What qualifications do you need to be a director in film?
Updated 14 July 2023
Film directors understand the processes involved in writing, shooting and editing a film and they usually have many years of experience in film production. It's possible to become a film director by taking a few different routes. If the idea of being a film director appeals to you, it's essential to understand how to become a film director by getting qualified and gaining work experience. In this article, we explore the role of a film director and answer questions like 'What qualifications do you need to be a director?' and 'What skills do directors have?'.
What is a film director?
Before finding the answer to 'What qualifications do you need to be a director?', it's essential to understand the purpose of a director's role on a film set. A film director is someone who directs other members of the cast and crew on a film set. They're the chief authority and are responsible for all aspects of the filmmaking process, including both technical and creative decisions.
Film directors may direct film and TV episodes and are responsible for making the final decisions on everything from pre-production through to editing and post-production. Alongside directing actors during filming, directors may take part in casting actors, hiring production designers and instructing lighting and wardrobe technicians. After filming, they work with film editors to produce a director's cut of the film, which may be further cut by producers before the film's official release. Directors often work on a freelance basis or could work for film and TV studios. Some of the most common responsibilities of directors include:
meeting with producers, actors and other crew members
planning production schedules
developing storyboards in advance of filming
making production decisions on sets and location
hiring cast and crew
instructing actors and crew members during filming
explaining the technical requirements of the film
supervising film editing
What qualifications do you need to be a director?
There are no compulsory film director qualifications all directors require to break into this career. Some of the most relevant qualifications for film directors include undergraduate or postgraduate degrees in film production and film editing, plus degrees in drama and theatre. Some directors start out working in theatre production and directing before transitioning into film and TV, and a degree in theatre or drama could help you start a career working in theatre. Most of the time, qualifications to become a film director are of secondary importance to work experience and a creative portfolio.
How to become a film director
If you're interested in becoming a film director, it's essential to develop skills in filmmaking by taking courses and creating films yourself. Film directors usually have experience in working on film sets plus technical skills in shooting, producing and editing films. Follow the steps below to find out how to become a film director and what qualifications you need to become a director in cinema or TV:
1. Make films
If you want to become a film director, making films in your spare time is good practice and demonstrates your interest in this career. Film direction is a creative role and many film directors get their big break not through interviews but by sending their films to festivals and competitions.
Making your own films is good practice for a career in film direction and enables you to build a portfolio of projects to showcase at interviews and events. It's also one of the most effective ways to develop many of the most essential skills film directors require, including communicating with cast and crew, giving instructions, making decisions, working within a budget, staging shots and editing the final cut. The more experience you have directing short films or other media, the more prepared you might be when you decide to apply for jobs or internships in cinema and TV production.
2. Get qualified
Alongside gaining experience directing and creating films, it's possible to develop your skills in filmmaking by taking relevant courses and qualifications in film and TV production. Many universities offer courses at the undergraduate level that could help you develop relevant skills, including courses in film studies, film production, theatre studies, drama and English literature. If you know you definitely want to get into directing, courses that focus on the practical elements of filmmaking, like film and TV production courses, are most suitable. It's also possible to study relevant courses at college, such as:
Level 3 Diploma in Film and Television Production
Level 3 Diploma in Performing and Production Arts
Level 3 Extended Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
T Level in Media, Broadcast and Production
Most degree courses require you to have two to three A-levels, though different universities set their own admissions criteria. For college courses, entry requirements vary, but most courses require candidates to have at least four or five GCSEs in grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).
3. Volunteer or become an intern
Volunteering and applying for internships is an effective way to get more experience working on a film set. Many film and TV studios offer internships and voluntary positions to students and amateur filmmakers. Undertaking a voluntary position on a film set for a number of weeks or months looks good on your CV, demonstrates you have experience working on a film set and may help you make contacts in your local film industry. Voluntary positions and internships are often unpaid, so it's essential to ensure you're able to afford your living costs before you apply.
4. Apply for entry-level roles
Once you have qualifications and experience working in film and TV, you may be able to secure a paid role on a film set by applying for entry-level roles. You could apply to work for a film and TV studio or look for work with media companies, for example, companies that make adverts for TV. Entry-level roles in film and TV that could lead to an eventual career in film direction include production assistant, script supervisor, video editor, casting assistant and camera trainee.
Choose entry-level roles that allow you to specialise in those aspects of film and TV that you're most interested in. For example, if your background is in more technical work like sound and visual production, applying to work as a camera or microphone trainee is a good fit for your skills. Any entry-level roles on a film set enable you to gain paid work experience in the film industry and make contacts while you work.
5. Direct films
As your career in film and TV progresses, breaking through into film direction might be difficult. There are various ways to get your first big break as a director, usually either by:
submitting your own short films and independent films to festivals
putting yourself forward for a director role at your studio
making contacts in the industry and actively looking for opportunities
applying for positions as a director in advertising
Becoming a film director requires a lot of passion, extensive skills and sometimes a bit of luck. Working in the film industry, meeting people who might be able to offer you opportunities in directing and creating films on a low budget in your spare time all increase your chances of securing high-profile film direction roles later in your career.
What skills do film directors have?
Film directors require a range of skills to carry out their responsibilities effectively. Some of the most important skills for film directors include:
Communication: It's essential that directors communicate effectively on set with cast and crew members. This includes conveying complex ideas and communicating their vision for the film with the rest of the crew.
Leadership: Film directors have strong leadership skills that enable them to manage a team of people who have varying roles within the production process. The role involves delegating tasks and responsibilities, instructing cast and crew members and resolving conflicts on the set.
Teamwork: Directors work with a huge number of actors and crew members from different backgrounds. Working together effectively to produce a good film even when personalities clash or differences of opinion arise is important.
Technical skills: Alongside working with cast and crew, film directors may regularly operate cameras, microphones and editing software to support their crew and communicate what they want. Understanding the basics of how technical equipment on a film set works helps directors to instruct crew members during filming.
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