What Makes a Person a True Filmmaker, Photographer or Professional

Could Ed Wood be considered a "real" filmmaker since his films sucked?

If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize in this industry is that creatives are very opinionated (me included. No judging going on here!) And we’re particularly opinionated when it comes to determining who can be called whatever it is we call ourselves (e.g. filmmaker, photographer, etc.) This point was made clear to me again twice in just the past week. First, on the very hot episode of Crossing the 180 where I interview Patrick Moreau, Kevin Shahinian and Joe Simon,  we get into a lively discussion about what it takes to call oneself a “professional.” It was suggested that the level of equipment you use has something to do with it. It made me wonder…if you shoot films with a cell phone, you probably can’t be called a professional. Or, can a person who shoots films with a T2i be considered a pro? I’m sure the 5D Mark II video shooter may not think so. No worries, the 1D Mark IV shooter is most likely looking down on the 5DM2 shooter too. And the RED shooters scoff at all you “line-skipping” hacks. Thank goodness we have the Alexa and Sony F900 filmmakers to put the RED filmmakers in their place. And then there are those cinematic purists, the “old guard” if you will, who think you can’t call yourself a “film”-maker unless you are actually shooting on real film stock.

Photographers have fun with this topic too. It starts with equipment, then it devolves into whether people  who do a lot of Photoshop work can be considered “real” photographers. Based on heated dialogs I’ve seen on photography boards over the years, it would appear that the amount to which you are a true photographer is inversely proportional to the amount of Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets you use.

This whole topic came to a head just a few days ago on the Planet5D blog. There was a post about the pending Masters in Motion workshop being organized by Shoot.Edit.Learn (formally CanonFilmmakers.com). The event has all the “usual suspects” like Vincent Laforet, Philip Bloom and Joe Simon, as well as other luminaries like Tom Guilmette and Adam Forgione among others. The very first commenter on this post (who used an anonymous pseudonym) took exception to the fact that these guys were calling themselves “filmmakers,” let alone masters in filmmaking. (I guess he’s not familiar with hyperbole in marketing. But I digress). That was followed up by another commenter who concurred (someone who had the cojones at least to use his real name). Over a span of 27 comments (as of this writing) the debate went on as to what it means to be called a “filmmaker.”

It always baffles me when people make a point to tear down fellow colleagues in the industry who put themselves out there to train others; especially when the people they are tearing down give away tons of free info on their blogs sharing their knowledge. If Vincent Laforet, a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer and working commercial DP can’t call himself a filmmaker…if Philip Bloom, a 20+ year veteran in the industry who’s been a 2nd unit DP on a George Lucas film cannot call himself a filmmaker…if the rest of the amazing talent in this event can’t call themselves filmmakers, well then, I might as well just hang up my T2i now and go back to selling financial software.🙂

So, what makes a person a filmmaker? How much of the process must he or she do to earn that moniker? Is a screenwriter a filmmaker? How about a DP who ONLY does that job? He doesn’t direct. Doesn’t edit. Just DPs. How about an editor? Someone who just edits? And if you do do everything, what quality level must your films be to earn the title “filmmaker?” Or maybe it should be based on how many views your video gets?

What does one need to do to become a photographer? Must they know that inverse square law of light thingy-ma-jiggy? Do they have to know how to use a light meter? Do they have to have attended Brooks Institute or the equivalent?

And if people pay you good money for the work you do, can you really call yourself a professional if your work sucks (regardless of whether or not your client likes your work)?

I’m not offering any answers here folks. Just askin’ the questions.

Good Examples We Should All Live By

Now, here are two videos that show what a real photographer looks like…

… and a couple of real filmmakers!

12 thoughts on “What Makes a Person a True Filmmaker, Photographer or Professional

  1. Great articles, makes use think and act.
    Go ahead stir some controversy. Yes there exists a lot of Hyper-bull out there. In all these words you answered yourself at the end. What makes a mouse trap a mouse trap.
    Your Audience-n-Followers-n-Buyers of your products and services. They will tell you if you succeed as a filmmaker. Blair Witch sold, so did Avatar and Toy Story 3-3D.
    A Filmmaker usually has a crew of collaborators, but doesn’t have to. Similarily, you could ask are all Bloggers Writers? – JustAMisterE

    1. Stir up controversy. Me? Never?😉

      Great point about “what makes a mouse trap a mouse trap?” I also like your comment at the end, “Are all bloggers writers?” Nice touch.🙂

      Thanks for participating in the conversation.

  2. To me there are two different ways of looking at it. If you make a living making movies, then who can argue with you about your being a filmmaker? But then there are people with heart making great works of art who may or may not be getting paid.

    If everyone tells you that you’re a radish does that make it true? I think deep down, if we’re honest with ourselves we know what we really are.

  3. Are Filmmakers necessarily Professionals? Or are they Artists? I know plenty of professionals that I wouldn’t consider “FilmMakers”. Shooting, editing and delivering a lecture to a client does not make someone an author of an original piece of work. In my opinion “Filmmakers” tell a story in an original way. Regardless of equipment, experience or content they find a way to put their own person style into the subject.

  4. Interesting topic. I think it’s unfortunate that the working world forces classifications on everyone – which keeps some very talented people from playing multiple roles they could do very well. Part of the reason labels tend to be so important to some is because of their own insecurities – they get angry at the thought of someone doing what they do without going through the hardships, expensive education, or clawing their way into the union, like they did.

    However, there is something to be said for true hard-earned credentials. Doctors, Attorneys, and lots of other professionals must pass tests in order to be credentialed. Absent that type of system for the entertainment field, I think union or invitation-only trade group affiliation is probably one solid indicator of a professional in the Hollywood-model film or television industry. A listing on IMDB might be another, which denotes a credit on a network show or a wide-release film. Working for a television station/network or post house that is producing network quality shows or local over-the-air (not just web) content is another. Those are all traditional markers.

    That being said, there is a new breed of media professionals who are taking a bit of a back-door approach to the industry, creating YouTube clips, shortform or longform indie films, and working different angles to learn the ropes of director, DP, Editor, etc.. With a certain set of tools, they can get very impressive results. However, they also may have fundamental gaps in their real-world knowledge of equipment and standards needed to perform those tasks on network television or studio film sets, because they didn’t work their way up the ladder in those environments. Hence, many who DID pay their dues in those environments are none-too-happy to see this new brand of professional – they are considered outsiders and a threat to the status-quo. But, the proof is in the pudding – if you can make a film, shoot a film, or edit a film and it becomes successful despite working around the traditional system, you have earned bragging rights. You’ve proven your worth despite the doubters. Carpe Diem.

    1. Thanks for sharing Bill. I think the list of speakers at M.I.M. is a testament to your point. Many have not had an extensive amount of years in the filmmaking biz yet have made an indelible impact on the industry. And I know some people, IMDB listing and all, whose work, from an artistic point, wouldn’t be perceived as brilliant as what these guys are doing. What’s that saying about beauty and the eye of the beholder?

  5. Really enjoyed reading your post, which makes me think about changing times. Over time, as we progress, all things & processes change. We’re just in a time where audiences expect more, therefore artists, filmmakers, photographers and even business people are innovating extraordinary change.

  6. I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the whole post, I am in a rush!
    However I think what Patrick (I think it was patrick) was saying about the gear referring to your professionalism, was not meant to say you aren’t a professional unless you have the best stuff, but rather if you have shaky footage in a scene that doesn’t call for shaky footage because you didn’t want to spend the money to get a monopod or tripod, you aren’t a professional.

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