small indie productions. These salaries tend to be smaller than the big-budget feature films, but many more of these jobs are available. These directors roughly earn anywhere from $80k to $150k per year. 

A director’s salary may be intriguing, but you must keep in mind the enormous amount of work that goes into these projects. A director needs to make thousands of decisions regarding personnel, budget, where to shoot, and even what time, day or night. Many times you are away from home for weeks or even months at a time on location. 

 The Assistant Director and Director of Photography are also critical.

It isn’t only the Director that finds themselves in charge. The Assistant Director and the Director of Photography also have a hand in the final film. The assistant Director makes sure everything runs according to plan. They assure that the Director can make the film they envisioned. They are the Director’s right hand; anything that the director needs, the assistant director does. The Director of Photography, also called the cinematographer, makes sure the Director’s creative vision for the film’s look and feel is brought to life.

The salary Assistant Director and Director of Photography are almost as high as a director. The AD or DP brings home the average salary between $120k and $200k per year. 

Often, the assistant Director is climbing the ranks themselves. Their next step is typically to be the Director of their own film. It takes a long time to have your name as the lead director of a movie. But climbing the ranks will get you to directing your own films and making a supportive living even as an AD or DP. 

These jobs are critical to production. Without the assistant Director helping with every role, a project would never finish. An assistant director role is of dire importance as well; if you’re looking to become a director, then an assent director is an essential step. 

The Director of Photography works with the camera operators to make sure the film sets are properly lit the match the camera angles to best capture the Director’s vision. Like many other positions, the DP needs to have good communication skills and work closely with the Assistant Director and second assistant director to follow the production process.

What does a director do in Theater

You may think that a theater director has less work to do than a film director. Well, this isn’t anywhere close to accurate. In the Theater, the Director shoulders the weight for much of the production. Unlike with a film, there isn’t an assistant director helping to call the shots. Individuals such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sam Mendes, and Peter Brook are all theater directors. They are names that you’ve probably heard associated with Broadway productions. 

These are the people who block every shot, okay every piece of art and make sure that their vision is enough. They work to please their audience with their shows and how they want their work to be seen. These directors are often the writers of the plays or have been entrusted with someone else’s work to bring to life. These directors must work with limitations to create a world for their audience. 

Looking at it in detail, here is what a theater director does.

  • Conducts read-throughs when beginning 
  • Casts the correct actors and actresses for the part
  • Works with the cast to bring out their best performance
  • Conduct rehearsals to ensure everyone is learning their lines and their marks
  • They control the pacing of each scene to make sure it matches the story
  • Designs the blocking 
  • Is there for all tech and dress rehearsals 
  • Works with the stage manager and Technical crew to dress and light the set
  • Determines the wardrobe for each character
  • Decides how the set should be lit during each scene
  • Decides which actors have the spotlight and when

These are only a small number of the major decisions that a theater director must make regarding their production. When it comes down to it, the theater director has quite a bit at stake in their production. The whole reflection of the play rests on the effort that they put in. 

What does a theater director do

Unlike films, the Creative Director of a stage production doesn’t always have the same salary potential. The commission of a play can be a little bit harder to gauge than of a film. This is because these actors and other show representatives must put on the play every night.
The Director of a major broadway play, for example, receives roughly $25,000 per production. This also includes a royalty fee of nearly $40,000. Altogether, that’s somewhere around $65,000 per production that they put on.
The profitability of a play depends on many factors, the Theater’s size, the actors’ salary, and most importantly, audience reception, to name a few. If a play is successful, it could run at a minimum of 5 nights per week.
On Broadway, directors make about $25,000 per production, and including an advance on royalties, they could earn around $65,000 in salary. However, they are also putting a ton of work into making sure that the night runs smoothly. These directors put in quite a bit of effort to ensure that their vision is played out exactly.

What does a director do on a TV show?

Being a TV director comes with several different options. Given how much television has evolved over the years, you could choose to work with several types of productions. 

Some of the better-known genres are sitcoms, daytime dramas, episodic, reality, talk shows, and game shows. Although not as many as in the past, some shows are still in front of live audiences. Some are narrative, and every episode is scripted like a miniature film. It all depends on the type of TV show that is being made. 

What does a tv director do

Take a show such as Better Call Saul. Every episode is written and directed like a film. Every shot is called by the Director, the same for editing and sound. Individual directors are brought in four different episodes to put their best foot forward. They must maintain their vision as well as the show runner’s vision. This can make for a tricky balancing act for many directors. 

Then, there are shows such as game shows. The Price is Right Director must keep everything going in front of a live audience. They don’t have the option to edit their material and redirect their talent and, in some cases, random members of the audience. Instead, these directors must work with what is in front of them and figure out how to run a show. 

Many television directors get their start working for an advertising agency working with the account director to create a successful ad campaign.

For these directors, a lot of charisma helpful to make a show work and run smoothly. The slightest blip in directing could derail everything they were going for. 

So what do TV directors do? 

  • Prepares scripts 
  • Ensures safety of the talent and all team members
  • Manages the production team
  • Puts together the crew of presenters and contesters, talent 
  • Is hands-on with planning shoots 
  • Determines the timing of the performance
  • Makes sure the talent and participants are on their mark.
  • Determines the cut points for television commercials.
  • Manages the video production to make sure it fits in the allotted time

While, in some cases, these directors may seem the same as a film director, they have stark differences. Television shows are shown with frequency. Once a week, these directors must have the ability to produce another episode for the viewers. They must keep everything together for the show to go on. 

Every moment is vital when it comes to a TV director. With less time to put together a final product, every moment counts. They have to think on their feet and ensure that the project will be finished on time and on budget. There is very little margin for error when it comes to a television director. 

The salary of a TV director reflects all of the constant work that they put into their shows. These individuals make as much as $25,000 to over a million dollars per episode across the board. This means that they’re paid pretty well for all of the work they put in. But this is only on the prime time scale. 

For those who work for smaller production companies such as PBS or your local news station, $60k to $100k per year is typical. These rates are still higher than many other professions out there.

How do you become a director?

Becoming a director isn’t as easy as going to school and studying your trade. That is a part of it, but there are a lot of facets that go into developing your skills and climbing ladders. 

One of the best ways to start your hand as becoming a director is to go to film school and learn everything you can. Those who are already in the business are the best to learn from. Film school can be just as pricy as becoming a doctor or a lawyer. It takes quite a bit of time and concentration in order to find the right school for you. 

Many schools will offer classes that you aren’t sure of, ones that sound boring. All of these classes will lend themselves to showing you what to look for and how to develop your voice. Finding your personal style when you are a director is very important. 

There are several schools and colleges that offer courses and Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in cinematography. A few of them are:

  •  New York University 
  • Emerson College 
  • University of Southern California 
  • UCLA 
  • New York Film Academy 
  • The Los Angelas Film School 

These are only a few of the schools with great programs for students looking to find their passion. The only problem with these schools is that many of them have very high price tags. 

These tuitions start at around $20,000 and can run two more than $100,00. For this reason, finding the school that best fits your budget and lifestyle is very important.

Plenty of smaller 4-year colleges and universities also offer degree courses in various aspects of the film industry. These schools specialize in teaching you the basics when it comes to directing. Deciding where to educate yourself is half the battle when it comes to deciding to be a director. 

Not surprisingly, one of the newest ways to learn the craft of Visual storytelling is Online theater and film school. These schools are typically much less expensive and can offer accredited degree programs. 

These degrees will provide you with the same education that an in-person institution would for a lot less money. Looking at schools, you may want to see who has attended and what they are doing now with what they have learned. 

Many schools will showcase the talent that has come from their programs. USC often brags about the students who have grown within their walls. The school you decide is the best fit for you can influence the type of Director you wish to become. It will also test you to work harder and achieve your personal goals. 

With the advent of video conferencing and remote learning, theater courses are more accessible than ever. Many of the major colleges now offer distance learning, where a large portion of your degree can be done online. These are typically not self-paced courses but instructor-led with lectures, assignments, and grades. 

 Here are a few schools with theater program specialties. 

  • Emerson College
  • New York University
  • Harvard University
  • The American Academy of the Dramatic Arts
  • Boston University
  • The Juilliard School

These theater programs don’t just offer courses and directing; they also have courses in acting, musical theater, writing, leadership, and project management. They will show you how to navigate the theater world and put your skills to work in front of a live audience. It is important to be able to practice and learn how to make sure that everything goes as scripted. By being involved in a theater, you can acquire the leadership skills you will use throughout your career

When it comes to creative arts, directing is no different; building your portfolio and is vital. Being able to demonstrate a vision and essential leadership and time management skills show that you know what you’re doing will lead to other jobs. There are as many paths to becoming a director as there are jobs in the industry. While many directors came out of traditional college programs, there are just as many with no formal education that worked their way up the ladder. 

One thing virtually every Director has in common is they started by making their own short films. This shows that you have a vision for what you want to do. Showcasing your talent will help others to see that you are serious. Apply to work in the film and theater industry no matter what type of position. 

Even the best directors weren’t handed their directorial first. They proved that they were capable of handling many different hats. Starting as production assistants, stagehands, extras, actors, photographers, or even writers can get your foot in the door, allowing you to rise up through the ranks. 

Learn how to be on set or backstage and watch what the Director does in order to build your own career as a director. 

 When it comes to theater work, what is best is to be able to get on as many productions as possible. Observe every role of the Theater and make sure you have a handle on how everything fits together. As time goes, the more your work will be noticed as a good director, and the offers to Director your shows will come. 

Many times Entry-level positions are not easy to come by. Not everyone who wants to be a director will end up famous. Choosing this career path is based on passion, and it takes not only skills but persistence. Putting in the effort and making a name for yourself is the best course of action. 

When it comes to deciding to be a director, it takes a lot of hard work to make it a reality. Being a director isn’t like being a dentist or lawyer. There will be a lot of trial and error and just flat-out failure, but as long as you all your passions and stick to your vision, you will find a way.

Your journey to become a director (be it TV, film, or Theater) takes time. Keep working to build your skills up and find the type of directing that is best for you. If you constantly involve yourself in productions, you will find your way. 

Directing is not an easy profession. Remember, your hard work and persistence will eventually pay off over time and lead you to the most rewarding career. In order to tell the stories that you want to, there is a process of learning and making connections that need to be followed. Don’t give up on your goals and pursue them wisely.


By Bryan Greene