Dreams are over now and you are serious about becoming a film director.
So, let's be practical about everything.
Here, I will rather take a pragmatic approach than a mere bookish approach because I want you to become successful.
“Work hard and you will become successful” is true but highly cliched.
You can’t just keep working hard in any direction and it won’t take you anywhere. Working hard in the right direction is what is going to take you somewhere.
There are four ways in which you can approach the direction and become a Film Director.
They are not the only ways.
You can find your own way when you are there or you can discover some other ways too but overall some part of those ways will go through these ways only, I can assure you that.
I have figured out these ways based on my experience and talks with other directors and upcoming directors.
Here they are -
Point 1 — Become an assistant.
If you have any connection in Bollywood or Mumbai film fraternity, I would suggest that you should not waste even a minute doing anything else but join a big director as his assistant.
There is no better way than this.
I assume that if you already had such connections you wouldn’t be reading this article. So I won’t elaborate much on this.
I know many well-connected kids who joined Yashraj and Dharma films as they had good connections inside it.
These two production houses in Mumbai today are biggest promoters of nepotism right now.
But let me warn you, everything that appears gold is not gold.
None of the big production houses pays good and living cost in Mumbai is really very high.
Most of the assistants in Dharma and Yashraj comes in their expensive SUVs that even some of the actors don’t have.
Most of them are rich kids.
So, don’t be disillusioned that you can survive without any help if you will work in Yashraj and Dharma.
More than that if you don’t have money, you will never be accepted as a part of their community until you have a very extrovert personality.
Being born to a rich and privileged family comes handy in Mumbai.
These two production houses are the biggest name and brand in Mumbai and if you have worked even in one project in them than you will never find any dearth of money and work.
I worked for merely one day in Yashraj. They needed an assistant for just one day.
They had started another big budget movie and most Ads went there. There were only a few days of shoot left so they didn’t bother calling big assistants.
They needed interns and I got the job for one day.
Again, because I had a connection inside with someone I had worked in a film before.
Most of my job later came to me because I had Yashraj name in my resume.
Directors would read my resume and then would stop at the mention of Yashraj Films, then look at me, ask a few questions and I was in.
There is an assumption that if you work at Yashraj or Dharma than you are good and also rich. This is partly true actually.
There are Ads inside which are working there based on pure merit and they are very really good. I, however, don’t know any of them.
Most production houses have assistant directors and there is a word called “intern” which is mercilessly overused by them to make you work free for you.
My advice — Even if you get to work for free in a good production house, go for it.
An Important thing — It is not useful to work in just any film to make your resume.
The director and the stars in the film matter. If on one hand you have a film which has an arrogant director and huge stars and on the other hand is a film which has decent cast and an unknown director, go for the former one because that film in your resume will get you more work.
Tolerate them for some time and your life will be more sorted.
However, if you are new in the city and don’t have any work, just start doing whatever comes your way. After all, the beggars can’t be choosers.
There are no strict rules about choosing which film you must go with.
In India, people remember film names and you are praised to be part of it.
In the Mumbai film industry, Film does not matter, production house does.
The better the production, the better your resume. Even if you have worked in a major disaster like Thugs of Hindustan, it will help you more than working in the super hit film Badhai ho which does not have a backing of a big production house.
Now it does not matter under which circumstances you do what film or which project, just remember this thing — work hard and make great contacts because it is this and nothing else that will give you more work.
Don’t just make contacts with people on top like director, producer, Ads but make contacts with everyone on set.
You never know who can help you for whatever reason.
I once befriended a spot boy. He was working for the whole day and was very hungry. I took him to a restaurant nearby and treated him with sandwiches and tea. He was so thankful to me that later he called me for meetings and get me several works.
I once met Nawazuddin Siddiqui and I didn’t entertain him much because he looked like nothing, later he became a big celebrity.
Be nice to everyone. You never know who will become what in the future.
Point 2 — Direct your own film.
This is a tough option.
This is not an easy one and is only applicable to crazy ones out there.
But as Steve Jobs said -
One who is crazy enough to think that he can change the world will be the one who will change it.
However, people who are reading it, please don’t take this on ego.
This route has its own pros and cons and sometimes it backfires too.
It is also not a sure shot way to success. The entire process is very difficult if you don’t have money, connections and if you are a first timer.
You will face millions of obstacles, humiliation and resistance from all sides and none of it gives assurance that it can be a success.
To begin with, understand what kind of director you want to become.
Director of an independent low budget feature film does not win that much accolades in India as they win in other countries. India is not a place where you will be appreciated for your art. You instead be labelled as an “Art Film Director”.
Who came up with that name, no one knows but this nametag is a sign that your films do not make any money.
Only a commercial director gets easy money to make his next film.
There are people I have met in my life who had all the reasons for not doing something.
They won’t do anything but rant about how they don’t have any money and how they don’t have any resources to create something.
Those people will never be able to direct or do anything in life.
For directing an independent film, you need lots of guts, courage, patience and lots of persistence.
You have to collect an entire team of people who are willing to work for you literally cheap or for free and then start shooting your movie.
The first part of starting to make your own movie will start from faith. If you don’t have faith in your own film, no one else will come to help you out.
I went to a filmmaker once to ask him for some advice on my screenplay. At the end of the conversation, he asked me how sure I am about making this film.
I tried to give him a diplomatic answer and said 99%. I thought that this amount of surety is enough for making a movie.
He told me that my movie will never get made.
I asked him why and he said that the day I have 100% confidence in my script, only then it will get made and that day, I won’t have to make any efforts to make it.
That script is still lying in my drawer and never got made.
Point 3 — Join an ad agency.
This one is a really comfortable option and the coolest way to become a director however the route will take a long time.
Though one thing is sure, there won’t be any struggle and you will at least live a comfortable life.
This is something that is tried by hundreds of ad films directors in Mumbai. Only a few turn up to make films but even if you don’t, you won’t struggle and that’s for sure.
How does it work?
First, join an ad agency and start working there as a copywriter. If you are young and enthusiastic and ready to work for literally no money, there won’t be much problem you will face getting a job as a copywriter.
There is always an opening for a copywriter in ad agencies. The more the better.
If they say they don’t have a vacancy, then there are chances they don’t want to hire you or the company is going through a bad phase.
With time, escalate up in the agency and become a senior copywriter. Go to meetings, meet clients and increase your network over post-work parties.
Then someday shoot some film for some client who does not have enough budget to hire a production house. Voila, your career as a filmmaker starts.
This is how you make your showreel.
Then leave the agency and start your own production house. Since everyone in the agency knows you and other agency guys also know you (didn’t I tell you to mingle a lot with people).
Remember more the networking, better will be the results
Now start taking work from them and begin shooting your films.
The best part of ad filmmaking is that you don’t have to know anything about the direction to shoot an ad film.
Most of the ad film directors I have worked with don’t do much and don’t have any idea about how ad films are shot.
They rely heavily on the highly knowledgeable DOP who knows that a part of his job along with shooting the ad film will be to help the director in telling what shots need to be taken.
Hire a well-experienced Ad (Assistant Director) who can run the set and then relax behind the monitor.
Ad will take shots, DOP will shoot and you can comfortably take your name as the director because you know one thing that others on set don’t — How to deal with clients and get ad films from them.
But this is just halfway to the goal. This won’t take you far away.
After directing a lot of commercials and gathering a lot of money, begin writing the script for your feature film.
Since you have directed so many commercials it won’t be that difficult to find a producer for you.
Directing commercials also gives you contact with lots of actors knowing whom otherwise is a big advantage.
So, get your script ready, contact the actors, meet a financier and get going.
If that doesn’t work out, keep directing ad films. It is a nice money-making job.
Point 4 — Join a film school.
Now this is the safest option on the road. This is like doing engineering or MBA from a good school so that you can land up a job.
However, there is no other institute in India of the calibre of FTII and SFTII or Adyar Film Institute in Chennai which not just teaches you but also gives you ample contacts so that you never go without a job once you are in your respective film city.
I know people who have been jobless even after that doing a course from FTII, it was because they were terribly arrogant and felt that they are so great that the world owes them everything.
They end up getting frustrated and later die in oblivion cursing the film industry.
Joining film school is a wise decision no matter people say.
There are filmmakers who boast about never being to film school and did everything on their own.
Truth is, they most applied for the film school but didn’t get accept.
Behind every successful director who boasts about doing everything on his own, there are numerous directors who tried the same thing but just couldn’t make the cut.
Don’t be egoistic about going to film school.
If you get the chance to learn and master the art at a good film school, do it.
Don’t be a Tarantino follower who proudly says he didn’t go to a film school. Going to a film school is the best thing you can do for yourself.
But I would strictly advise against going to any private film school in India. They will charge you an exorbitant amount of fees, you won’t learn anything much there and later they won’t help you in getting any jobs.
Not that the government-funded institutes will help you in getting jobs but what government colleges have is culture, traditions and love for alma mater.
Lots of successful people in Film industry often roams the streets of FTII reminiscing their old days and meet young students, connect with them and when they come to Mumbai help them find their way by giving them work and place to live.
Private film schools don’t have that love for alma mater and if seniors ever come back on campus, they are paid to do that, they don’t come back for the love of institution.
These are four methods of entering inside the film industry and get success as a director.
I hope my advice will help you gain some perspective because at least now you will have some direction in which way to go and which way not to go.