Filmmakers: Everything You Need to Know

Filmmakers, also referred to as film directors, have the unique ability to transform written stories and ideas into visual presentations, such as movies, television shows, documentaries, animations, and advertisements. Their goal is to create content that spurs emotions, captivates audiences, or prompts action.

Most filmmakers are hired by the movie or film producer and must work in collaboration with them. However, some film directors also serve as the movie producer and therefore maintain ultimate control over the production of the movie. This is especially true for self-made, independent films.

What Do Film Directors Do?

Filmmakers handle all aspects of the film development process, including the pre-production phase, production, and post-production tasks. Some of their specific duties include tasks, such as:

  • Conduct auditions and casting actors and crew members
  • Modify script, as necessary, to enhance the entertainment value of the film
  • Oversee cast and stage readings and rehearsals.
  • Scout and select movie set locations
  • Attend all casting sessions
  • Direct and coach actors and stage crew to enhance movie outcomes
  • Collaborate with all key players, including actors, choreographers, light technicians, music conductors, and costume designers
  • Keep producer up-to-date on all production matters
  • Meet all required production deadlines
  • Monitor overall production budget
  • Handle or oversee post-production tasks, such as editing, music add-ins, cutting scenes, and special effects
  • Promote movie or show

Where Do Filmmakers Work?

Film directors’ work environments change dramatically from one project to another and even from set-to-set. As a filmmaker, you could easily have one project that is filmed almost completely inside and another project that takes place outside. You could be in sunny California one month and in another country by the next.

In fact, most film directors spend weeks or even months on-location, especially during the production phase. This means that as a filmmaker, you can expect to spend the bulk of your time away from home.

Additionally, filmmakers often have to work long hours during all stages of the production process to ensure all required deadlines are met. In most cases, film directors are contracted per project. So, once production is done, or near completion, they often have to start seeking out their next project.

How Much Do Film Directors Earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for filmmakers working in the United States is:

$35.78 / hour or $74,420 / year

However, it’s important to note that filmmakers’ salaries vary greatly based on various factors, such as:

Experience and Training

Naturally, the more experience and training you have in film directing, the more money you are likely to make. You might not realize that there is a huge discrepancy between the highest paying filmmakers and the lowest paying ones. According to BLS records, the top 10% of film directors earn an average yearly salary of $173,630 compared to the average annual salary of $35,480 for the lowest-paid 10% of filmmakers.

This vast difference highlights just how important the right training and experience is to help filmmakers further their careers. It’s vital for film directors to maintain an updated resume and portfolio as they advance their careers.

Job Title

The type of content you produce will also play a role in how much you can expect to earn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks filmmaker salaries down by industry.

Industry Average hourly pay Average annual salary
Independent filmmaker $64.95 $135,110
Advertising $53.46 $111,200
Motion pictures $52.66 $109,540
Radio and TV broadcasting $37.94 $78,910
Performing arts $33.20 $69,060

As you can see, independent filmmakers tend to earn more than other directors. However, this is not always the case. Film directors working on major box office movies and popular television shows can earn a great deal more money per project. Additionally, independent filmmakers must secure their own financing for production, which is not always possible.

Location

It may come as no surprise to learn that film directors in California and New York earn more than those working in any other state. However, it may surprise you to learn that film directors in California ($121,950) earn an average of $76,430 more annually than those working in the lowest-paying state of Mississippi ($45,520).

Below is a breakdown of how much filmmakers can expect to earn in each state. However, keep in mind that many movie directors work on-location, which varies from project to project. So, earnings are based on the project location versus where you live.

State Average pay per hour Average annual salary
California $58.63 $121,950
New York $56.77 $118,090
Connecticut $42.57 $88,550
New Jersey $42.40 $88,220
Georgia $40.02 $83,240
Maryland $34.08 $81,300
New Mexico $38.27 $79,590
Hawaii $38.19 $79,430
Nevada $38.18 $79,410
Massachusetts $35.98 $74,840
Colorado $35.76 $74,370
Illinois $35.54 $73,910
Washington $35.21 $73,230
Minnesota $34.00 $70,710
Florida $33.89 $70,490
Virginia $33.88 $70,460
Texas $35.35 $69,370
Oregon $33.13 $68,910
Rhode Island $33.03 $68,700
Michigan $32.23 $67,030
Pennsylvania $32.06 $66,690
South Carolina $31.91 $66,370
Utah $30.98 $64,440
Delaware $30.86 $64,200
North Carolina $30.67 $63,790
New Hampshire $30.47 $63,380
Arizona $30.36 $63,150
Tennessee $30.34 $63,100
Montana $24.44 $61,240
Kansas $29.22 $60,780
Alabama $29.11 $60,560
Kentucky $29.03 $60,390
Arkansas $28.42 $59,120
Oklahoma $28.38 $59,020
Louisiana $27.77 $57,750
Wisconsin $27.63 $57,470
Idaho $27.51 $57,220
South Dakota $27.11 $56,390
Ohio $26.86 $55,860
Vermont $26.40 $54,920
Indiana $26.31 $54,720
Nebraska $25.56 $53,170
Maine $25.42 $52,880
Montana $25.08 $52,180
Wyoming $24.45 $50,870
West Virginia $24.34 $50,630
Alaska $24.28 $50,500
North Dakota $22.95 $47,740
Iowa $22.23 $46,230
Mississippi $21.89 $45,520

Film director salaries even vary between cities within a state. Below is a look at the top-paying metropolitan areas in the country.

  • Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim area: $129,980/year
  • New York–Newark–Jersey City area: $119,460/year
  • San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara area: $105,950/year
  • Bridgeport–Stamford–Norwalk area: $105,390/year
  • San Francisco–Oakland–Hayward area: $104,520/year

What Is the Job Outlook for Filmmakers?

The job outlook for filmmakers is very good. There are currently about 159,500 film director jobs in the United States. Fortunately, the demand for these professionals is expected to grow by 10% over the next ten years, which is substantially higher than the national job growth rate of just 4 percent. This fact means that there is an anticipated demand for an additional 16,000 jobs over the next decade, bringing the total to 175,500 jobs.

Is a Career As a Professional Film Director Right for You?

The most important attribute filmmakers have is creativity. You must have the ability to think outside the box and create unique content that is both entertaining and captivating. While your level of creativity is likely to grow as you build your career, it’s important that you have the ability to read a story or hear an idea and transform it into mental visualization.

Film directors must also have strong leadership skills. They manage the entire production process, so they must be able to direct both actors and stage crew simultaneously. This skill will also strengthen with experience. Filmmakers should also have strong communication, time management, and conflict resolution skills, as well as a passion for the film and entertainment industry.

How to Become a Filmmaker?

While most filmmakers begin their career by going to film school, there are no mandatory degree requirements to become a film director. However, it can be nearly impossible to create content that generates mass attention without an in-depth understanding of the film industry. Additionally, you might have a difficult time convincing producers and stakeholders to take you seriously with no way to highlight your talent. Many schools showcase their graduates.

Fortunately, there are many training options available to filmmakers, including:

Diploma and Certificate Programs

Some film schools offer certificate or diploma programs that take students on the fast track to becoming filmmakers. These programs typically take just one to two years to complete and are usually less expensive than alternative film schools. These schools are ideal for students just starting a career in filmmaking and older adults seeking a career change.

Undergraduate Degrees

Many film schools offer associate and bachelor’s degree-level programs. An Associate of Arts typically takes about two years of full-time studies and can prepare students for an entry-level directing job. Bachelor’s degree programs, such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), take an average of four years to complete. These four-year programs are extremely competitive and can be difficult to gain acceptance into without some type of prior experience or training, such as a diploma in fine arts.

Graduate Degrees

Graduate students can earn a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), or Ph.D. in Film Studies degree from accredited film schools. These programs are also very competitive. Most students work for several years in the film industry before pursuing a graduate degree.

If you’re interested in learning how to become a filmmaker, apply to Nashville Film Institute to gain the skills you need to be a professional filmmaker.

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