To be a film director, you require lots of varied film directing skills, especially if you want to be ‘successful’. (Success means different things to different people – more on that later).
You need a strong imagination, great people and communication skills, and the ability to bring lots of people together around a shared vision.
You also need some technical know-how and a strong understanding of storytelling.
Luckily, all of these film directing skills can be developed, so even if you’re just starting out, it can be easy to build up your skills through practise and perseverance.
Here we look at some of the key film directing skills needed for a career in film directing.
These are arguably the most important of all the film directing skills.
Telling stories is ultimately what filmmaking is all about, whatever style or format you’re working in.
A film director needs to be able to take the story from the script and turn it successfully onto something we’ll see on screen.
This includes a form of story editing. A director will choose where to place the emphasis, what to focus on, and what to minimise or leave out. They’ll work with images, sound, rhythms and different effects to find ways of expressing characters, and ways to share the emotions of the story.
“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.”
Filmmaking is all about telling stories visually. You’ll need a strong imagination, ready to take your project from a script all the way to a fully-fledged film for an audience.
This requires a strong imagination. You’ll interpret the script and make lots of creative decisions, before stepping onto the film set.
The film director will often work with the screenwriter – or with a development team – to shape and fine tune the script prior to shooting.
They will also consider the look and feel of the film. These choices will often be in conjunction with the film’s producer(s), and the director may need to gain support for their ideas, so along with a strong imagination, they’ll also need strong communication and persuasive skills.
In pre-production, the film director usually draws up a storyboard, mapping out a visual plan for the entire film. With a larger team, this includes working with storyboard artists, or they might draw it up themselves.
The storyboard effectively captures the imagination of the director and represents what they expect the overall film to look like.
People Skills & Leadership Skills
The ability to collaborate with many other people is one of the most essential film directing skills.
Good collaboration requires extraordinary people or interpersonal skills. It’s not as simple as the director just being ‘the boss’, they need to communicate their ideas effectively and win people over to their ideas.
The film director provides leadership to the crew, as well as to the actors and to all the teams working within production design, ideally aligning everyone around the same vision. This requires very good team working skills, leadership and often the ability to compromise.
It also takes a lot of trust; the film director won’t be able to micromanage everyone, so they need to trust that they have brought together a capable team who can support them to achieve their vision.
“Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.”Michael Keaton
Strong communication skills are a crucial part of the film directing skills set.
A film director only has a limited time to share their ideas and their direction, before work begins and shooting is then underway. They’ll need to be able to bring lots of people on board with their vision quickly and communicate all the key points in briefings and meetings.
Other people involved will have their own ideas and the director will need to work with them throughout the whole process. This will mean taking on board ideas and creative contributions from actors, from crew and from producers too.
“Making a movie is like building a watch because a watch is so small and you only can fit so many things inside it that all the pieces really do need to work together.”
Technical Film Directing Skills
A film director will need some technical film directing skills, such as the ability to interpret a script, the ability to cast actors (or to support a casting director), some photographic skills and a good knowledge of film language. You’ll also need skills in how to direct actors and bring out performances.
Whilst a film director doesn’t need to be highly technical in many of the crew roles, they will still need some understanding of the different technical processes involved on set and in post-production. This helps them to work well alongside the crew and alongside editors and post-production specialists, without unrealistic expectations of the work involved.
Other Film Directing Skills
As well as some of the specific film directing skills we’ve explored above, most film directors also work on a ‘freelance’ or on a per-film contract basis, so along with all the other film directing skills, you’ll also need some very basic business skills, such as networking and self-promotion.
You’ll need to have an idea of your ‘identity’ as a film director. What kinds of projects or stories interest you? What are the similarities in your work, or your favourite styles? What are your references, or personal inspirations?
The film industry can be a tough place, so you’ll also need lots of resilience and self-confidence too.
“I think other filmmakers are inherently more brilliant than me, but I know I can work harder than they can.”
As we mentioned earlier, success looks different to everybody and there are different measures.
Some directors might consider financial rewards, winning awards or the chance to make their own work uninhibited to be their marker of success.
If you aspire to be a film director, then you can decide for yourself what makes you successful. Start building your film directing skills and start working towards them.
Interested in film directing courses?
Sparks helps young filmmakers (ages 5-18) to develop film directing skills, camera and photographic skills, screenwriting and much, much more.
Take a look at our upcoming courses here.