Magazine Archive

Home -> Magazines -> Issues -> Articles in this issue -> View

So You Want To Be A...

Movie Director

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

Francis Ford Betteridge tackles video promos

Billy Williams in a Workshop session with a camera student

The term 'Movie Director' has been chosen for the title here because, in its widest possible sense, it refers to moving pictures in general as opposed to any specific type of production such as features, documentary or of course the much lauded Video Promo.

The term 'video' has actually become somewhat of a misnomer as far as high budget promos are concerned, because most directors working at the top professional level now prefer to shoot on good old celluloid film. The reason for this dastardly desertion from tape, which is also apparent in areas outside of Pop promotion, is that, although film is more expensive and can be technically more difficult to handle, the textural quality of the resultant picture is generally thought to be so much more pleasing to the eye that the extra difficulties are gladly suffered. This is notwithstanding the fact that the product might be transferred to video for the final viewing and possibly for certain stages of the post-production editing process. Even after the transfer, the special look of film survives and can be discerned even by a relatively untrained eye. Therefore a director should be conversant with both video and film even if television is the main area of interest.

Promo's Plus

Since this is a musicians' magazine it might be loosely assumed that you want to work with productions that address music or the issues that surround it, but that in no way limits you to promo's. The job of director is always in essence the same, although in practical terms responsibility for a full length feature is a quantum or two away from that for a three minute, single camera promo.

Although the director should have final creative or artistic control, the task is usually one of interpretation, inspiration, co-ordination and the focussing of the production team's efforts. During pre-production, the writer's script and ideas must be interpreted and visualised in some detail in terms of lighting, camera angles and the playing of the characters. However, in most cases when it comes to the shoot, assuming that you are working with a good crew, there should always be a degree of openness to the input of those around you experienced in their own fields. It is the director's task to inspire them to achieve the desired end result.

In television a director will usually have had many years experience as an editor, a cameraman or a programme controller, etc, although with Pop Promo's, where the practical problems are somewhat less involved, it's far more the quality and freshness of ideas that counts, and naturally whether or not you can convince the record company's commissioning executive of your pre-eminent visual hipness.

Union Matters

A major barrier for anyone wishing to enter the film or television industry, and a major source of security for those already in it, is The Union: The ACTT. Don Coutts is a freelance director responsible for various Channel 4 music productions including Live From London, What Ever You Want and Play At Home: "Within the television and film industry there is a union, the ACTT, and in the course of looking after the interests of its members it has created what amounts to a closed shop. It's very difficult to get a job without a ticket and very difficult to get a ticket without a job, and that makes it very hard to break into the industry. If you intend your programme to be shown on network television you really have to be a member, and unless you are you can't officially use ACTT members in your crew. I don't disagree with the principles of a closed shop and without it a lot of older technicians would probably find themselves on the scrap heap, pushed out by keen new up-and-coming talent, but at the same time it can keep the industry rather tame. It's a very complex subject — a closed shop within a creative industry - and there are several things that we have't quite sorted out properly yet."

Students working on 35mm location shoot

Back To School

One way into the industry is through the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Though not a degree course the three years training process provides a good grounding in the practical techniques of film and television production, and graduation automatically provides you with an ACTT ticket for your specialised area, but admission is tough. From over 600 applications each year only around 30 can be accepted, and the standards are extremely high.

Mac Adams is head of the editing department at the NFTS, and is himself a professional director and editor of great experience: "It's the policy of the school to look for high creative ability, confidence and commitment rather than any specific qualifications, and we require from any applicant proof of practical ability in their chosen field. If you want to be a director or an editor, you must be able to show work that you've already directed credited something that shows flare, and the competition is very tough."

Mac was definite in his support of the ACTT: "People moan about the ACTT and the fact that the closed shop keeps young talent out of the industry, but the fact is that it does everyone a great service as a first line of filtration. What you need as much as anything else to become a successful film or television director is fire in the belly and a total commitment, and the fact that you have to work hard to get in in the first place helps ensure that. As a director you will quite often have to work on into the small hours when you would much rather be somewhere else and it's not enough simply to quite enjoy doing it; most successful people are involved with production because they can't leave it alone, it's simply what they have to be doing."

Di Patrick, an ex NFTS student and now a working director, agreed: "It has to be so that you can't get up in the morning without thinking in terms of the production you're involved with. It has to be almost an obsession."

Apparently the majority of people still work their way up from being a runner or a tea boy for a production company, and all the usual factors of being in the right place at the right time apply.

At the desk in the sound studio

Mac Adams: "To be quite honest writing to production companies is usually a waste of time because the sort of administration that a production company will have will be tied up with the production and not with personnel. The industry largely runs on personality, and you really need to make contact with the people concerned. You have to persevere in knocking on doors and trying to get an appointment to see someone, and eventually you're bound to end up in the right place at the right time."

Don Coutts originally found his way into the union as a 'negative assembler' in the labs of a large film company, and having gained that foothold he was subsequently able to upgrade his ticket to become a freelance assistant director before eventually joining the BBC. That is apparently no longer such an easy route as Linda Oakes, head of the training section of the ACTT, explained: "Getting a job in the film and television industry is very difficult whether you're a union member or not, and at present people simply aren't recruiting lab staff. There really isn't a back door into the industry at this time. You're always welcome to come in and look through the jobs advertised; if you're offered a position then you'll get a ticket, but the employer must give preference to existing members. Once you are offered a ticketed position you are required to keep that grading for a period of two years before you can transfer."

A good source of information is a book produced by the ITCA entitled Careers in ITV which is aimed at the school leaver, college student or person wishing to change their career. It's specifically for people who want staff production jobs and doesn't offer any advice to musicians wishing to work in television. The price of the book is £4.00.

Before you go rushing off to cash in your Portastudio for an old Super 8 and a pair of scissors, ask yourself this, "Is it truly an obsession that will last? or do you just wanna be in de movies??

ITCA (Contact Details)
ACTT (Contact Details)

More with this topic

Browse by Topic:

Video / Film / Picture

Previous Article in this issue


Next article in this issue


Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by Jim Betteridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Workbench

Next article in this issue:

> Beatroute

Help Support The Things You Love

mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.

If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!

Donations for June 2024
Issues donated this month: 0

New issues that have been donated or scanned for us this month.

Funds donated this month: £0.00

All donations and support are gratefully appreciated - thank you.

Magazines Needed - Can You Help?

Do you have any of these magazine issues?

> See all issues we need

If so, and you can donate, lend or scan them to help complete our archive, please get in touch via the Contribute page - thanks!

Please Contribute to mu:zines by supplying magazines, scanning or donating funds. Thanks!

Monetary donations go towards site running costs, and the occasional coffee for me if there's anything left over!

Small Print

Terms of usePrivacy