Ready to be a film director? Focus on these key skills to develop your craft and become the next great film director.

How to be a film director in six steps

By Felicity Flesher

How Do You Become A Film Director?

To be a film director, you must be ready to undertake many responsibilities. The director is in charge of bringing a story to life. They make decisions on costumes, sets, scripts and casting that will shape the project from pre-production to post-production. Are ready to tell imaginative stories, foster a hardworking, positive work environment, and communicate efficiently with your team? Continue reading on how to be a film director in 6 steps.

1. Know How to Tell a Compelling Story

What separates a good director from a great one is how that director understands the story. You may not write the script, but you are interpreting it.

When you consider your story, think about Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

WHO: Who is this for? Think about your audience. Who are your characters and why will the audience love them (or hate them)?

WHAT: What is your movie about? What message or themes do you want to get across? Does the plot make sense?

WHEN: When does the action take place? How does it unfold? Think about the pacing of the narrative and how the characters’ emotions evolve over time.

WHERE: Where does this story take place? Think about what makes the particular setting of the story perfect. 

WHY: Why is this story important? Why are you passionate about this story? Find the heart of that story and figure out the best ways to highlight it.

HOW: How can you most effectively tell this story? Think of the ways you can breathe life into less exciting scenes. How can you sell unbelievable moments?

What is the best way to get started understanding the story? Study films, literature, art, other storytellers, and the world around you. If you ask Scorsese and Tarantino how to be a film director, they would respond: watch films.

2. Network & Build a Team You Can Trust

You’re only as strong as the team around you.

There’s a reason why the Coen brothers and Alexander Payne often return to work with the same cinematographer, editor, composer, etc. A solid team provides a sense of reliability and consistency in a field marked by pandemonium. The more you get to know your team, the easier problems can be resolved. You will know who to turn to and have a shorthand to work quickly. You won’t have to micromanage and everyone will have the freedom to be more creative and do their jobs at peak performance.

How do you find your team? Network. It all starts with meeting people that have filmmaking in common. Start making connections by taking film classes, working on other creators’ projects, joining online communities, attending film festivals and events, or just reaching out to individuals virtually or in person. You can continue to support and interact with those peers. Follow up and try to foster talent and motivate others whether you’re in a position of power or not as it shows your leadership capability. Good peers will support you, make you look good, and make life better; hopefully, you will do the same for them.

3. Be an Aspiring and Collaborative Film Director

Much of a film director’s job is being the central voice to make all major creative decisions. Director Ava DuVernay referred to the director as “Question Answerer in Chief.” Everyone should be looking to your vision to work toward a common goal. You are the authority on set. 

It may be tricky to take charge of a production full of potentially hundreds. To be a film director you must garner the respect of your cast and crew. You need to take charge and lead by example. Be confident and be decisive. You set the tone. Treat everyone with respect, work hard, be prepared, be on time, and most of all, encourage and inspire others.

A good leader knows how to act diplomatically and use all the skills and resources that you have available to you on your team. No matter how talented you are, you will eventually stop getting work if you’re a problem to work with. Being a positive leader will lead you, your team, and your films to success.

Be sure to:

  • Take Responsibility
  • Act with Humility
  • Give Credit

Acclaimed Television Director Pamela Fryman’s Advice

Click here to learn more about InFocus Film School’s Film Production Program

4. Develop Good Communication

To be a film director, you must navigate between department heads, actors, and executives. A challenge with directing is finding the different methods that may be needed to communicate with different personalities. One actor will need to be handled with kid gloves, while another prefers more hands-off directing. These actors probably won’t tell you that’s how they communicate best and you’ll have to figure it out on your own and be able to pivot from each one seamlessly. Every relationship comes with a delicate balance and it’s up to you to find the best way to support each team member. 

Bear in mind that being a good communicator doesn’t just mean finding the right way to express your own thoughts. It means being able to have an ear open to everyone. If you are a good listener and observer, your team will feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns or ideas.

InFocus Film School Film Program

Click here to learn more about InFocus Film School’s Film Production Program!

5. Problem Solving

Ultimately, a film director is hired to get a picture shot. There will be roadblocks and hiccups that arise to prevent you from finishing any project. You will do what it takes to get things done.

You should aim to prevent problems by planning ahead. You’ve got to be flexible, think on your feet, and embrace miracles of improvisation and happy accidents. 

Think about one of the most famous scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones confronts a nasty sword fighter in the market. What was rehearsed as a lengthy choreographed stunt sequence between the characters became one quick gunshot on the day? That change would end up informing the character and providing a huge laugh for the audience, but why the sudden change in production? Star Harrison Ford was sick and tired and just wanted the day to be over. Rather than be devastated over the loss of the original sequence, Steven Spielberg embraced necessity, the mother of invention.

6. Managing Stress

Films are stressful beasts. There are difficult egos, expensive budgets, strict deadlines, and other factors that can go wrong. You’ve also got to keep everyone else on track while managing your own stress. You can minimize distraction, and take charge to guarantee the safety of everyone involved. A chaotic set is a dangerous set and it will feel like all that weight is on you. As you’ve already practiced, just take a breath and get it done.

It’s a famous director’s axiom that you should change your socks at lunch. It is a chance to reset your whole mindset when things get tough during the day. Talk through your problems and find relief in your trusted confidantes, friends, and family. If it works for your production, keeps the atmosphere on set light, and fun. Play music on set or take time to laugh and joke around.

You have plenty of time to build these skills and you will only get better with practice. You will have the confidence to be a film director and handle all the responsibilities without even thinking about it.


Related links 

3 Essential Skills Famous Directors Learned In Film School

7 Vancouver Film Directors That Made It Big 

What Is An Assistant Director In Production?