Film Directing: Six BIG Lessons For Indie Filmmakers


After producing over a dozen films, I decided to add movie directing to my list of experiences. This decision resulted from the timing and unfolding of certain events.

I had previously interviewed two directors for the job, but they weren’t a fit.

The first director had some ideas that didn’t mesh with the story.

The second director said she didn’t feel comfortable directing a dance film.

And that got me thinking.

I used to teach ballroom dancing. And with a twenty-year track record of producing and acting in films and working with many directors, I knew I had an inspiring vision for this film.

I could see every scene in my mind and how everything would cut together.

Once I saw the movie, I had to bring it to life.

Here are six lessons I learned directing my first feature film. 

film directing tips
Tom Malloy on the set of Ask Me To Dance

Film Directing Vision

You can’t direct unless you have a clear vision for your film.

This is most important, because without a clear idea for your movie it’s very challenging to get everyone to help realize that vision.

If you do not have a vision, you will likely spin your wheels and create a mediocre film at best.

Prepare for Everything

I cannot stress this enough. Prepare for everything.

Prep every day. And then prepare until you’re about to roll the camera, and then prep some more.

How To Become A Movie Director

The more you can prepare, the better off you’ll be. At the very least, you will want a shot list, storyboards, location scouts, rehearsals with actors, pre-blocking, and anything you can do to make the shoot smooth.

Adopt Editor Thinking

Through the years, I’ve noticed many new film directors overshoot everything. As a result, most of the footage gets cut from the film.

Some directors believe “it’s better to over-shoot than under-shoot,” which is true.

But if you think like an editor, it makes the entire production efficient. And efficiency will make the crew, the actors, and the editor much happier and more ready to work.

Director Of Photography

As a director, don’t plan your shots alone. Collaborate with a director of photography.

The good ones will share your vision and devote their energy to capturing the perfect shot for every frame of your movie. If you take the time to find a great DP, you will increase the likelihood that the footage will look great.

And this frees up time to focus on actor performances and the movie’s overall tone.

First Assistant Director

A great First Assistant Director will move things along and keep the film going. With this in mind, you want to ensure your 1st AD is calming. I’ve seen 1st ADs stress out the director because they are stressing out themselves, which is never fun.

The best 1st ADs keep everything moving forward. And in the process, they make the job look easy.

Cast Great Actors

When directing a film, time is money. And every time you have to redo a take, you’re adding more time. If you have great actors, you never have to worry about performances.

Any other takes will usually be for different camera angles or slight changes you want to the scene.

So great actors also help streamline everything and make the film more efficient! And if you’re ready to produce and direct, check out my film producer course.


As a filmmaker, it’s vital to have a clear vision for your film, prepare meticulously, and think like an editor to avoid unnecessary footage.

Collaborating closely with your director of photography and trusting your first assistant director to manage on-set logistics is key. Remember, casting great actors can significantly elevate your film.

These lessons from my experiences in directing will guide you in making a film that not only aligns with your creative vision but also runs smoothly in production.

Popular Film Directing Questions

Here are some popular questions and answers about directing movies.

What is crucial for a film director to have before starting a project?

A detailed vision for the film is essential.

How important is preparation in film directing?

It is extremely important; it involves creating shot lists, storyboards, location scouting, and actor rehearsals.

Why should film directors think like editors?

To ensure production efficiency and avoid unnecessary footage.

What is the role of a director of photography in filmmaking?

They collaborate with the director to capture perfect shots, aligning with the film’s vision.

How does a first assistant director contribute to a film?

They keep the production moving forward smoothly and manage on-set stress.

Why is casting great actors important in filmmaking?

It ensures quality performances and efficiency in shooting different takes.

What lessons can indie filmmakers learn from experienced directors?

The importance of vision, preparation, efficient shooting, collaboration, team management, and actor selection.


Here’s a concise glossary of key movie terms mentioned in the article.

Film Director: The creative leader responsible for the overall vision and execution of a film.

Vision: The director’s unique perspective or idea for the film.

Preparation: The process of planning and organizing film production elements.

Shot List: A detailed inventory of each scene and shot required for the film.

Storyboard: A visual representation of the film’s scenes, often in a comic book-like format.

Location Scouting: The task of finding and selecting suitable places to shoot the film.

Editor’s Mindset: Thinking ahead about how the footage will be edited during the shooting.

Director of Photography (DoP): The chief cinematographer responsible for the visual aspects of the film.

First Assistant Director (1st AD): Manages the film set and ensures the filming stays on schedule.

Casting: The process of selecting actors for various roles in the film.

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Tom Malloy is a film producer, actor, and writer. Over the course of his career, he has raised over twenty-five million dollars to produce, and distribute multiple feature films. If you're ready to "level up" your film producing, make sure to check out Movie Plan Pro. The video training and downloadable film business plan template will provide you with the same tools Malloy uses when approaching prospective film investors.