Careers in film: director, screenwriter, editor, cast member
Love a great story and want to tell intriguing tales for the big screen? Some of the best known careers in film are about doing just that. Screenwriters create the script, before directors bring it to life – working closely with actors, stunt performers and extras. There are more storytelling choices to make in post-production: picture editors work with directors to select which shots and scenes to use and which to discard as they work towards creating the final cut.
How to become a film actor, extra or stunt performer
Love the idea of being in front of the camera? If you want a career as an actor, our article on how to become an actor gives more info. Extras (also known as background artists or supporting artists) often get work via agencies – just don’t rely on this as your only source of income. Would-be stunt performers need to join the British Stunt Register, which has some tough sporting entry requirements; you’ll also need at least 60 days’ paid work performing on camera in non-stunt roles – for example, you could work as an extra.
What a film screenwriter does and how to become one
Screenwriters write film scripts – and rewrite them when asked. The original idea might be their own, or be given to them by a producer who has a rough outline for a story they’d like written. Or a screenwriter might be asked to adapt a story that already exists in another form, such as a novel, short story or play.
Screenwriters work closely with script editors, who are employed by film companies to liaise with screenwriters who are working on scripts for them. Script editors provide feedback, make requests for changes and ensure that drafts are delivered on time.
Screenwriting is a tricky area to get into, with no magic formula for success. You need to develop your writing skills, produce a strong and original script and get it noticed by producers. There are various relevant degree courses and short courses that can help you develop your writing skills and/or knowledge of drama – but film companies care about your script, not your qualifications, so make sure you’d actually find them useful.
You’ll almost definitely need another job to support yourself financially – give some thought as to what this could be. For example, you could consider becoming a script reader. Script readers read potential film scripts for film producers, summarise their content and comment on whether they are worth considering; they can also provide a paid-for feedback service for writers.
Screenwriting is closely connected to playwriting, so you might want to consider careers as a playwright too.
What a film director does and how to become one
Directors are responsible for the artistic success of a film. They take the screenplay and envisage how best it could work as an actual film, then make this happen. This involves working very closely with others, including the production designer, costume designer, location manager and cinematographer to get the visual element right, as well as with the composer and music and sound teams to get the aural element right. They direct the actors during filming, and work closely with editors in post-production. First, second and third directors assist the director, for example creating a filming schedule and ensuring it is stuck to, and making sure that actors and extras are ready in the right place at the right time.
There’s no one clear route to becoming a film director. Making your own short films is a good idea – you don’t need a big budget or professional equipment or actors for your first attempts; get some friends together, chip in for any props or costumes you need to buy and film it on your phone. It’s also good to get experience in film or TV in a different role – for example as a runner (an assistant who helps their department in any way needed), assistant editor, camera operator or actor. You might find it useful to take a practically focused film degree, such as film production – it’s not essential but you’ll meet like-minded people and gain skills. Some film directors move over from a career in theatre directing – you can read up on theatre directing careers and how to get them if this interests you.
What a film editor does and how to become one
A film’s editor (also known as a picture editor) plays a key part in making sure that it tells a clear, understandable story and does so in a dramatic and engaging way. Of course, the screenwriter, script editor, director and producer will already have given this plenty of consideration, but there is still work to do and decisions to be made once the rushes (raw footage from each day’s filming) begin to arrive. Which takes of each scene are the best – and do some give a slightly different feel for a particular character than others? What works best at a given point – seeing the face of a character who is speaking, or one who is listening? Are there any shots that would be useful but haven’t been filmed, which would be good to capture if time and budget allow?
Editors work closely with the director during the editing process, and also have a team of assistants to help them – for example by ingesting (transferring) film footage into the relevant software package and organising and labelling it so it can be found easily, synching together pictures and sound, and liaising with other teams to coordinate work.
As with many film careers, your first paid job is likely to be as a runner. It’s a good idea if you have basic editing skills and some related experience before looking for work. For example you could teach yourself to use relevant software packages, work on your own or friends’ projects and/or take short filmmaking courses that include editing skills (eg at evenings or weekends). You could study a relevant degree subject at film school or university – there aren’t many that focus purely on film editing but you could learn some editing alongside other topics on degrees such as film production.