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TV/film director: job description

29 Nov 2023, 17:15

Directors take full creative lead of television and film productions, from the writing stage all the way through to the final edit stage.

film and tv crew to portray directing

What do TV and film directors do? How much money do TV and film directors make? | Who employs TV and film directors? | How to become a TV and film director | Key skills

TV and film directors are usually employed by producers or executive producers who bring them on to a project to take creative and technical control of a film or television show/series. Their role involves working closely with both cast and crew members to ensure the creative vision is met – this includes camera crew, lighting crew, make-up artists, sound crew, set designers and anyone else involved in the production.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • working with scriptwriter(s) and sometimes a script editing team to discuss how to take the story from script to screen. In some cases, the director is also the scriptwriter – this is when you’ll see ‘written and directed by X’ in film credits
  • working with producers and casting directors to allocate roles to actors
  • working with producers to discuss budget, resources, script storyboards, filming schedules, filming locations and cast/crew that need to be hired
  • working with the director of photography (DOP) to figure out the style in which the script will be filmed. They will also discuss camera shots and any amendments to the script
  • communicating with additional members of the crew (such as lighting and wardrobe) to make sure the technical aspects of the production are as they should be
  • overseeing rehearsals to do blocking with actors and crew members (marking where everyone should be for each shot)
  • directing the actors, camera and lighting crew during the shoot to make sure the scene is being filmed and acted as it should. By this stage, the director will have formed relationships with the actors and understood how they work to get the best out of them on the shoot
  • leading the post-production stage: editing what is known as the ‘director’s cut’ of the production, which is then passed on to producers who cut it down to create the ‘final cut’ that will be shown to audiences.

The working environment for a director depends on the size and nature of the production. You could work in a film studio, television studio, film set or television set. You could also work ‘on location’ – some directors will be required to work in outdoor locations (consider the amount of horror films set in the woods) and expected to work across different areas of the UK and potentially abroad. Directors also tend to work unsociable hours – a typical day on set could be anywhere between 10 and 16 hours long.

How much money do TV and film directors make?

As directors usually work on a freelance, self-employed and project-to-project basis, it's difficult to know their exact salaries. It goes without saying that the big names in the world of directing (the Scorcese’s, Gerwig’s and Tarantino’s) are earning millions. Lesser known directors (for example, those directing adverts or soaps) might not be making millions but will still be on a respectable wage. Meanwhile, those who are just starting out as directors may work on a voluntary basis or make their own short films on a small budget.

This means the amount of money a director earns depends on the size and scale of the project they are working on and their level of industry experience. For example, data from UK global hiring solutions company (which is based on 63 salaries in 2023) reports that the average film director salary in the United Kingdom is £50,000 per year, with entry-level positions starting at £38,000 per year. Bear in mind, though, that an entry-level director will have worked up to this position and probably worked on several credible projects already.

Directors usually start out as production assistants or runners before doing ‘entry-level’ directing jobs. The job site Indeed reports that the national average salary for a production assistant is £19,971 per year – this is based on 989 salaries reported in 2023.

Income from directing work can be inconsistent as you don’t always know when the next project is coming in. It’s common for less experienced directors to have part-time jobs on the side – but this can still be industry-based work. You could take on assistant roles on sets, for example.

Who employs TV and film directors?

If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘it’s who you know’, it couldn’t be more relevant to directing work. It’s rare that you’ll see a directing role advertised – directors are typically employed based on the reputation they have built in the industry, through recommendations and by people they’ve already worked with. If you’re just starting out as a director, you’ll need to build your own portfolio of work, develop your contact book and gain experience before you are employed for large-scale projects.

Directors are typically employed by:

  • independent production companies
  • producers/executive producers
  • broadcasters
  • advertising companies
  • film companies/studios
  • TV companies/studios.

How to become a TV and film director

You do not need a degree or formal qualification to become a TV or film director. However, doing a degree in digital film, filmmaking, film and television production or theatre and drama studies can give you valuable knowledge of the industry and some first-hand practice.

The most important asset you need to become a TV or film director is experience. You can gain this in a number of ways, such as:

  • taking on the role of director for amateur productions
  • applying for a runner role on a film or tv set/production
  • creating, writing and directing your own short films – you could send these to agents, post them online or even enter them into festivals and competitions to get your name out there.

Not all of your work experience has to be related to directing specifically. It’s common for those with experience in camera work, scriptwriting and acting to move into directing too.

Another route into directing is to apply for internships and placements. Lots of big production companies run internships and placement programmes (some paid, some unpaid) for those interested in a career in film and television. These programmes introduce you to different aspects of filmmaking, including directing, and give you the opportunity to work with industry experts. You’ll also have the freedom to work independently and collaborate with others on creative projects. Some companies even offer employment opportunities at the end of the programme.

Skills needed to become a TV and film director

Being a director requires a combination of both technical skills and personal skills, such as:

  • leadership
  • the ability to work well with others
  • ambition
  • communication
  • determination
  • creativity
  • industry knowledge
  • innovative thinking
  • problem-solving skills
  • written and visual storytelling
  • broadcasting and telecommunications knowledge
  • understanding of the latest film equipment (camera, sound and lighting)
  • knowledge of editing softwares.

More advice on the creative industry

Get more advice on off-screen roles in film, TV and video production and read our general overview of different careers in film .

For more advice geared towards the creative arts, create your free targetjobs profile and tell us what your career interests are. You’ll get tailored recommendations based on your profile – including advice, events and career opportunities.

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