Advised against directing movies: boys, too?

Over the years since I started this website, I’ve had a few anonymous emails from young women complaining about similar difficulties at film school to the ones I experienced. But another experience I’ve heard recounted from more than one source goes something like this:

  • Young woman: “I want to direct films.”
  • Film pros/professors: “No, you don’t. All the real power is in producing. That’s what you want to do.”

I had this experience, too. What I’d like to know is: did they tell this same thing to any of the young men who said “I want to direct films?” Because if they did, they didn’t do it in front of me. And I was advised to avoid directing in front of witnesses.

But this myth that there is any power at all whatsoever in producing films compared to directing them is complete bullshit. Directing is hard, frustrating, stressful work, and a lot of men burn out on it as well as women (and the men don’t have the added burden of a crew that figures they can mutiny any time they get tired of doing what the “bitch” tells them). But directing is powerful, even when it’s not. Being in direct command of a large crew? Even when decisions are being taken out of their hands, women directors have reported to me a real sense of power in their ability to command a set and make a movie happen. And let’s do a little reality check of our own:

  1. Name three famous movie directors. You have five seconds.
  2. Name three famous producers – who aren’t also directors. Relax, I’ll give you thirty seconds for this part.

Unless you are a film student, you struggled far more with the producers. If you are a film student, you gave up immediately because you knew that game was rigged: every producer of note has also directed. Every goddamn, bleedin’ one of ’em.

Because you know what producers do? They organize. They enable things to happen. They work up schedules and budgets and that sort of thing. But they don’t actually do the stuff. They just set it up so others can do the work and reap the glory. Sound familiar? Sound like anyone you know? The person who’s always behind the front man – and I do mean front “man”? Why, yes – it’s Traditional 1950s Mom, always content with her place in the shadows, under-appreciated and overworked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t believe for a second anyone is telling young men in film or film school that they should opt for producing rather than directing.


  1. says

    My best friend went through film school and I got a half an education along the way; neither she nor I have ever had any interest in directing. Writing, cinematography, and editing, those interest us. Production in the sense of straight-up producer who organises everything, not so much.

    Don’t know how much is our inherent inclinations (some, I think) and how much is, well, how we’ve been programmed by society and film culture (probably also some). Because if women do have power, it’s silent and unacknowledged; I’ve always found it fascinating that, if you look at the positions of power in terms of affecting the end product, editing is where you tend to find the most women, historically. And it’s also one of the positions that few even *recognise* has any power, no matter who is doing it.

  2. The Other Patrick says

    Robert Evans
    Jerry Bruckheimer
    Brian Grazer
    Avi Arad
    David Geffen
    Kathleen Kennedy (admittedly I only chose her because I knew her from Amblin)
    Jeffrey Katzenberg (has only an uncredited director’s role)

    — all names checked against imdb.

    Anyway, all producers who did not direct (Katzenberg is a difficult one as I have no idea about the degree of his involvement or why he is credited by imdb as director; maybe something similar to Poltergeist at work here)

    • 12Sided says

      Jerry Bruckheimer is the only one I actively recognise, I couldn’t tell you if I’ve ever seen a film produced by any of the others

      • The Other Patrick says

        Interesting, because Robert Evans is who immediately came into my mind. He was almost a film mogul. Avi Arad is the guy who makes all the superhero movies happen (broadly). Brian Grazer, I can see not knowing him. Geffen and Katzenberg produce with Spielberg on SKG.

        But I am somewhat of a film buff, though not a film student, per se.

        • says

          “Producer” isn’t always a real title: sometimes someone famous (like George Lucas) lends his name to a production (“Howard the Duck”), but doesn’t really work on it. I believe Geffen’s 4 credits fall into that category. Of course, being attached to someone like Spielberg ensures you can get very famous without directing, but that’s a different situation than most film students will face. Very few of us were excessively important music industry moguls, for example. :p

  3. scarlett says

    I recognised Bruckheimer and Grazer. Recognised Kennedy, but I think that’s because JFK/RFK had a sister by that name and that’s actually who I’m thinkiing of. (She died in a plane crash long before anyone had heard of Jack or Robert, so I assume that’s not the same person.)

    Bruckheimer’s an interesting one because I think he’s *at least* as famous as Michael Bay – but he is definitely the exception and not the rule.

  4. says

    Rage inducing, indeed.
    BTW, I came with 2 female directors in 5 secs – 3rd came shortly afterwards bc I could not remember BNora Ephron’s name. The other two I thought of were Sofia Coppola and Doris Dörrie.

    • says

      And Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Kasi Lemmons… and I’m deliberately leaving out quite a few established actresses* who later went into directing, since that wasn’t the path the women in my film classes were hoping to take. Which is another reason I didn’t understand being cautioned away from it: there WERE successful women directors already. Why shouldn’t we try to follow in their footsteps?

      *Yes, Lemmons, like Coppola, had a few acting jobs, but more people are aware of her as a director. Similarly, Coppola had a terribly helpful family name, but 99% of people who get anywhere in film are part of the nepotist network, so THAT was what they really should’ve been warning us: “Basically, you guys are here so the industry can claim it talked to other candidates, but so and so’s kid just really was the best choice!” LOL!

  5. Lisa says

    @Truelove, so you don’t have any interest in directing, but you’re interested in writing, editing and cinematography? In other words, you care about the story, the look of the film, and how the final cut comes together. How is that not what a director does? Are you SURE you don’t really want to direct? Sounds like you do but don’t think girls do that.

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