Published on 14 March 2024 in Career

Top Tips for Directing Outside the Box – using your skills to develop a portfolio career

Missed our Directing Outside the Box webinar with the Directors Charitable Foundation? Here, we share some top tips to help you identify your transferable skills as a director and think about the different ways in which you could use them to build a portfolio career. We also look at how expanding knowledge and experience in other areas can help to enhance your own directing craft. 

For this session, we were joined by directors John Dower, Suri Krishnamma, Lily Murray and Delyth Thomas alongside professional development consultant Hannah Corneck and DCF Trustee Dan Zeff

These suggestions come from our panel's own personal experience, and there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach — some ideas might work for you, some won’t. However, these suggestions might help you to think outside the box if you’re curious about multi-skilling or exploring a portfolio career.

Feeling Stuck? Some strategies to consider 

•  A useful exercise can be to pinpoint different ways in which you get satisfaction from directing, whether that’s variety, creativity or project management, then think about how you could expand into other professional areas that will complement your directing work and bring a similar sense of development and achievement. 

•  Take the time to set considered and strategic goals, that have clear timelines for hitting specific milestones and clear objectives about how you are going to find diverse opportunities that can broaden your knowledge, enhance your skills and bring you professional accomplishment.  

•  The nature of any freelance work means there is occasionally downtime. Although this can be daunting, these periods can also be an opportunity — they give time and space to explore different creative avenues and build on the skills and knowledge that will help you navigate an evolving industry and provide you with a sense of agency. This could be anything from doing continued professional development or gaining new qualifications, to coaching and peer-to-peer mentoring, to getting involved with campaigning or community engagement projects that you feel passionately about — whatever speaks to the same sense of purpose that drives you as a director.

•  It can be helpful to maintain a sense of routine and structure during these periods. The activity of getting up, changing location and being in a working space outside of your home when doing strategic planning, researching new projects or tackling administrative tasks like updating CVs and websites is something that many people find extremely beneficial and stimulating, both psychologically and professionally. 

Carry out a skills audit 

Directors have a range of diverse transferable skills in their toolkit but it isn’t always easy to know what they are, or how they could be used in other areas. Doing a skills audit or re-writing your CV to be skills-led, rather than credits-led, can be a productive way of defining your expertise, and will encourage you to think practically about how you could use it to broaden your career portfolio. 

To get you thinking, here are some examples of the transferable skills directors have in their toolkits: 

• Negotiation and leadership 

• The ability to inspire, mentor and empathise with others 

• Storytelling and understanding narrative / conversational structure 

• Thinking visually and understanding composition 

• Strong communication skills 

• Ability to pick up technical skills 

Try building a website 

Once you’ve carried out a skills audit, learning how to build your own website and even setting yourself the challenge of making it “live” is a great way of showcasing your transferable skills and and selling yourself as a director. 

Even if you don't end up making the site live, the process of learning how to build a website can be valuable. Not only is seeking constructive feedback on it from peers or friends a useful professional development exercise, setting out your skills and professional achievements can help boost your confidence and remind you what you’re capable of. Plus, if you do get yourself online, it’s another way of proactively putting yourself out there in front of potential employers, new connections and opportunity providers.

Practical examples of transferable directing skills 

Once you’ve identified your transferable skills, you might want to explore additional income streams that could allow you to use them, and that could complement directing. Consider what it is about directing that motivates and inspires you and think about the type of work or the sectors that are most likely to provide the same stimulation. It can also help you to think about how alternative avenues alongside TV or film directing could enhance your career in the long-term.  

Directing is extremely practical and many film schools and training institutions are keen to work with teachers who have current industry experience, so training and teaching can be great options to explore. There are also other creative industries that need and use directing expertise that you can work on, such as gaming or motion capture work. In these instances, it can help to flip the process on its head and think about what an organisation might need from you, rather than what you need from them. You might not have experience in a specific field or industry, but you know how to take an idea from concept to reality, how to tell an engaging story in a visual way and how to get the best from a team by working creatively and collaboratively — these are all vital transferable skills that you can draw on.

Using your transferable skills doesn’t need to be limited to working on other people’s projects. Delyth used the example of creating the Workplace Culture App Call it! to illustrate how she was able to draw on directing experience to get the app made independently. She reflected on how building the app was a bit like taking on a directing project, with a concept,  build and delivery of a user-friendly, anonymous tool that cast, crew and everyone in the workplace can access at any time.

Tips for finding opportunities 

If you’re ready to explore additional channels or you’ve spotted an area that feels like it could be a good fit for you, it’s important to be specific about what you have to offer when approaching these opportunities. This means highlighting your experience and credibility in the industry in CVs and introductory emails, and being clear about how your skills speak to an organisation or individual’s needs.  

If you’re not sure where to start, networking and connecting with your existing contacts can be helpful. If you had a positive relationship with a producer or writer in a previous directing job, consider reaching out to them for a conversation or a coffee. If you’re interested in pivoting into audio or radio directing, think about specific programmes or podcasts that you love and consider getting in touch with the producers to see if you can have a conversation with them. When it’s effectively a “cold call”, research the contact and try to find specific reasons about why you have selected them to make your approach feel more personal and meaningful.

Although it can be daunting during downtime, attending industry workshops or events where you can network with other directors or creators can be useful. These sessions provide a chance to ask peers about interesting projects they have worked on and how they got involved to inspire you to think innovatively about your own options. They can also provide an opportunity to learn more about your peers’ upcoming projects, what they might need, and how you could collaborate with them.  

Not only does connecting with peers and sharing your experiences help you feel like part of a community and expand your skills and knowledge, but it also reminds you that everyone has been in the same position at one time or another.  

Keep an eye on our Career Development webpages to find out more about upcoming opportunities to expand your skills and develop your craft. 

If you are experiencing acute need, the DCF Directors Support Scheme can help.

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