How Becoming a Movie Director Works

No Job Is Too Small for a Budding Movie Director

"Sweeney Todd" Director Tim Burton started as an animator for Disney.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

You can close your eyes and see yourself as a respected movie director. You’re thanking lots of people for helping you earn the shiny statue in your hand. But when you open your eyes, all you have in your hand is your electronic portfolio -- and the rent is due.

While directing movies may be your objective, you’ll probably need to take other jobs along the way to build your portfolio and pay your bills. You can practice your craft with many types of directing or even writing, acting or producing.


Maybe a local band needs a music video or a furniture store wants a commercial to play on local TV and radio. Maybe your cable station could use a film director for a documentary. Or maybe you want to try your hand at directing independent films and entering them in competitions.

You won’t be alone if you don’t go right to directing films. Consider these examples:

  • Sydney Pollack studied and taught acting and was a Broadway actor before directing TV shows.
  • Tim Burton studied animation and worked on animated films for Disney. He made a short animated film that was deemed unsuitable for children but convinced Paul Rubens to choose Burton as director for "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure" (1985).
  • Martha Coolidge worked for a children’s television program, made some documentary films and directed a TV miniseries.
  • John Singleton directed music videos, including Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time.”
  • Steven Spielberg directed episodes of television shows and TV movies, including “Duel” (1971), which attracted the attention of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.

And once you do break into movie directing, you’ll still probably need to work your way up through assistant director jobs. Francis Ford Coppola, for example, worked as a soundman, dialogue director, screenplay writer and associate producer before becoming known as a director [source: Internet Movie Database].

While the competition is stiff, there are movie-directing jobs out there. You may find your niche in documentaries, in TV or in cable movies instead of in studio-backed films. And perhaps, with education, experience, networking and persistence, some day you'll have a shiny Oscar or two to set on your shelf.

For lots more information about movie directors and related topics, check out the links below.

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