Creative industries

Director (creative industries)

Director (creative industries)

Directors work in film and TV drama, unscripted TV, animation and theatre. The various sectors and genres make the role quite different in each case. In theatre and film and TV drama, directors work closely with actors, and a key part of their role is to get from the actors the kind of performance the show, film or programme needs.  In animation, directors don’t always work with actors; when they do, they are voice actors. In unscripted TV, there are no actors and the director is often operating the camera themselves.

It's not uncommon for directors to have careers that span theatre and film and TV drama. Michael Grandage had a long career as a theatre director before adding credits as a film director to his portfolio.  Edward Hall is a theatre director who also directed Downton Abbey.

It’s less common for directors to span the range of direction roles across the creative industries. When they do, it’s more often for creative reasons than the simple expediency of needing to diversify their revenue streams.

Case study – Leon Oldstrong

Leon Oldstrong is a director who started off directing unscripted TV and then moved into directing drama. He has recently directed in 360 and now is working on moving into theatre as well.

Leon is driven by the needs of the story. He chooses the genre that will tell the tale and reach the audience best. He also wants to keep growing as an artist.

“It’s about really pushing myself as an artist – because I definitely think of myself as an artist – so, you know, it keeps me excited and it keeps the job interesting for me,” he says.

Core skills for directors across the creative sectors

  • Story telling – the narrative arc of a story is the same whatever the genre, so know how to convey emotion and shape characters within a narrative structure
  • Keeping the genre in mind – have a thorough understanding of the genre or sector and its limitations and creative possibilities, whether that be a stage, a film, an immersive experience or a documentary
  • Staying calm under pressure – be able to work methodically within a high-stress environment and make creative decisions when things don’t go to plan
  • Selling yourself – stay up to date with the funders and commissioners in the sector in which you want to work. Pitch your services accordingly
  • Freelancing – be able to keep your books, manage your finances and stay alert to new business opportunities. For ScreenSkills’ guide on how to do this, go to Freelance Toolkit.

Differences between director roles in different sectors

"I don't believe that I have any natural talent. If I have a natural talent, I think it's just my ability to keep trying."

Leon Oldstrong
  • Unscripted: In documentary, shots don’t need to be as polished as for film and TV drama. It’s possible to move around and pick up shots that haven’t been planned. Directors have to be able to react quickly and creatively if the content takes a completely different direction to the one that was intended
  • Film and TV drama: Scripted productions usually involve a larger crew than documentaries, and with that there is more responsibility on the director’s shoulders. The day is more structured and deadline-driven. Success depends on your rapport with the actors and ability to work well with the crew
  • Theatre: This is most akin to film and TV drama, especially when it’s created with a script. There is more time for rehearsal and for crafting the piece through what emerges during the rehearsal process than there is with screen
  • Animation: As well as understanding the craft of storytelling, animation directors need a good understanding of the principles and mechanics of animation, as well as a strong sense of all genres of art.

Tips for directors moving between creative sectors

  • Immerse yourself in the sector in which you want to develop – go to the theatre, watch documentaries and film and TV dramas, take part in 360
  • Get to know people who work in the sectors you are interested in exploring – speak to people who are more experienced and turn to them when you need advice
  • Accept that you are not an expert in the new genre and approach it with humility and a willingness to learn
  • Gather a good team around you and lean on them
  • Learn how to embrace imposter syndrome – recognise that everyone experiences it and carry on anyway.

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