There are approximately 152,400 directors and producers employed in the United States. Film and television directors usually work on a freelance or contractual basis. Directors find work, for example, with film studios (both major and independent), at television stations and cable networks, through advertising agencies, with record companies, and through the creation of their own independent film projects. About 20 percent of directors and producers work as freelancers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
It is difficult to begin as a film director. With nontraditional steps to professional status, the occupation poses challenges for those seeking employment. There is some solid advice, however, for those who wish to direct motion pictures.
Many current directors began their careers in other film industry professions, such as acting or writing. For example, Jodie Foster appeared in 30 films and dozens of television productions before she went on to direct her first motion picture at the age of 28. Obviously it helps to grow up near the heart of "Tinseltown" and to have the influence of one's family spurring you on. The support of family and friends is often cited as an essential element in shaping the confidence you need to succeed in the industry.
Film school is a breeding ground for making contacts in the industry. Often, contacts are the essential factor in getting a job; many Hollywood insiders agree that it's not what you know but whom you know that will get you in. Networking often leads to good opportunities at various types of jobs in the industry. Many professionals recommend that those who want to become directors should go to Los Angeles or New York, find any industry-related job, continue to take classes, and keep their eyes and ears open for news of job openings, especially with those professionals who are admired for their talent.
A program to be aware of is the Assistant Directors Training Program of the Directors Guild of America. It provides an excellent opportunity to those without industry connections to work on film and television productions. The program is based at two locations, New York City for the East Coast program and Sherman Oaks, California, for the West Coast program. Trainees receive hands-on experience, through placement with major studios or on television movies and series, and education, through mandatory seminars. The East Coast program requires trainees to complete up to 350 days of on-set production work; the West Coast program requires 400 days. While they are working, trainees are paid, beginning with a weekly salary of $915 (East Coast Program) or $869 (West Coast Program), which gradually increases to $1,069 East Coast Program or $1,063 (West Coast Program) by the end of the training period. Once trainees have completed their program, they become freelance second assistant directors and can join the guild. Competition is extremely stiff for these positions.
Keep in mind that major studios in Hollywood are not the only place where directors work. Directors also work on documentaries, on television productions, and with various types of video presentations, from music to business. Honing skills at these types of jobs is beneficial for those still intent on directing for the big screen.
Advancement for film directors often comes in the form of recognition from their peers, professional film organizations, and the media. Directors who work on well-received movies receive awards as well as further job offers. Probably the most glamorized trophy is the Academy Award: the Oscar. Oscars are awarded in more than 20 categories, including one for Best Achievement in Directing, and are given annually at a gala to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of those in the field. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gives Emmy Awards to television directors who direct exemplary work. Candidates for Oscars and Emmys are usually judged by peers.
Directors who have not worked on films popular enough to have made it in Hollywood should nevertheless seek recognition from reputable organizations. One such group is the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent agency of the U.S. government that supports and awards artists, including those who work in film. The endowment provides financial assistance in the form of fellowships and grants to those seen as contributing to the excellence of arts in the country.
Start making films using video or digital cameras. Ask your friends to help. Watch critically-acclaimed films and television shows to learn what makes these shows excellent.
Take film classes and attend seminars and workshops that help you hone your skills.
Learn about job opportunities in your state by visiting the Association of Film Commissioners International’s Web site, http://www.afci.org. Look for jobs and/or market your services at Mandy.com. Other useful sites includes Infolist.com and EntertainmentCareers.net.
Apply for the Directors Guild of America’s Assistant Directors Training Program.
Enter your films in film festivals. Visit http://www.filmfestivals.com for more information.