How to Become a Movie Director
Movie Director Careers & Degrees

Deciding to become a movie director can offer a very glamorous and exciting career path.

The downside is that this is a very competitive industry that offers few breaks for those just starting out.

However, if film is your passion and you’ve decided you want to make them, then get ready for some hard work and excitement.

To make movies you’ll need to be a creative person who is good at visualizing things.

You’ll also need a good deal of confidence, leadership skills, and a lot of determination.

A movie director has some say in almost every facet of the filming process.

From making script changes, or even writing the script, casting actors, choosing locations, and approving sets and costumes.

There is a lot more work that goes into making a film than many people realize.

Education Requirements to Become a Movie Director

There is no formal education requirement to become a movie director.

However, your best bet is to go to film school and earn a degree.

You might choose to complete a college degree with a major in film studies, or alternatively you could attend a specialist film school.

To become a movie director you will likely need to be living in New York or Los Angeles, so be prepared to relocate if you are not already there.

These places also host the best film schools in the country, so if you can, it might be ideal to move their while you are studying.

While at college, you should try and get an internship on a move set.

Many assistant roles are filled on an internship basis.

This will not only get you some experience, but will also allow you to meet with people who are already in the businesses.

It’s also not too early to start making your own films.

All you need is a digital camera and a couple of friends who don’t mind playing actor for a day.

Not only will this develop your skills, but you can also start putting together your best shots to make up a portfolio.

With the internet, it’s also easy to broadcast your movies to an audience.

After you have finished college, a good start in the industry is in a trainee ship program.

The Directors Guild of America run a trainee ship program which will place you as an assistant director.

You’ll get to cast extras, transport sets, and all kinds of similar tasks.

Many directors start their career small.

They might direct educational films, commercials, or music videos.

They then move on to television and film.

Movie Director Job Description

A movie director brings together all of the facets of a motion picture.

They select a screenplay and make revisions, cast actors, supervise set design, costumes, and oversee cinematography.

The director has the greatest amount of influence in the creative process of making a film, and also gets the most credit if it is a success.

A day in the life of a movie director could be quite varied, here are some of the tasks you could be completing:

  • Making sure a set is ready for filming
  • Approving costume choices
  • Casting actors and extras
  • Choosing locations and studios
  • Reviewing screenplays
  • Reviewing cinematography
  • Directing actors
  • Reviewing shots for the day
  • Editing a movie and sound

Movie Director Salary and Career Path

Most directors will start out small as assistants on a set.

With time and experience they will gain their own roles as directors with small projects like music videos or commercials.

Many directors set out to make their own independent films, and gain a reputation this way.

Directors work on a contract, that means they are not employed full-time and may experience periods without work.

They usually get paid for each day they spend on a set, and often they will receive a share of the profit a movie makes.

The median salary for a director is $65,000 a year.

There is a wide variation in the salary a director earns, with the top in the industry pocketing millions of dollars for one film.

On the other end of the scale, there are many who are out of work and struggling to get by.

While it’s not always a stable source of employment for everyone pursuing this career, successful directors can make a lot of money.

Those who are passionate about film and are successful will find this to be a very satisfying career choice.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$93,940
$35K
$50K
$93K
$114K
$173K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$60,560
Alaska$50,500
Arizona$63,150
Arkansas$59,120
California$121,950
Colorado$74,370
Connecticut$88,550
Delaware$64,200
District of Columbia$92,130
Florida$70,490
Georgia$83,240
Hawaii$79,430
Idaho$57,220
Illinois$73,910
Indiana$54,720
Iowa$46,230
Kansas$60,780
Kentucky$60,390
Louisiana$57,750
Maine$52,880
Maryland$81,300
Massachusetts$74,840
Michigan$67,030
Minnesota$70,710
Mississippi$45,520
Missouri$61,240
Montana$52,180
Nebraska$53,170
Nevada$79,410
New Hampshire$63,380
New Jersey$88,200
New Mexico$79,590
New York$118,090
North Carolina$63,790
North Dakota$47,740
Ohio$55,860
Oklahoma$59,020
Oregon$68,910
Pennsylvania$66,690
Rhode Island$68,700
South Carolina$66,370
South Dakota$56,390
Tennessee$63,100
Texas$69,370
Utah$64,440
Vermont$54,920
Virginia$70,460
Washington$73,230
West Virginia$50,630
Wisconsin$57,470
Wyoming$50,870
Puerto Rico$51,910

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $121,950.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $121,950
New York - $118,090
District of Columbia - $92,130
Connecticut - $88,550
New Jersey - $88,200
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Producers and Directors, OCC Code 27-2012, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat do movie directors do?

Movie directors control the artistic and dramatic aspects of the film-making process and interpret a writer’s script while guiding the actors and the crew to make sure their artistic vision is fulfilled.

They are involved in all aspects of film-making: from casting the actors to the editing part.

Movie directors need both an artistic eye and technical knowledge.

Leadership skills and time-management skills are also important for film directors because one of their main roles consist of supervising the crew and making sure that the film making process stays on schedule.

They can work long and irregular hours and may also work during weekends or holidays.

QuestionHow much does a movie director make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for producers and directors who work in motion picture and video industries was $84,770, as of May 2018.

Salaries in the film industry, in general, vary depending on a wide range of factors.

Some successful directors make millions of dollars per film, but most don’t.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a movie director?

Many movie directors have a bachelor’s degree in film or have the experience of working as actors, film editors or cinematographers.

Four-year bachelor’s degree programs in film production and cinematography cost, on average, around $170,000 but costs vary widely depending on the college you choose and the program itself.

A master’s degree can also help you perfect your skills and can cost anywhere between less than $10,000 and more than $40,000 a year.

QuestionWhat is the demand for movie directors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for producers and directors, in general, is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028.

This growth is explained, in part, by the strong demand for movies.

Movie directors are expected to face strong competition because there are many people who want to work in the movie industry.

If you have a few years of experience on a film set (as an actor, cinematographer, etc.) you should have better job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a movie director?

There are many paths that can help you become a movie director.

You can start as an actor and, after working with experienced directors and gaining experience on the film set you may try directing your own film.

Many directors also hold a degree in film, which can usually be earned in approximately 4 years.

College programs cover a variety of topics related to film-making, including editing, film history, screenwriting, and cinematography.

Master’s degree programs are also available at many colleges, and can usually be completed in around 2 years.

You can start your career by working on smaller productions or by working alongside an experienced director and, as your perfect your skills, you may start working independently on movies and, in time, you will build a reputation and maybe get the chance to direct larger projects.

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