Film Directing Styles: Strengths, Limitations & Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is film directing style?
  2. Strengths of different directing styles
  3. Limitations of directing styles
  4. How to choose your directing style
  5. Guide to developing your own directing style

Imagine you're in your favorite cinema, popcorn at the ready, when the lights dim and the opening scene unfolds. It's a familiar setup, but the outcome is always different. Why? It's the magic of the film directing style. This blog will help you understand the strengths and limitations of different film directing styles, and guide you on how to develop your own style.

What is film directing style?

Film directing style is like the secret sauce that gives a movie its distinct flavor. It's the unique mix of techniques, themes, and visual choices that a director brings to the table. But how do we classify these styles? Let's break it down.

The Role of the Director

In the world of film, the director is the captain of the ship. They steer the film's vision, guide the cast and crew, and make the tough calls. More than just calling "action" and "cut", the director shapes the narrative, sets the pace, and crafts the visual language of the film.

Types of Directing Styles

There's a wide spectrum of directing styles, each with its own strengths and limitations. Here are a few key types:

  • Auteur style: This style is all about the director's unique vision. Think Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson. Their films are instantly recognizable because they leave their personal stamp on every frame.
  • Classical style: This style sticks to traditional storytelling and techniques. It's the bread-and-butter of Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg.
  • Experimental style: This style breaks the rules and pushes boundaries. Directors like David Lynch play with narrative structures and visual techniques to create something entirely new.

The Evolution of Directing Styles

Directing styles aren't set in stone. They evolve over time, influenced by cultural trends, technological advancements, and the director's personal growth. For example, Martin Scorsese's early films are a far cry from his later works, reflecting his evolution as a filmmaker.

So, as you dive into the world of film directing, remember that understanding different directing styles is more than just film trivia. It's a tool that can help you recognize the strengths and limitations of different film directing styles, and shape your own style.

Strengths of different directing styles

Every film directing style has its own strengths, which can play a crucial role in the success of a film. Let's explore some of the strengths of different film directing styles.

Strengths of Auteur Style

The auteur style is like a personal signature — it's distinctive and memorable. Directors who use this style infuse their films with their unique perspective, resulting in a consistent body of work. This can lead to a dedicated fan base, as viewers come to love the unique traits and quirks of an auteur director's work. Think of the dark humor in a Coen Brothers film, or the whimsical visuals in a Tim Burton movie.

Strengths of Classical Style

The classical style, often associated with Hollywood, has a tried-and-true formula that appeals to a broad audience. Directors who adopt this style, like Ron Howard or Robert Zemeckis, tend to produce films that are commercially successful and widely accessible. These films often have a clear narrative structure, relatable characters, and a satisfying resolution — elements that make for a crowd-pleasing movie.

Strengths of Experimental Style

An experimental film directing style often stands out due to its novelty and innovation. Directors who embrace this style, like Sofia Coppola or Lars von Trier, aren't afraid to break conventions, challenge norms, and experiment with form and content. As a result, their films can offer fresh perspectives and push the boundaries of what's possible in cinema.

Understanding the strengths of these directing styles can help you appreciate the diversity of cinematic expression and guide you as you develop your own style. But remember, every strength comes with its limitations, which we'll explore in the next section.

Limitations of directing styles

No directing style is perfect. Each comes with its own drawbacks or limitations. So let's briefly discuss some of the limitations of different film directing styles.

Limitations of Auteur Style

The auteur style, while distinct and personally expressive, can sometimes limit a director's flexibility. An auteur director is so closely tied to a specific style that it may be challenging to branch out or adapt to different genres or storytelling methods. For example, Quentin Tarantino's trademark non-linear storytelling might not work as well in a straightforward romantic comedy.

Limitations of Classical Style

While the classical style is commercially successful, it can sometimes be seen as too predictable or formulaic. Its adherence to established conventions might limit opportunities for creative risks or innovation. A classic style director, for instance, might shy away from non-traditional narrative structures or unconventional characters, resulting in films that, while enjoyable, may lack a certain edge or originality.

Limitations of Experimental Style

On the other hand, the experimental style, while innovative and boundary-pushing, can sometimes alienate mainstream audiences. Its unconventional approach might be too challenging or confusing for some viewers, limiting its commercial appeal. Experimental directors like David Lynch, for example, often produce films that are critically acclaimed but may not have wide box office success.

Being aware of these limitations is just as important as recognizing the strengths of different film directing styles. It helps in making informed decisions about what approaches to take—or avoid—when directing a film.

How to choose your directing style

Choosing a directing style isn't like picking out a new suit. It's not just about what looks best, but what feels right and connects with your unique voice as a filmmaker. Here are a few tips to help you make that choice.

Consider the Story

First and foremost, consider the story you want to tell. Different stories lend themselves to different directing styles. A complex, multi-layered drama might not fit well with a classic directing style. On the other hand, a straightforward action flick might not require the nuances of an auteur approach. Think about the story's tone, theme, and structure, and how various directing styles might enhance or detract from those elements.

Know Your Strengths and Limitations

Recognizing your strengths and limitations is key. Maybe you have an eye for visual flair, which would serve well in an experimental style. Or perhaps your strength lies in creating character-driven narratives, in which case an auteur or classical style might be a better fit. Be honest with yourself about your skills and areas for growth.

Experiment and Learn

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment and learn. Directing isn't a static profession—it's dynamic and evolving. Try different styles, see what works and what doesn't, and learn from each experience. Remember, even acclaimed directors like Martin Scorsese and Kathryn Bigelow didn't find their signature styles overnight. It's a process of exploration and discovery.

Choosing a directing style is an important step in your filmmaking journey. By understanding the strengths and limitations of different film directing styles and aligning them with your vision and abilities, you can find a style that truly resonates with you and your audience.

Guide to developing your own directing style

Developing your own directing style is a journey of discovery. It's about finding your unique voice and translating it into the visual language of film. Here's a guide to help you navigate this exciting and rewarding process.

Watch and Learn

Start by immersing yourself in films. Watch a wide variety of genres, eras, and styles, and pay attention to the directing. What do you like? What don't you like? Analyze the strengths and limitations of different film directing styles and think about how you can apply or avoid these in your own work. Learning from the masters is an important step in developing your own style.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Just as a musician must practice their instrument, a director must practice their craft. Get behind the camera as often as you can. Try different techniques, play with different styles, test the waters. You'll make mistakes, sure, but those are just opportunities to learn and grow.

Find Your Voice

Ultimately, your directing style should be a reflection of your unique voice and vision. What stories do you want to tell? How do you want to tell them? What are your values, your perspectives, your passions? These should inform your directing style. Remember, authenticity resonates with audiences. Be true to yourself, and your style will naturally evolve.

Remember, every director's journey is unique. Yours will be too. Embrace the process, learn from the strengths and limitations of different film directing styles, and most importantly, have fun. After all, filmmaking is about telling stories—and there's no one better to tell your stories than you.

If you found this blog post on film directing styles insightful and want to further develop your directing skills, consider checking out the 'Documentary Filmmaking' workshop by Jessy Moussallem. This workshop will help you delve deeper into the world of documentary filmmaking, providing valuable insights and tips to improve your work as a director. Explore this and other workshops on Daisie's classes to continue your journey in the world of film and creativity.