A film director orchestrates the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film, based on a screenplay. The role typically includes:

  • Realizing the overall artistic vision of the film.
  • Controlling the content and flow of the film's plot as defined by the screenplay.
  • Directing the performances of actors, both mechanically by putting them in certain positions (i.e. blocking), and dramatically by eliciting the required range of emotions.
  • Organizing and selecting the locations in which the film will be shot.
  • Managing technical details such as the positioning of cameras, the use of lighting, and the timing and content of the film's soundtrack.
  • Any other activity that defines or realizes the artistic vision the director has for the film.

In practice the director will delegate many of these responsibilities to other members of his or her film crew. For example, the director may describe the mood she or he wants from a scene, then leave it to other members of the film crew to find a suitable location, or to set up the appropriate lighting.

The degree of control that a director exerts over a film varies greatly. Many directors are usually, but not essentially, subordinate to the studio and producer. This was especially true during the "Golden Era" of Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s, when studios had stables of directors, actors and writers under contract.

Other directors bring a particular and intensely focused artistic vision to the pictures they make (see auteur theory). Their methods range from some who like to outline a general plot line and let the actors improvise dialogue (such as Robert Altman and Christopher Guest), to those who control every aspect, and demand that the actors and crew follow instructions precisely (such as Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, and Stanley Kubrick). Some directors also write their own scripts (such as James Cameron, Frank Darabont, and Quentin Tarantino), while others collaborate on screenplays with long-standing writing partners (such as Billy Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond). Finally, certain directors star, often in leading roles, in their films, from Orson Welles to Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood to Mel Brooks.

Directors often work closely with film producers, who are usually responsible for the non-artistic elements of the film, such as financing, contract negotiation and marketing. Directors will often take on some of the responsibilities of the producer for their films (e.g. Steven Spielberg), or work so closely with the producer that the distinction in their roles becomes blurred (as is the case with Joel and Ethan Coen). The early silent film director Alice Guy Blaché not only produced her own pictures but actually created her own highly successful studio.

The official American film directors' trade union is the Directors Guild of America (DGA). In DGA pictures the credit for the director will always be the last credit in the film's title sequence. Directors, however, often get a second credit, "A(n) (Insert Director Here) Film". The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and WGA (Writers Guild of America) have attacked this credit during contract negotiations, arguing that it implies that directors have authorship in what is actually a highly collaborative medium.

The key person in the making of a film is often the director, the individual who visualizes the script and guides the production crew and actors to carry out that vision. The director often, but not always, has artistic control over everything from the script itself to the final cut of the film. It is the director's sense of the dramatic along with the creative visualization of the script that transforms a screenplay into a well-made motion picture. The director is usually selected by the producer. Along with the producer, the director then puts together the production team.

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