Career as a film director

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Tracy Church is a freelance director who makes documentaries for television. Like many people working in media, her job involves travelling throughout the UK and abroad to make films in different locations.

Can you describe your role?

As director it's up to me to decide on the content of the documentary. I'm also responsible for the tone and look of the film. For example in a documentary about homelessness I might use shots that look cold and bleak to portray the loneliness of people's lives. All pictures should help to tell the person's story.

What does the work involve?

At the beginning of each project I form an idea of the documentary. I write a report, known as a treatment, describing the content of the film and what it will look like. I interview possible contributors to the film, to see whether they have a good story to tell and to check that they won't be too nervous in front of the camera.

I recruit the filming crew and choose locations for the film. It's always essential to stay within my budget, so I have to check my spending regularly.

What about the filming process?

During the filming I organise each day's shooting. I work to a schedule which involves filming certain shots on a particular day. I have to be adaptable and change the shoot if necessary so we waste as little time as possible. I interview the contributors to the documentary and deal with any problems on location.

Does your job finish at the end of filming?

No, I'm involved at the post production stage too. I work with the editor, making sure that we choose the best shots and assemble them in the most appropriate order to make the finished documentary.

Who else do you work with?

An assistant producer, and sometimes a camera person and a sound person. However, I usually do my own filming with a special camera, which also allows me to control the sound. Then the assistant producer helps me with the equipment on location.

What qualities do you need in your job?

People skills are extremely important, because you need to gain the trust of contributors to encourage them to talk about issues which are often quite sensitive. Visual flair is another essential quality, to understand which shots will work well and convey the right atmosphere.

What hours do you work?

It varies quite a bit, but the hours are long – anything up to 14 hours a day during the production process.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I meet all sorts of different people and have access to places that are often off limits to the general public. I also like developing an idea and watching the final result on screen.

Is there anything you dislike?

The long hours are very demanding. A lot of travelling is involved in my job and I spend more time than I would like waiting for trains to arrive!

Tracy's route to her career as a film director

  • GCSEs.
  • Associate degree in TV communications from an American university.
  • One year as a community video worker.
  • Three months as an office runner.
  • 18 months as an assistant producer.
  • Present job.

Tracy's film director tips

  • Relevant work experience is a must for anyone hoping to enter the profession.
  • Learn as much as you can about the subject.
  • Take film courses.
  • Watch TV and try to work out what makes the programme interesting.

Film director related jobs

Salary of a film director

  • A freelance director, working on a small project, could earn £2,000 for the project.
  • Salaries for experienced directors are around £30,000.
  • Established directors with good reputations could earn £65,000 or more.

How to become a film director

  • There are no set qualifications, but directors are likely to have extensive knowledge of both technical and creative aspects of the production process.
  • Most directors have progressed from previous specific jobs that involved editing, camera, research or production.
  • Courses in directing are offered by many institutions, but these can be expensive and, even after qualifying, it can be difficult to break into the profession without a great deal of relevant experience.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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