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Directors have overall creative responsibility for a film or television production. They take the decisions which turn the written script into what we see on the screen. They may:
- commission a scriptwriter or, in some cases, actually write the script
- find a suitable location
- select the cast and crew
- direct the various technical crews - camera, sound and lighting
- direct the cast
- keep everything to schedule and within budget.
Television directors work on a range of programmes, from soap operas to live broadcasts. Film directors may make feature films, 'shorts', commercials or one-off documentaries.
Directors work long, irregular hours and may work shifts, especially in television. There can be a great deal of travel, perhaps abroad. Work may be studio based, or on location, often in a wide range of weather conditions.
Most directors are freelance and employed on short or fixed-term contracts. They negotiate a fee for each contract and rates can vary widely, depending on experience, the type of production, and the budget available. Salaries may range from £20,000 to over £200,000 a year for those at the top of the profession, but directors may have long periods of unemployment between contracts.
Directors should be:
- creative and artistic
- decisive and assertive
- mentally and physically energetic
- able to think on the spot
- able to work to deadlines
- knowledgeable about all aspects of the film and television industry.
Very few directors find themselves directing the latest blockbuster for a major film studio. Most opportunities are with public service broadcasters (such as the BBC and ITV), cable and satellite broadcasters, and independent film and television production companies.
There is no set route to becoming a director. Talent and substantial practical experience are more important than qualifications, and entry to this demanding role is extremely competitive. There are courses in media studies and film and television production that can offer useful practical experience and background knowledge. There are also specialist courses in direction.
Directors need extensive experience and knowledge of production and post-production, and they usually work their way up over many years. They may start off as a runner on a film set or in a production office, or start their careers as researchers or script editors in television.
Some directors move on to training, production or management posts. Others may set up their own independent production companies. There may be opportunities to work abroad.
What is the work like?
Directors have overall creative responsibility for an entire film or television production. They transform the written script into images and sound on the screen.
Directors can work for both film and television. The work usually involves:
- discussing the budget with the producer or other financiers (in a small company, the director often acts as producer as well)
- commissioning a scriptwriter or, in some cases, actually writing the script
- developing the storyboard - a sequence of drawings representing the shots planned for the production
- finding a suitable location
- selecting the cast and crew
- calculating how to fit in the shooting within the schedule
- directing the camera crew - choosing the angle of the shots
- directing the sound and lighting departments
- directing the cast and helping them to interpret the script
- editing the final 'cut', selecting which shots will remain.
Television directors involve themselves in a wide range of programmes, such as:
- soap operas
- reality TV
- news programmes
- children's TV
- political discussions
- documentary series - for example, nature films
- live broadcasts.
Film directors can work for well-known film production companies making blockbuster movies, or for independent film or video companies making:
- low-budget 'art-house' movies
- animated short films
- one-off documentaries.
Hours and environment
The pressures of finishing a project on time and within budget determine the hours worked. Directors may have to get up very early to travel to a location, and work late into the night preparing for the next day's shoot. Working at weekends (including public holidays) is common. In live television, directors may work shifts.
Film locations are not always in exotic places. Directors are just as likely to find themselves standing for hours in freezing conditions during a shoot. There can be a great deal of travel involved in the job, with periods spent away from home, perhaps abroad.
Directing a television programme in a studio can mean working in claustrophobic conditions, with little or no natural light. In live television work the director often sits in a gallery overlooking the action.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary. Most directors are freelance and employed on short or fixed-term contracts. They negotiate a fee for each contract and rates can vary widely, depending on experience, the type of production, and the budget available.
Some directors may agree to work for a deferred fee or a share of the profits, but this can result in no pay. Directors may have long periods of unemployment between contracts.
- Directors at the start of their careers may earn around £20,000 a year.
- Directors working on low- to medium-budget independent productions may earn £40,000.
- At the top of their profession, directors may earn in excess of £200,000 a year.
The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) can advise on rates.
Skills and personal qualities
Directors should be:
- creative and artistic
- determined and decisive
- assertive in dealing with different and demanding personalities
- mentally and physically energetic
- able to think on the spot, especially when directing live television
- able to work to deadlines
- knowledgeable about all aspects of the film and television industry
- able to inspire others
- familiar with new technologies.
It helps to have an interest in:
- all kinds of live and recorded performance
- film, theatre and music - past and present
- current affairs
- people and their stories.
Most directors work freelance on short-term contracts. Very few directors find themselves directing the latest blockbuster for a major film studio. Most opportunities are with:
- public service broadcasters (eg the BBC and ITV)
- cable and satellite broadcasters
- independent film and television production companies
- community television companies.
Film and television production is mostly located in London and the South East, and other large cities. Some areas have strengths in particular types of production, eg animation in the South West.
Some vacancies for directors may appear in the trade press, such as Broadcast, and on websites such as www.broadcastfreelancer.com, www.mandy.com, www.productionbase.co.uk and www.productionwizard.com, but many directors find out about potential work opportunities through the people they know. It is essential to build up industry experience and contacts.
Some directors are represented by agents.
There is no set route to becoming a director. Talent and substantial practical experience are more important than qualifications, although many directors do have higher-level qualifications. Entry to this demanding role is extremely competitive.
Courses in media studies and film and television production can offer useful practical experience and background knowledge. Relevant courses include:
- GCSE and A level
- the Diploma in creative and media
- BTEC Certificate/Diploma/Extended Diploma in creative media production
- BTEC National Award/Certificate/Diploma in media production
- Higher National Diplomas/Certificates (HND/HNCs), foundation degrees, first degrees and postgraduate qualifications in film and TV production.
Course entry requirements vary, but usually include:
- a minimum of one A level plus three to four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, for an HND or foundation degree course
- a minimum of two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, for a degree course.
Skillset's network of Screen Academies and Media Academies consists of institutions that it has identified as offering the highest quality of film and television skills training. Details are available on its website, which also has a comprehensive course database.
There are specialist postgraduate courses in directing, eg at the National Film and Television School. Entry requirements vary and applicants should check with individual institutions, but most will expect applicants to have a showreel of work and ideas for future projects or scripts.
Some of the major broadcasters, such as BSkyB and the BBC, offer work experience placements. Details are available on their websites. Broadcasters may also run occasional talent schemes for new or emerging directors.
Many aspiring film directors start off by making shorts or micro-budget films. Some funding may be available through regional screen agencies, but many are self-funded. Valuable practical experience can also be gained by working in community media or on student productions.
Directors need extensive experience and knowledge of production and post-production, and they usually work their way up over many years. They may start off as a runner on a film set or in a production office, or start their careers as researchers or script editors in television. Some also move from technical roles, such as editor or camera. Some directors move into film and television from theatre, having gained valuable experience of working with actors and writers.
Directors develop their skills through in-depth practical experience. They also need to keep up to date with changes in technology.
There is a wide range of specialist short courses available, through film schools, regional screen agencies, specialist training companies, and industry organisations. Courses in specific techniques - such as working with actors, and single- or multi-camera directing techniques - may be useful, but they are no guarantee of future employment.
Freelancers have to fund their own training, but may be eligible for support from Skillset to cover part of the fees.
Directors need to establish their reputation through a successful body of work in order to continue to secure work. Some directors set up their own independent production companies. They may also move into training, production or management posts.
There may be opportunities to work abroad. Hollywood in the USA and Bollywood in India are traditional destinations, but there are also expanding film industries in other parts of the world.
4talent. Website: www.channel4.com/4talent
BBC Recruitment HR Direct, PO Box 1133, Belfast BT1 9GP. Website: www.bbc.co.uk/jobs
BBC Training and Development. 0370 010 0264. Website: www.bbctraining.com
The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU), 373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT. 020 7346 0900. Website: www.bectu.org.uk
DGGB: Directors Guild of Great Britain and Directors Guild Trust, 4 Windmill Street, London W1T 2HZ. 020 7580 9131. Website: www.dggb.org
Directors UK, 31-32 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ED. 020 7240 0009. Website: www.directorsuk.com
National Film and Television School (NFTS), Beaconsfield Studios, Station Road, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire HP9 1LG. 01494 671234. Website: www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk
New Producers Alliance, NPA Film Centre, 7.03 Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ. 020 7613 0440. Website: www.npa.org.uk
Shooting People: Independent Filmmakers Network. Website: shootingpeople.org
Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB. Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900. Website: www.skillset.org/careers
The UK Film Council, 10 Little Portland Street, London W1W 7JG. 020 7861 7861. Website: www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk
Women in Film and Television, Fourth Floor, Unit 2, Wedgwood Mews, 12-13 Greek Street, London W1D 4BB. 020 7287 1400.Website: www.wftv.org.uk
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