Many film students enter programs dreaming of being the next Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan, not many think to be the next Ilene Chaiken or J.J. Abrams, but these four people are very powerful industry professionals, responsible for some of the most commercially successful films and television shows of the last ten years. A student might enroll in film school thinking that learning how to direct is universal across mediums. However directing a film is a quiet different from directing television for a few reasons that might not be obvious to the average viewer.
First there’s creative control to consider. In the Movie Industry, the producer and the director have the most decisive power in the look and tone of the film. Casting is mainly the task of the casting director, and most of the key crew member choices are vested in the director and producer’s preferences. In cases where the director is also the screenwriter, almost complete creative control is deferred to them, from the look of the set, to the type of lighting, to whether or not a dialogue choice will be adhered to or changed.
In Television, the director is almost a guest star themselves. The visual and contextual decisions are made by the show’s creator. The director’s main job of keeping the story’s integrity lies in their ability to match that show’s tone, character arcs and storylines. Stylistic flare must be kept to a minimum and there’s no guarantee you’ll be hired to shoot another episode. While TV directors are allowed to cast some minor roles (or major ones if the show is a pilot), choice in crew members is almost non-existent. While film directors are known for their sometimes boisterous egos, the TV director must have an ego the size of a walnut. They must constantly remember it’s the show’s continuity, not their brilliant artistic talent that is to be maintained at all costs.
The technical differences in directing film verses directing television comes from the location and duration of the project at hand. In modern times, film productions rely more and more on digital cinematography but in the not so olden days they used the 35mm film camera. These cameras and their subsequent cranes and dollies are quiet expensive and the film reels themselves need to be insured. Often one camera was budgeted for one set; with the film director carefully planning out coverage for each shot. Most TV shows are multi-camera operations, requiring the director to communicate with each camera operator in an almost premonitory way. Prepping each shot to be taken in a timely, subsequent fashion, being mindful of time signature and story flow.
Directing is a difficult yet rewarding job no matter what the medium, both TV and Film Directors have the enormous task of keeping a projects integrity intact. If you’re an aspiring Director the worst thing you can do is limit yourself to one or the other.
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