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Film director: What I do and how much I make

Olivia Abtahi, a 30-year-old film director at Mighteor, shares her journey in the film industry. She juggles various roles, from directing to editing, and values thoroughness. Despite long hours, she enjoys the flexibility of her job and the opportunity to work on cause-based projects. Olivia emphasizes the importance of adaptability, preparation, and storytelling in her role.

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Video transcript

My name is Olivia Abtahi, I'm 30-years-old, I'm a film director and I make approximately $80,000 a year. I currently work at a video production company here in Colorado called Mighteor. They make videos specifically for the internet so they specialize in web style videos. I do a range of things. Sometimes I'm directing, sometimes I'm editing, other times I'm creating storyboards or scripts or just coming up with concepts for clients. And then a lot of it is just meeting with clients, talking to them, making sure everything's on track and that we're getting their vision right. Yeah, I think when you're in a small business, you kinda have to wear a ton of hats. It's not one of those jobs where everything is very siloed and you have just one job and that's what you have to focus on. I think I'm lucky in that I get to touch a lot of things at work because if I can set up the storyboard for success, that way when I'm on set later, I'm so grateful to the Olivia of two months ago where I set myself up for success and then going into post-production as well, making sure I'm slating in properly so that whoever is editing it, even if it's me, I'm not cursing whoever it was on set not doing their job properly. So just being thorough at every stage because there's a very good chance I'll have to deal with it later. Before I came to Mighteor, I was a freelance film director so I still kept on some of my clients when I transitioned to a full-time job so that means a lot of early mornings, lot of late nights, lot of weekends, and what's great is that Mighteor is really supportive of the freelance work that I do because a lot of it is cause-based and for organizations they really care about so... Mighteor's got this things called flextime where I have to work 40-hours a week so if we're on an 18-hour a day production, god forbid, that happens a lot though, if there's an extra day at the tail end of the week I can take that time off to focus on my freelance work as well. I think the skills that make any director successful is the ability to think on the fly and be nimble and to visualize what you're going for in your head before it actually plays out in front of you because I guarantee the commercial that you're planning for is not the commercial that you will shoot and you have to be able to improvise, put up with fires that you have to put out all the time. But at the same time, it is being diligent, it is putting in the ground work for setting yourself up for success on the shoot, making sure that you have your interview prompts ready to go, that you create your storyboards, that you kind of created an assembly in your head of the points you wanna hit, is there a beginning, middle, and end to the story you're making because you need to figure that out before you ever even hit record. A lot of times you're also a producer and usually these jobs are siloed for a reason. It's really tough when I'm directing and I'm interviewing somebody to be worrying about, okay, what time are we wrapping? When are we getting lunch? Is the lunch gonna be cold by the time it gets there? Okay, but the PA hasn't run out and gotten lunch. And I'm literally thinking of these things while I'm talking to somebody which isn't fair to my subject and I should be giving them my undivided attention, and I think my goal eventually is to just have a producer to deal with that and I hope I get to that point in my career where I have that luxury but I do think right now at the level that I'm at, it's tough to do both jobs at once. This is my very first salaried film position after working in the film industry for 10 years now. When I graduated it was during the economic recession and I kind of just had to make it rain on my own and hustle as many jobs as possible so in a sense, being able to pay my mortgage is a huge accomplishment. I never thought that would be possible with film but in terms of being a film director, I would say my salary is on the low to average side. Most film directors are with broadcast production companies, they're not specializing in web and what a film director in that situation would do is they would be signed to a production company label so it's not a nine-to-five job but they would go up for bids on behalf of their production company where they make a deck and they send it to an ad agency that's requesting their reel and saying, hey, we're interested in you maybe doing this spot for our next commercial. Show us what you're thinking. And if the director wins that bid, then they make a percentage of total production costs and that's usually a base of 10 thousand per job. I would say the range of salary would be anywhere between 60 thousand if you're maybe just starting out or you're freelance and you're kinda just making three or four thousand each job to as high as 300 thousand a year because you are winning so many bids and requesting higher and higher amounts per bid. Working in Denver, Colorado, it is definitely not as big a film community as traditional film communities here in the US like New York City and Los Angles so working in Denver, it's kind of nice because you're maybe a bigger fish in a smaller pond and what's great about that is that for someone like me who's just starting out as a director, I can show off a little bit more of my expertise, I'm not coming from the bottom end of the talent pool, and so I really recommend if you're just starting out, maybe don't focus on these big cities where you'll get lost in the shuffle. Going to these smaller towns where there's smaller businesses that are willing to take a chance on you is just as powerful.