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Strive to become a film director by studying a film degree, gaining valuable knowledge, skills and experience to take you on the right path.

The Film and Tv production Academic Lead, Ben Thompson explores which degrees you should take if you want to become a Film Director.

What is a film director?

Film directors are the creative leads on films. They determine the creative vision of the film, deciding on the creative aspects of the film including filming locations, special effects and shot angles. They visualise the script when making the film to develop their artistic process. After filming the director takes the lead editing the film, preparing a ‘director's cut’. 

Think of these brilliant female film directors Kathryn Biglow or Chloé Zhao, what do you think they did to end up where they are? Katheryn Biglow initially studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. After moving to New York City to participate in the Whitney Museum’s study program. She soon found an interest in filmmaking, earning a scholarship to the graduate film school at Columbia University where she created her first short film, after university she turned to feature films and then to the big screen directing The Hurt Locker (2008) and becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director.

A degree provides you with an abundance of knowledge and opportunities, and develops your creative skill set. Your studies are also a great time to network and learn from professionals.

Graduate success

James Cummings

Alumnus James co-wrote 'Boiling Point': an award-nominated indie film that's since been released nationwide. Learn how it was made, as well as how James feels about his growing recognition.

Read our article

What degree do you need to become a film director?

Firstly, think about what you want to study. There are plenty of degrees that can help you on your way to being a film director; you want to focus on choosing a course that supports your skill development and practical experience.

A BA (Hons) Film Studies degree is a great choice. A film studies degree gives you an in depth knowledge of film as you explore how film relates to society, culture and the future.

Film studies differs from a BA (Hons) Film Production degree, as it focuses on the theories and concepts that define a film while film production develops your practical skills as you learn to be a filmmaker, editor, cinematographer or special effects producer.

In your second year of Film Studies you may decide to specialise in production or stay on the analytical side of films, or you select the professional studies module and gain credit towards your degree from paid or unpaid work, volunteering, research placements or internships.

Depending on your interests you could also study a BA (Hons) Film studies and Creative Writing degree, which is the perfect degree for the writers in the room.

You will learn the theories and genres of film and writing through history, study how they might evolve in the future, and experience the craft of film making both as a critic and creator.

You'll also collaborate more widely and be able to choose modules such as filmmaking and editing.

Meet BA (Hons) Film Production alumna, Shifra Kirby

Alumna Shifra Kirby initially planned to work in law but changed her mind at the last minute for film production. In 2018, three months after graduating, she secured a dream role doing something completely different to what she envisaged just a few years ago. Listen to Shifra's journey to a creative career she loves.

A year in Industry 

All of these degrees include an optional placement year to increase your experience and work in industry. This is an opportunity to gain commercial experience and meet industry contacts as part of your degree.  

A degree is great for building up your skill set and knowledge and a placement year will allow you to take that skill set and put it into practice, providing you with the experience you need to excel. 

Gaining experience in the industry is where you’ll start on the career ladder, so the more you gain the higher up you can go. 

You could get a placement year role as a:

  • Digital content creator at the head office of a major fashion retailer 
  • Content writer for Brixton music promotion company 
  • Video producer
  • Promotions Assistant 

Some of our previous students have held the above roles and worked for companies such as Walt Disney, Warner media, NBC Universal and Vivid Homes.  

How long does it take to become a film director? 

There is no single direct route to becoming a film director. Your career journey depends on your experience within the industry. As everyone’s career path is different, it’s impossible to set a time limit on becoming a film director. 

Watch Lisa van Hees' Film Industries and Creative Writing short story
/Kore/ [Excerpt]

'Kore' is a short story written by 2021 Film Industries and Creative Writing graduate, Lisa van Hees, for her dissertation. It's a response to her research that revealed the lack of female friendships in young adult fiction.

'Kore' takes place at a university in Berlin. Briar, Neva and Ren – its main characters – are modern inspirations of Persephone, Athena, and Artemis: three key goddesses in Greek mythology whose myths have inspired stories for centuries. Lisa uses these archetypes to play with the reader's knowledge and trigger associations.

Lisa often experiments with subtext, meaning, and allusion. By examining the process through careful research of her own artefact, she can apply that knowledge to her future works.

Credits

  • Written and edited by Lisa van Hees
  • Cinematography by Lester Kamstra

How do you climb the ladder? 

Films cost a lot of money to make so you need to be able to show that you know what you’re doing. As well as having practical skills, you need to understand how to work in a team of cast and crew, and have knowledge of how filming equipment operates to be able to get your vision across perfectly. 

Whether you have a degree or not, you can take your career into your own hands, by creating and developing your ideas. No matter how big or small the budget is when you are creating a film, you are a film director.

A degree is a great starting point and you will be given hands-on experience. 

Studying a degree in film can help you kickstart your career by: 

  • Giving you the tools and knowledge to starting filming
  • Producing material to add to your film showreel and showcase your skills 
  • Giving you experience with professional kit and equipment
  • Opportunities in varying roles on group projects 

By choosing relevant modules and projects at university, you’ll grow your experience and prepare for your career. 

Don’t think too much about getting to stardom when you’re starting out. Start with passion and an idea. Direct a film because you want to, not with the goal of fame. 

It’s easy to understand what you need to start out as a film director: a camera, actors, a story and a good location. 

Brilliant. You have the facts, now how do you really start? With a film degree, where you’ll learn how to use the equipment, software and tools you need.

Facilities and specialist kit

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Video Editing Suite

Award-winning kit for future award-winning filmmakers. Our suite includes non-linear editing software Avid Media Composer and DaVinci Resolve, and specialist hardware for efficient film editing.

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Eldon Sound Recording Studio

Record all your voice work in our soundproof booth, featuring a Sonifex portable radio production unit and audio recording software such as Audacity and Adobe Audition.

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