questionmarkI am an aspiring director. If my true passion lies in films (action-adventure in particular) and not in music videos or commercials, should I bother trying to make a run at being a music video director? Would learning how to tell a story with no dialogue in under three minutes be worth it to me?

Or should I just stick with the indie film route and write a low-budget film?

— Tyler Leisher

As a general rule, don’t waste your time building a proxy career.

Every director needs practice with visual storytelling and composition. You can do that homework by shooting as much as possible: photography, short films, docs, etc. Study how others do it. Read books. Learn VFX.

Watch movies with the sound off. I’ve learned a lot by not putting my headphones on while staring at random inflight movies. For whatever reason, you particularly notice matching eyelines this way.

If your goal is to direct the next Once, I suspect these smaller steps would be enough.

But in your case, Tyler, genre matters. To direct movies with loud trailers and explosions, you’re going to need a director’s reel that shows size and scale and sizzle. Music videos and commercials are a great way to do that, as are spec shorts with a lot of visual FX. Modern Times will get Ben Craig more attention than a nicely-observed indie would:

Yet it’s a misconception that Hollywood is eager to hire music video directors. They really aren’t.

Studio execs want to hire directors they believe can get the movie on the screen as effectively and cheaply as possible. Music video and commercial directors tend to have great-looking reels that showcase high production value for low production costs. And they’re hungry: they’ll work their asses off to land a feature directing assignment, even shooting spec scenes to show what they can do. 1

So if you, Tyler, want to direct these kinds of big movies, you’ll need to show you have the visual chops to pull it off. You could do that with music videos or commercials, or a small feature like Gareth Edward’s Monsters. Also consider television: the walls separating film from TV have never been lower, particularly given the quality of many one-hour dramas.

Whichever path you take, remember where you’re trying to head. It’s all too easy to get stuck on treadmill of small assignments that never lead to your intended destination.

  1. And yes, this drives established directors crazy. It creates that expectation that directors should have to audition for jobs.