A film director is a person who coordinates and oversees the creation of a film or movie, and has ultimate decision-making power over creative and financial decisions. Directors usually get involved with film projects from the very beginning, and are typically invested in things like script editing long before actors are ever recruited or cast. There are a lot of things this person does, including managing daily filming, organizing lighting and sound checks, and deciding when scenes need to be re-shot. On the whole, though, organization and leadership are at the core of this person’s job. There are many different people who must work to put a film together, but the director is the one who has the final say and, ultimately, who assumes the most risk when it comes to the ultimate success or failure of the project.
Directors typically have the autonomy and power to choose their own projects, which usually starts with reading and selecting scripts that are available for production. In some cases, directors can actually commission scripts, usually as book adaptations but sometimes also as original creative projects, often from writers who are particularly well known or who have a previous working relationship with the director.
When a director reads a script he or she develops a personal vision for how that story should be told. Whether it is a dark tale, a story of triumph, or one of passion, the director's unique vision will be responsible for presenting it in a way that no other director would. A director sees beyond the words on the page to a moving picture with specific shots, lighting, mood, nuance and emotion — all visually created for the screen. In some ways, this “look” can work as a sort of signature from the director. Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and Woody Allen, for example, all famous directors, each leave their distinctive mark on every film they make which makes the movies recognizable in a number of subtle ways.
If the initial script needs work, the director will typically make suggestions to the writer and will also usually start putting together a creative team to discuss how to film the various scenes and where and how to arrange the sets. He or she will be responsible for approving each and every camera angle, lens effect, lighting choice, and set design The director may at this point bring key crew members to the project that he or she has successfully worked with in the past.
Casting and Actor Relations
The director also works closely with the cast. This person is usually present during casting meetings and try-outs, and usually gets a chance to meet with actors who are contenders for the starring roles. Teams of casting professionals are usually responsible for actually running these trials, but the director’s influence is often really important.
Once the actors have been selected, the director is typically the person responsible for their work on set. He or she will usually hold a meeting before each scene to do what’s called a “run through,” during which the actors simply read through the script and get a feel for the pacing of the dialogue and the emotions of the characters. In many cases the whole movie is rehearsed this way around a table or in a studio room before the actual staging begins. This sort of relaxed rehearsal gives the director a feel for how each actor will play the scene long before the shooting actually begins. If needed, the director can provide motivational insight or tweak performances by making suggestions. Listening to the ideas and feelings of the actors is also really important.
Although a director is responsible for the vision behind a film, a good director also listens to his crew and cast and works collaboratively. There are many talented people involved in the making of a film and utilizing each person's talent is what makes a director, and the film, a success.
Most directors are present for the actual filming, and are usually free to jump in and catch problems as they arise. Directors can pause the cameras to readjust lighting or change a set around, for instance, or can ask that actors try again if something about the scene doesn’t seem right. This professional often spends a lot of time thinking about how things should go, then adjusting them in real time so they fit that vision.
Studio executives and executive producers — the people who are actually bankrolling the project in most cases — often visit the set to make sure the project is on schedule and on budget, and the director usually has to work to manage their concerns, too. He or she often acts as their host, walking them through the film-in-progress, justifying decisions, and answering questions. The director will work with the studio execs to make sure they're happy about how the film is progressing.
Editing and Post-Production
At the end of the shooting day, the director, along with the producer and key crew members, typically screen that day's footage in what are called dailies. Here they can see if scenes will need to be re-shot. The director will also be involved in post-production when the film gets edited into its final form, and will make any final tweaks before the whole thing is approved and sent to the studio.
Getting Started in the Field
It isn’t always easy to become a film director. On a small scale, almost anyone can get started with home movies and independent projects, but actually making money from the position and using it as a full-time career usually involves a lot of expertise as well as a lot of powerful industry connections. Many of the most famous movie directors have university training in cinema arts, as well as years of experience in Hollywood working on films in various capacities. Once directors make a name for themselves — usually by releasing a hit film or getting a good reputation from actors and producers — they typically find themselves with plenty of work opportunities, though getting to this point often takes years of trying.