I wrote this way back in 2012 when Breaking In As A Film Director was very different from the apocalyptic future we now face. My point is this: Some of these are no longer valid. The old systems have fallen away. View this as a wonderful opportunity to reivent the ‘wheel’. And if you want to be a director, you need to direct. So stop reding this and make movies!
– Elliot Grove, London March 21,2020
9 Routes to Breaking In As A Film Director
There’s nine routes to consider when launching your career as a film director. Before you decide which route to take, research the careers of film directors you admire and see if you can see which route they followed. Remember, there is no such thing as a route – only a route that is good for you: one that allows you to maximise you abilities and talent.
1. Studio/Guild Route
After securing the necessary minimum days of on-the-job training, join the Directors Guild with a signatory production company. Work your way up the ladder. Some companies allow you to shadow a director, which gives you valuable training.
2. The Independent Route
Learn how to identify or create a low budget, 90-page script which you feel has something controversial to say. Scrape together some money and execute a 4:1 or 6:1 shooting ratio with high production values. Hire a sales agent and sell the film at AFM, Cannes, EFM or Raindance, and make a profit for your investors. Repeat this process until you are discovered, or are considered a worthy risk for investors.
ie Woody Allen, Steven Soderburgh (Sex Lies and Videotape) ,Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Tom Kalin (Swoon).
3. Screenplay Option Route
Write or purchase a script/story and sell it, releasing the screen rights only when you are hired as director. This technique is called holding your script hostage. ie (Return from Alcatraz)
4. Student/Festival Route
Make a short film or ultra low budget feature and enter festivals, demonstrating your talent, gaining exposure to future clients and agents on the lookout for emerging talent. Hire a publicist to promote yourself, even if it is at the expense of your film. You are aiming to achieve notoriety or celebrity status. ie Buffalo 66, Trees Lounge, Blair Witch Project
5. Agency Packaging Route
After associating with celebrity actors or writers from a common agency, convince the agency to represent you as part of a package that they sell directly to production companies with you attached as director. The agency will usually attach name stars to your project as well.
6. Establish yourself in commercials
By offering to direct test commercials or pop promos for unknown bands,demonstrate your talent and original ideas,and convince a producer to hire you to direct.
ie Ridley Scott, Tony Kaye (American History X)
Raindance regular Jarl Olsen created The Ministry of Information series to promote his work. Designed to look like a series of Public Service Announcements (PSA) they have been playerd at festivals and television networks all over the world.
7. Become a master of the short form
Write and/or direct short films which demonstrate your talent. Enter festivals and competitions. When you have gained confidence,select several of your short films and approach either a production company (number 1 above) or talent (number 5 above) and convince them to let you direct a long form film (feature)
ie Shane Meadows
8. Start as an assistant editor
This has been the classic route to directing used by many directors in the1940s – 70s. Offer your services for free as an assistant editor: log shots, sync sound, until you are promoted to editor. When you have cut several films and impress with your knowledge of shots, get hired to direct a feature.
ie David Lean, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese
9. Become a successful stage director to breaking in as a film director
Most stage directors do not realise how well equipped they are to direct film. Blocking, timing, storytelling and working with actors are all essential directing skills that many film directors lack. Why not start a theatre group with a few close friends (like Steppenwolf in Chicago, or Second City in Toronto) and build a reputation for exciting stage shows. Invite reviewers and agents, and wait to be discovered by a producer,or turn a stage show into a movie yourself.
ie Sam Mendes, Stephen Daldry, Andrew Shea
Whichever route you choose remember that your primary prioirities should be developing your craft. And the craft od directing has three very different sides:
First is the understanding of the craft of directing. Make yourself familiar with the grammar of directing.
Second is the imperative ability to tell a story. But to tell a story with pictures. Moving pictures at that.
Third is to understand the commerce part of filmmaking . It is afterall, the film industry. Not the film ‘art’.