Making movies is hard. No matter the scale of the production – whether it’s a shoestring budget horror film shot in your back yard, or a multi-million-dollar summer blockbuster – most directors will tell you that making a film is one of the hardest things you could ever do. Between the high-stakes environment of movie studio boardrooms, the long and grueling hours on set, and harsh notes from test audiences, many filmmakers buckle under the pressure and leave the industry forever. It takes a strong and multifaceted person to navigate the world of film production. Let’s look at some of the traits the world’s best film directors have in common, and see if you have what it takes.
Every film and filmmaker are different. You’d be hard-pressed to find many similarities between the work of Steven Spielberg, and that of David Lynch. But what many major filmmakers have in common is a strong sense of organization. A film set has many different moving parts and can be difficult to control, but directors are skilled in the art of compartmentalizing information and staying cool under pressure. Directors create extensive notes and storyboards during pre-production to keep themselves on track and use this information on set to streamline the filming process. Think about it: directors influence every single part of a film’s production: costumes, props, actors, camera angles, editing techniques, music choices… it’s a lot to keep in your head, so organization is an invaluable skill to have.
Some directors are so precise that they develop a reputation for being controlling. Artists like Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton are somewhat infamous for their exacting nature on set. And while there is something to be said for being open to others’ ideas and improvisations, many would agree that these director’s authoritative styles have cemented their places in film history.
In many ways, film directors are constantly fighting to get what they want. They discuss with actors to get the performance they want. They plead with studio heads to receive the funding they need. They argue with the MPAA to make sure their film receives the coveted PG-13 rating. Making a film is like fighting a war: there is opposition to every decision a director makes!
That’s why the art of persuasion is a useful tool in any director’s tool belt. A great director can broker deals, find compromises, and flat-out convince others to do his bidding. This is why many directors are stereotypically portrayed as extroverted, loud-mouthed, and fast-talking (think Martin Scorsese). Quiet personalities like Wes Anderson can still find success in the industry, but make no mistake: directors must fight, charm, and cajole to make a great film!
Often, when we think of filmmaking, we don’t consider the business side of the industry that operates behind the scenes. It is just as vital to be business-savvy as it is to be a creative virtuoso. This is an aspect of filmmaking that is incredibly important for budding directors to master!
The road to success is not a straight line. Every filmmaker fails before they succeed… even the best film directors faced rejection many, many times before they made their big break. Even after a director finds success, there is always the looming threat of making the next box-office bomb! But a great storyteller weathers the storm no matter how rough it may be. A great example can be found in M. Night Shyamalan, who rose to fame with The Sixth Sense before crashing down to Earth after releasing the critical and commercial failure Avatar: The Last Airbender. But today, Shyamalan has rekindled his career and continues to direct major Hollywood movies.
If you want to become a director, you must accept that there are many obstacles on the path before you. There will be doubters and naysayers, bad reviews, broken equipment, corrupted footage, wasted shoots and sleepless nights. But if you’re willing to stick with it, you might just find yourself directing a major motion picture.
Students at F.I.R.S.T. Institute learn many of the skills necessary for creating films. In just 11 months, they learn to work in teams on real films sets to create short films, music videos, and commercials. If you’re interested in learning more about Digital Filmmaking & Video Production at F.I.R.S.T. Institute, click here!