Television Director

  • Television Director

For the director, television is a very different beast. In film production, he or she is the ultimate creative voice on set, but on the small screen, the director has a far more limited role and is constrained by the show’s format. Multi-camera shoots, live productions, and sitcoms each present unique challenges unlike that of a movie.


Duties

The director’s responsibilities vary greatly depending on the format of the television series. Single-camera dramas like Heroes and CSI are shot in short, non-sequential segments based on the logistics of camera and lighting setups, then edited together later. In this format, the director has the most creative freedom and performs much like a film director—the exception being that the show’s producers and creator have predetermined decisions on production design and characterization. Multi-camera programs, which range from live news and sports broadcasts to game shows, take the director off the set and place him or her in a control booth to call out cues based not on a script, but on instinct. With eyes glued to a wall of screens, the director requests desired shot angles and positions from camera operators while simultaneously ordering the switcher to initiate cuts between each signal. This job is less artistic and more of a test of nerve and organized thinking—though still creative. When Oprah’s guest is breaking down on the couch, it’s the director who calls for the camera to slowly close in and catch the first tear, then cuts to the audience reaction; the intent is to elicit the greatest possible emotional response from the viewer at home.

Sitcoms are a hybrid form, more likely to be shot in a multi-camera format on film cameras rather than video. Instead of the director calling live switches from a control booth, all cameras shoot the scene from different angles played to a live audience in proscenium style. The director here is most like a stage director, concentrating on blocking the actors’ movements and rehearsing their performance. Multiple takes are shot of the entire scene in real time, and the director works with the producer and editor to select the best takes for broadcast. Soap operas are the most unique and complicated television productions for a director. Scenes are shot live to tape, but require intricate blocking to accommodate the multiple handheld and standing cameras. The director has little time to rehearse the cast for the daily shoot; rather, this person works closely with the cinematographer, camera operators, and gaffer to establish composition, lighting, and set marks.

Skills & Education

Directors interested in prime-time dramas and sitcoms should begin with an education in film and television production; experience in theater and acting is also helpful. Those whose aspirations lie in news and sports are better served to attain a college degree in broadcast journalism. A formal education is not a uniform requirement, though it will provide you with the necessary knowledge of lighting, camera composition, editing, and the production process.

 

What to Expect

In television, most of the creative control lies in the hands of the executive producers and writers; directors are often hired on a per-episode basis, and therefore are not given a great deal of latitude to make significant changes to the show’s formula. To train for this career, take jobs on television crews in the camera department, electrics, or post-production. Television direction has also been a successful training ground for future film directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, and Sidney Lumet.

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