Film and Television Directors


Exploring this Job

If you are a would-be director, the most obvious opportunity for exploration lies in your own imagination. Being drawn to films and captivated by the process of how they are made is the beginning of the filmmaker's journey.

In high school and beyond, carefully study and pay attention to motion pictures. Watch them at every opportunity, both at the theater and at home. Study your favorite television shows to see what makes them interesting. Two major trade publications to read are Variety ( and Hollywood Reporter ( The Directors Guild of America's official publications, DGA Monthly and DGA Quarterly, contain much information on the industry. Visit for more information.

You should also read books about the film industry and directing. Here are a few suggestions: Digital Filmmaking For Kids, by Nick Willoughby, and Directors Tell the Story: Master the Craft of Television and Film Directing, by Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli. 

During summers, many colleges, camps, and workshops offer programs for high school students interested in film work. For example, rising high school juniors and seniors and can participate in the nearly three-week Summer at Columbia High School Program at Columbia College Chicago. Several program tracks are available, including Fillmmaking and Screenwriting. Participants receive college credit and hands-on experience in the film industry. For more information on this program, visit

The Job

Film directors bear ultimate responsibility for the tone and quality of the films they work on. They interpret the stories and narratives presented in scripts and coordinate the filming of their interpretations. They are involved in preproduction, production, and postproduction. They audition, select, and rehearse the acting crew; they work on matters regarding set designs, musical scores, and costumes; and they decide on details such as where scenes should be shot (on a soundstage, on location in a rainforest, etc.), what backgrounds might be needed, and how special effects (such as computer-generated imagery, car crashes, or explosions) could be employed.

The director of a film often works with a casting director, who is in charge of auditioning performers. The casting director pays close attention to attributes of the performers such as physical appearance, quality of voice, and acting ability and experience, and then presents to the director a list of suitable candidates for each role.

One of the most important aspects of the film director's job is working with the performers. Directors have their own styles of extracting accurate emotion and performance from cast members, but they must be dedicated to this goal.

Two common techniques that categorize directors' styles are montage and mise-en-scène. Montage directors are concerned primarily with using editing techniques to produce desired results; they consider it important to focus on how individual shots will work when pieced together with others. Consider Alfred Hitchcock, who directed the production of one scene in Psycho, for example, by filming discrete shots in a bathroom and then editing in dialogue, sound effects, and music to create tremendous suspense. Mise-en-scène directors are more concerned with the pre-editing phase, focusing on the elements of angles, movement, and design one shot at a time, as Orson Welles did in many of his movies. Many directors combine elements of both techniques in their work.

The film's production designer creates set design concepts and chooses shoot locations. He or she meets with the filmmaker and producer to set budgets and schedules and then accordingly coordinates the construction of sets. Research is done on the period in which the film is to take place (for example, Elizabethan England, Pre-Columbian South America, or Los Angeles in the year 2500), and experts are consulted to help create appropriate architectural and environmental styles. The production designer also is often involved in design ideas for costumes, makeup and hairstyles, photographic effects, and other elements of the film's production. Production designers are assisted in this work by art directors. Low-budget films may just have an art director who handles the tasks of production designers.

The director of photography, or cinematographer, is responsible for organizing and implementing the actual camera work. Together with the filmmaker, he or she interprets scenes and decides on the appropriate camera motion to achieve desired results. The director of photography determines the amounts of natural and artificial lighting required for each shoot and such technical factors as the type of film to be used, camera angles and distance, depth of field, and focus.

Motion pictures are usually filmed out of sequence, meaning that the ending might be shot first and scenes from the middle of the story might not be filmed until the end of production. Directors are responsible for scheduling each day's sequence of scenes; they coordinate filming so that scenes using the same set and performers will be filmed together. In addition to conferring with the production designer and the director of photography, filmmakers meet with technicians and crew members to advise on and approve final scenery, lighting, props, and other necessary equipment. They are also involved with final approval of costumes, choreography, and music.

After all the scenes have been shot, postproduction begins. The director works with picture and sound editors to cut apart and piece together the final reels. The film editor shares the director's vision about the picture and assembles shots according to that overall idea, synchronizing film with voice and sound tracks produced by the sound editor and music editor.

While the director supervises all major aspects of film production, various assistants help throughout the process. In a less creative position than the filmmaker's, the first assistant director organizes various practical matters involved during the shooting of each scene. The second assistant director is a coordinator who works as a liaison among the production office, the first assistant director, and the performers. The second unit director coordinates sequences such as scenic inserts and action shots that do not involve the main acting crew.

Directors of computer-generated animation manage animators and artists on a daily basis, checking that their work meets design and thematic standards. They also work with production designers, art directors, and other production staff to make sure the project is manageable and meeting scheduling demands. Directors of computer-generated animation are knowledgeable about different software programs such as Premier Pro, Mari, and Maya.