Before you read any further, I would just like to warn you that this is not a post about how to get into the industry or routes into a career as a director. I'm afraid I can't help you there. If you know, please, let me know. This is more about how to 'become' a film director. How to learn the craft and become better at it.
- Make short films. The best way to learn is to 'do.' I feel like my understanding of the process between the first short film I made and the last is so much deeper and more mature now. Don't misunderstand me, I've got a long way to go, but by making lots of short films and working with different actors I have learned what to do, what not to do, how to prepare better, how to make it easier on everyone. For example in my current project I am taking my sweet time over the casting, which I have never done properly before. This time I'm prepared to go months in order to find the perfect cast.
- Read lots of books about directing and filmmaking. I learn through reading and I just love reading everything I can get my hands on about filmmaking and directing. I particularly love reading directors talking about their mistakes or ways they decided to film a scene. Obviously the best experience is in actually directing and making the films, but reading provides you with certain tools that you can use when you need to.
- Learn all about the filmmaking process. I know lots of people who direct productions but who don't know how to use a camera. They still do well, they make great stuff, but if you don't understand how the lighting works, how can you communicate exactly what you want? If you don't know how long it takes to change the lens and film on a particular camera, how can you schedule? If you don't appreciate what the sound crew have to do to get clean sound and how long it might take, you are going to make some enemies!
- Watch films. Watch everything. Don't watch what you like. Watch critically acclaimed films, watch classics, even if you think they suck, there's a reason they are classics. Look for the technique, realise why the director used a certain shot and what it communicated to the audience. You will be both inspired and motivated to use those techniques and elevate them in your own productions.
- Respect actors. Learn their ways. Make friends with them. Listen to them. Don't forget, THEY are the ones who make your film really work. You can have a stunning script which sounds like a 5 year old wrote it when badly delivered by a bored actor who's fed up with being half-starved and waiting around for hours while you spend far too much time appeasing the cinematographer. Equally, they might try their hardest but you just can't get a performance out of them because you haven't learned how. Practise. Direct stuff. Try different styles.