Ty Leisher - On Set

17 Practical Tips for Becoming a Successful Film Director

Do you want to be a director? Go out and direct.

Buy a camera, or rent one, go shoot something. Anything can be a 30 second commercial or a 5-second film. Congrats, you’re a director.

Are you a professional Director? Doubtful, but you are still a director. Keep working at it. Directing is just like any other craft and skill, you don’t just magically become good at it. The more you do it, the better you get. The better you get, the more popular you become and the more likely you are get hired to do something.

1. Work on commercials, shorts, shoot music videos for friends bands, or actively seek out a band you like and offer to do their video for free.

2. Any schmuck can pick up a camera and shoot something, then edit it with final cut or iMovie. But learn pacing, learn cinematography (not just lighting, but how to composite a shot), learn to move the camera and learn how certain moves affect you emotionally as an audience member.

3. Watch tons of films, review them, pick them apart. Find your favorite films and rip it to shreds, watch it over and over again. Watch how the production design and color grade make it look and feel, try to figure out why they decided to cut, or stay on a shot longer. Decide why the director chose the shots he did. 95% of what you do is choosing shots and casting actors.

Always have plates spinning, balls in motion, never let anything rest when you can do it.

4. Write, write, write, write and write. Every director is a writer, even if they don’t actively write, they still understand good storytelling and what goes into making a good story great. If you can’t figure out storytelling, you can’t be a director.

5. Pick up photography. Take photos everywhere. Learn to compose a good photo. Learn how colors affect each other. Learn how framing makes things stand out. Learn how to get depth of focus you want, learn how to get the image that you want in the camera before editing it.

6. Write down everything. Keep a journal. Write 3 pages (750 words) every morning when you first wake up. Use 750words.com if you’d like. Write about anything, just empty your soul and your brain to keep the good stuff filtered.

7. Take acting classes. Act in friends shorts and commercials. Act in some of your own. Learn to make a fool out of yourself in front of dozens of people.

8. Learn how to manage people, learn how to socialize with people. Learn how to think on your toes and always have an answer.

9. Learn how to have faith in yourself and trust your gut, learn when to admit you were wrong. Have confidence in yourself and your work. Don’t set up something you did by explaining why it’s bad.

Every director is a writer, even if they don’t actively write.

10. Create a social presence for yourself, don’t just make a twitter and post things about your cat. You are what you make yourself out to be. If you want to be considered a director, act like it online. Don’t make your Twitter bio say “IT Manager by Day, Director by Night”

11. Learn everything, but don’t get good at anything to well, and don’t promote yourself as something else unless you want to be thought of that. If you promote yourself as an editor, and people see you as an editor, then the next project they have they will think of you as an editor and not a director. Don’t spend time developing a proxy career.

12. Network. Go to film festivals, attend networking events, network on Twitter, gain followers. Network in real life, set up meetings and actually attend them, NEVER FLAKE. If you flake once, you leave a bad taste in peoples mouth.

13. Go out and live a life. Filmmaking and writing is recreating life, and you can’t create life if you don’t have one (I think Brad Bird said this, someone much smarter than I am did.)

14. Learn how the ad agency system works. Learn who makes decisions, learn why, learn how you can get involved.

Have confidence in yourself and your work. Don’t setup something you did by explaining why it’s bad.

15. Once you have some solid stuff put together (this will take plenty of time), put a reel together, then ship it out to agencies to try to get representation. Get an agent, get a manager, sign on at a commercial directing agency. Start marketing yourself as a director. Show off your reel.

16. Even once you have an agent, they may never get you work. No one cares more about your career than you, if you just sit around and do nothing, why should your agent work his ass off for you? Sure, they are taking 10%, but that other 90% is you, so it stands to reason that you should be doing 90% of the work trying to find you paying jobs.

17. Have a SICK work ethic. Always have plates spinning, balls in motion, never let anything rest when you can do it. Hope this helps. Go out and direct. Don’t wait for the magic directing fairy to come down and grant you three wishes. You’ll never get to where you go unless you start taking those first steps.

Go into this knowing that you are going to make really terrible stuff for 3, 4 or 5 years before the stuff you start making becomes great and looks like it would be on TV.

Never settle for anything less than perfect. Nothing will be perfect, but you can get as close to it as possible.

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