When I grow up, I want to be a Film Director
Film Directors are a fairly public bunch and it is easy to research the career paths of the big ones. There are two likely avenues to becoming a world famous film director. First, become a world famous actor and then start directing. Second, plan on becoming a director first and focus exclusively on that function. The first approach is the more difficult because the talent to be a great actor and the talent to be a great director do not always land in the same person. The following is a brief synopsis of how a small sampling of super directors made it into the show.
1) Make movies now and keep making them - Spielberg won his first award for a film at age 13 and directed his first independent film at age 16. Lucas was a young photographer who became attracted to films in college. Coppola began by building homemade puppet theater productions in his bed as a kid. Scorcese watched movies and TV often growing up and started his film making in college. The Coen brothers saved money from mowing lawns to buy their first Super 8 camera.
2) Film School - Spielberg was declined admission to USC Film School twice and ended up going to California State University, dropping out to make films. George Lucas started in anthropology at Modesto Junior College but later transferred to USC Film School. Lucas went back to grad school at USC where he won first prize at a student film festival. Coppola entered Hofstra University majoring in theater arts. After graduation he enrolled at UCLA for graduate film work. Scorsese went to NYU's college of Arts and Science followed by a graduate degree from NYU's Tisch School of Arts. David Lynch went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a painter but then switched to film.
3) Get into the business - Spielberg worked as an UNPAID intern at Universal Studios 7 days a week. While with Universal he made his first short film for theatrical release. When the VP of Production saw the film he signed Spielberg for a long term contract with Universal. Lucas received a scholarship from Warner Brothers to observe and work on a film of his choosing.
4) Don't stop making movies - All the greats have consistently worked on films making, editing, camera work, etc. David Lynch applied for a grant from the American Film Institute which he received and used to make a film. Coppola made a softcore porn film early in his career. Whatever it takes to keep filming.
5) It usually takes more than one person to make a film. Many directors met the people they would work with in college or at film related events early in their careers. Lucas and Spielberg met during their college days and went on to work together on the Indiana Jones films.
6) Let people see what you made. The early lives of most successful directors include at least one award received after entering into a film contest.
Taking the above guidelines into account, here is an ad hoc plan for our young Scorsese.
Middle School - Age 10 to Age - Continue making movies and look for opportunities to show the films to an audience. If at all possible, enter the films into contests whenever a chance arises. Look for support from parents and other adults to meet film makers (even the small ones) and see what a real movie set looks like. Parents should be supportive. This is a legitimate career!
High School - Age 14 to Age 18 - Internships in anything related to movies. Don't worry about making money, do it for free. The possibility to sit in on a movie set is worth looking into at this age. Concentrate on getting good grades in school and building a portfolio. The average GPA for admissions to USC is a 3.8. For the SAT, a score of 2020 or higher is recommended. Applications to most film schools will want letters of recommendation, a portfolio, film samples, and TOEFL scores for non native speakers of English. Awards for your films and recommendations from anyone related to the film industry will help so get out and meet people.
College - Age 19 to 22 - There are several good film schools around the world but let's focus on USC for the purposes of this article. Continue making movies and making friends. This is the center of the film industry and professors, classmates, advisers and mentors will all contribute to your success. Submit films wherever possible. You never know who might see it and offer you a job.
Post College - Age 23 to ? - If you don't have a job in film yet, go back to school for a masters and keep making movies. This is a lifetime career. Don't give up!