Are the Myriad of Names in Filmmaking Helping or Hurting the Industry?

Do names mean things? In the world of filmmaking I’m staring to think that maybe they don’t.

Am I a filmmaker? DP? Cinematographer? What the heck am I?

It’s comical how many different terms I’ve seen people in this industry use for themselves:

  • Videographer
  • Video producer
  • Cinematographer
  • DP (Director of Photography)
  • DoP (if you’re a DP in the UK or down unda)
  • Filmmaker
  • Visual Artist
  • Producer
  • Executive Producer
  • Director
  • Videotographer (a term usually used by clients who are so confused they don’t know what the heck we’re called).
  • UPDATE: I forgot to mention the infamous… video-ographer (another term used mostly by clients).

And I’m just as guilty as anyone. Eesh! Of all the terms above, I’ve used about, oh, all of them at one time or another (many I still do use). Is it any wonder clients are confused?

Photographers for the most part have it easy. They’re just photographers. All you have to do is precede the correct descriptor (e.g. portrait photographer, wedding photographer, commercial photographer, etc.) Unless, heaven forbid, they also shoot video, then they have a worse case of identity crisis then those of us who are JUST videographers/producers/cinematographers/filmmakers/directors/DPs.

I understand that in some cases, you really ARE wearing multiple hats. As a wedding filmmaker/videographer/et.al. you really do engage in all the disciplines associated with these titles…and then some (e.g. you’re also the audio engineer, graphic designer, colorist and editor). But you can’t fit all those titles on a business card, nor should you try. So you have to use something. But what?

I know that there’s a certain marketing cache that goes along with calling yourself one thing versus another. Fewer and fewer of my colleagues are using the term videographer in favor of filmmaker or cinematographer. There seems to be an inherent understanding that the latter two terms are more appealing. In fact, the first time I was ever called a “cinematographer” was actually by one of my wedding clients about seven years ago. She loved the love story we created for her, and while at the wedding, after it premiered at the reception to thunderous applause, she made a point to introduce me like this: “This is Ron. He did our love story. He’s more than just a wedding videographer, he’s a cinematographer!”

But I wonder, what is it about the term videographer that we dislike so much? I’m sure it largely has to do with the fact that video as a format does not look as good as film. One of the reasons the HD DSLRs have become so popular is because of the film-like look you can achieve with them. The same goes for motion-picture quality cameras like the RED or Arri’s Alexa. But the truth is, those cameras are shooting VIDEO. So, technically, all you high and mighty RED “filmmakers” out there. You’re just a bunch of videotographers…just like the rest of us. Just sayin’.😉

There are times when the terms you use do have real effects. Recently a potential client asked to get a quote for me to DP a project for a large and well-known website. Given the size of this particular company, I was under the impression she wanted me to be a traditional Director of Photography (e.g. handle lighting and camera) and that they had someone else to be the director (the vision of the piece, actor direction, etc.) But once I started to correspond with her about what she wanted me to do, I realized my role would actually be DP and director. My original quote would have been different had I known. (Make a note).

So, where does that leave us. Honestly, I haven’t the foggiest idea. I’m just exploring the topic and starting a discussion. Are the myriad of names in the filmmaking world helping the industry, or hurting? What do you call yourself and why?

45 thoughts on “Are the Myriad of Names in Filmmaking Helping or Hurting the Industry?

  1. This is an interesting topic Ron, and one that I grapple with myself. I do see myself as a videographer but there seems to be an underlying perception that that word brings with it a minor league status. Video producer carries a little more weight. I use both, depending on who I’m talking to. If a photographer shoots photo then there’s nothing wrong with being a videographer. But again, it’s the impression you want to have on who you’re speaking to,

  2. Hey Ron, good topic. I think that many of us call ourselves “filmmaker” or “cinematographer” over “videographer” to distinguish our style from the traditional uncle Bob’s wedding video. Since the style is still relatively new in the industry and not every client is aware that a simple wedding could be captured and edited with a cinema look, I think that using a different term would hopefully make them understand this distinction.

    But at the end of the day, most of them would still end up calling us “videographers” because it’s the common term that they’ve always been calling people who shoot video.

    1. Agreed. Even I will often say videographer just because it’s easier. Most of time though when in introducing myself I say film and video producer or just video producer.

  3. Some thoughts that we had when deciding what to dub ourselves as…

    Videographer reminded me of the guy who sets up a tripod and films conferences, doesn’t have any kind of story to their product, and churns them out. Minimal editing, no coloring, super basic DVD authoring (if any), etc… Not to say this is a bad gig, it has it’s place and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today. Does this mean this term can’t apply to people who create stories and bigger productions? No way! The term is super vague and the definitions out there are as well. I would assume videographer could potentially be the same as a filmmaker, just with a digital medium.

    Cinematographer is technically the camera man… and that’s all he does for the most part. I have been a cinematographer or DP on projects, but I wasn’t the editor, gaffer, grip, director, etc… my job ended at the camera. The lines get blurred between AC and cinematographer and even DP. This still didn’t encompass what we did or what we provided as a company.

    When it came down to it, we put three names into a hat (video producer, filmmaker, and visual artist) and we picked filmmakers. Filmmakers was the most appropriate because we make movies… whether they are short or long doesn’t matter, it’s the story that defines this and the process as a whole.

    People can and do associate value/social status with a name. It’s everywhere we look. Do you want the LARGE drink (not the small one, because that’s inferior), the Master Suite, the Cuban cigar, etc…

    With all this considered, has anyone actually asked their clients what they think of the name or the value/social status that comes with it?

    Sorry for the long post Ron.

    1. No apologies necessary Cody. I love your input. Two things you said struck.

      If you use “filmmaker,” do you put any kind of qualifier (e.g. wedding filmmaker, commercial filmmaker, etc.) I think the average Jane or Joe would think of a person who makes traditional short or feature length, narrative films. If someone shoots weddings as a living but just calls themselves a “filmmaker,” could that be considered misleading (to an extent).

      Second, your last comment is an excellent one. It would be a worthwhile exercise to survey your clients and find out what they think.

      Thanks for the great input.

      1. Actually our company is evolving right now to be more than weddings and the re-brand is almost done (super excited!). Either way, we are growing more into narrative films. Whether that includes a lot of dialogue or if it’s mostly a visual story base…

  4. I thought I would use Dictionary.com as an example of how ‘videography’ isn’t even a real word, but I went there and the definition was as follows: “the art or process of making films with a video camera.”
    Wow…actually I’d say that is spot on. I’m kind of surprised over here.
    I expected to come on here saying there is no good answer, but I think maybe I’ll stick with video or videography for as long as that’s the number one search result that leads event planners or brides to my website (according to Google Analytics).
    I agree with those who have said it sounds like an Uncle, or just less professional in general, but it’s not less accurate, it’s just attached to a stigma.
    This isn’t a discussion that’s bound to end anytime soon.
    I also have heard “story-teller” as a popular one. It’s just too vague for me to use as a sole definition.

    1. You point about SEO is a great one Andy. You’re absolutely right. What are your clients using to search for your company? Whatever it is, make sure you’re using that in your SEO.

      Another term I forgot was “video guy.”🙂 I get that a lot.

  5. I think that some of your examples dont really fit together.. I also think that Director of Photography is the polar opposite of Videographer. I think it depends on what the project is and a lot about what your experience is. I was a B Unit Cinematographer for a film I was helping with this weekend. I kind of laughed that they are calling me a cinematographer since it was actually the first “film” I have ever worked on as a camera operator.. they did not have a DP but the girl working as the “DP” called herself a cinematographer. It was funny that when she first approached me she did not know the difference between ISO and shutter speed and had no idea about filmrate and the correllation with shutter speed, etc… not that I am any trained expert but I do possess some technical experience. So it struck me funny that she was a “cinematographer” I don’t know too many cinematographers in the wedding business, although some call themselves that.. I think filmmaker is a better name although we are not shooting film anylonger. But most films are shot digitally these days, at least lower budget films and they are still called filmmakers. Storyteller does not strike me as an appropriate name. When you get into terms like Producer and Executive Producer, Director, etc.., all the above the line positions, that really has nothing to do with camera work or event production, as is probably your main audience here. I think, however, it is us who are confusing the situation and causing the identity crisis. We all started calling ourselves filmmakers because videographers had such a bad rap in the industry. But I think when you start calling yourself names like DP, Director of Photographer or Cinematographer before you have actually earned that title, you are just blowing yourself up in an attempt to make yourself look better on your resume.

    1. You actually proved my point beautifully Shane. Whether or not we have “earned” the “correct” titles, we are calling ourselves DP, cinematographers, etc. And yes, a big part of it is “blowing yourself” up.

      FWIW, I think anyone who works with lighting and composition on a video shoot could call themselves a DP. If you’re a 1-man shoot setting up lights, etc, you’re DP-ing.

      Thanks for the great comment.

    2. BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!

      I have been shooting since before the advent of video. As a DP I am responsible for the visual look, feel and speed of what the Director has bouncing around in his/her head. I have earned this title with years of learning the art of light and its relevance to the medium being used to capture it as well as it’s effect on the human psyche.

  6. ahhh – the good ol’ what’s-in-a-name? discussion.

    On my business card and email signature, i say “Director/Producer.” to me, that seems the most apt descriptor for what i actually do. Like a Hollywood director and producer , i have my hands in a lot of different areas of the production of the ‘film’ and oversee the development from pre-production to post-production. just saying ‘filmmaker’ doesn’t cut it.

    But on wedding day, i introduce myself as ‘the video guy’.
    I literally say, “hi. i’m Andrew. I’m the video guy for today.” It’s a lot less pretentious and people warm up to me better and faster than when i say “event filmmaker” or “cinematographer”.

    Having confidence is important, but being humble is much more appealing.

  7. also, i don’t think the term “filmmaker” as it’s used among wedding professionals today, implies we are working with celluloid film. it is referring to the final work – the FILM – we are creating. Film being a sysnonym to ‘movie’ in this case.

  8. I make films. I perform all the jobs necessary to make a film. Cinematography is one of those jobs and so is editing, audio mixing, authoring, etc. All of these jobs combined is what I call a filmmaker. I am one who makes films. Simply calling myself a cinematographer is really misleading because that’s only what I do 1% of my time. But, I am making films 100% of the time.

  9. This is exactly why i love following your blog. You write on such topics which myself ask ever too often. I call myself the visual storyteller.

    I have people coming up to me asking “Do you do cinematography style or videography style for wedding?”. I ask them their definition of cinematography, and they replied to my horror..

    “Cinematography is those type of video where u use steadicam, sliders, crane etc”

    It looks like we have a really confused crowd.

    1. You’re so right Kee. People are confused. I think it was wise of you to ask THEM what they thought of each term. We shouldn’t take for granted when they ask for a “cinematographer” that they want a traditional cinematographer.

      Thanks for following the blog. Glad you’re liking it.

  10. Filmmaker rubs me the wrong was these days mostly because the person calling them self that has usually never shot on film nor had a film-out their completed projects shot on video and very often seems like an artsy punter. Camera man suits me fine.

    1. That’s a new one. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s called themselves a camera man. Good for you Jackson. Being unique! Although, I don’t think you have to shoot on “film” to be considered a “filmmaker.”

    2. I agree, I have never shot on film and I think it is insulting to the legitimate people who do shoot on film to call yourself a filmmaker. To me there is a difference between film and video and unless you are shooting and editing film, you are not making a film, you are making a video. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how nice is sounds but I think it diminishes what the people actually shooting on film do. I don’t consider myself in the same league as them and I won’t call myself a filmmaker unless I am shooting and editing film. It is like someone who works at Applebee’s calling themselves a gourmet chef. How do you think a legit gourmet chef would feel. While the chef at Applebee’s might be cooking some great food, there is a difference between a grilled sirloin and a gourmet meal. I just feel calling yourself something because it sounds better is wrong and misleading. I like the Director/Producer title. Or Producer/Videographer. I consider myself a professional videographer. I would be insulted if some guy with a flip camera who rolled up to shoot a wedding would call himself the same thing.

      1. Hey Nick. First thanks for taking the time to comment. I love it when people engage in the conversation.

        I could not disagree with you more though. I actually think it’s insulting to people who shoot on digital media to say they are NOT a filmmaker just because they’re not shooting on film. First, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, the media has nothing to do with how the general public considers a movie. Are you telling me that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is not a film just because it was shot on digital video? There are hundreds, if not thousands of more examples out there (of both feature films and short films) shot on digital media that are films.

        Secondly, the work and energy that goes into lighting a digital film set well is on par with lighting a celluloid film set. And the number of people it takes to make those films is also no different.

        Third, I don’t think your analogy of Apple Bee’s holds up either. A chef at Apple Bee’s is still a chef. He may not be as good or famous as Emiril Lagasse, but that does not diminish in any way his accomplishment just because he works at a chain family restaurant.

        As far as the guy who shows up to shoot a wedding on a flip, I can name a dozen wedding filmmakers who, if given a flip, would make a “film” 100 times more engaging, emotional, and entertaining than some of the stuff I’ve seen shot on equipment that costs many thousands of dollars.

        In general I understand your sentiment, but I would encourage you to expand your thinking on this topic. Take a look at the talent on Vimeo (and YouTube for that matter) creating original films shot on DSLRS or the RED. They are every bit as much “filmmakers” as someone who shoots on celluloid. Truth be told, there will come a time when NO more films are shot on celluloid. What then?

  11. As a 20+ year still photographer, about 7 years ago I began shooting video, with my wife serving as director & editor. So I was DP, or cameraman, or cinematographer (filmmaker implies covering the entire process, and I can’t edit myself out of a paper bag)… But I use those little Moo Cards as business cards, so I came up with a new moniker: VSP.
    Visual Solutions Provider.
    It makes for a nice conversation point too ,when handing over the cards… though I waiver and sometimes just use ‘still & motion images’ on the cards…

  12. Thanks for confusing me with more terms.🙂
    Actually my old Programmer/Analyst reply is “it depends”. And it really does depend on who you’re talking to.

    My business card has on it, …”Motion Picture Division”… and in small print “Images and Video captured for”… Some young rock musicions once asked “Are you going to Film us?”, so it is still considered “Filming”, even if done Digitally.

    My “Motion Picture” term is really old, but an actual representation of the technique, still relevent to all.

  13. A few years ago I coined the term “Real Image Artist” after falling into a photography job. I had been shooting music videos, and short stories for a long while, and had never considered myself a videographer, because to me that particular title implies “Covering”, and or “Documenting” an event.

    A “Real Image Artist” is a jack of trades who can field work in both the video, and photography industries including the pre, and post production roles inherit to both.

    Just my two cents.

  14. Director of photography runs the crew generally on features and commercials often never touches the camera, but of course does on smaller productions. Plays a larger roll in preproduction and production will frequently help in grading the projects once picture lock takes place.

    Cinematographer seems for the most part to emphasize creativity. In the case of the wedding post earlier in this thread where the bride said not just a videographer but cinematographer, clearly the artistic emphasis was in order. Just seems that cinematographer has a artistic bent. I have also found my european counterparts are more often than not referred to as cinematographers.

    Videographer is really a person who works with video, as the name states. Might I say that a good videographer is worth his/her weight in gold. The technical aspects of knowing many cameras including the higher end stuff such as red and varicams etc carries right into the video realm in many respects. I have found that like in other posts, that what I call my self may vary depending on the potential client and what the topic of the project might be. It often changes but on the business card it is Director of Photography. The name has (Director in it, and photography) seems to carry more weight in general.

    Paul.

    1. I completely agree with you Paul about the term DP. It cracks me up when a camera operator or cinematographer or videographer will adopt the lofty term of DP just to make them feel or look more important. I mean these are modest productions where they aren’t even directing a crew; so who are they directing then? I really think you have to earn that term. I refuse to accept the DP title because I honestly haven’t earned it. I’m still learning much about controlling lighting and ratios. I won’t use filmmaker either, eventhough I have shot some film long ago. Cinematographer suits me fine for the many aspects of a shoot that I involve myself with. As an editor too, I’ll often credit myself, ‘shot and cut by …’, much more simpler than creating a multitude credits with the same name.

      1. Thanks for the comment Wheat. While I agree with the spirit of your comment (it takes time and hard work to be a traditional DP), I wouldn’t go so far as to make small of what work DOES go into some of the “modest” productions. Having shot weddings myself for five years, I can tell you that it’s a LOT of work. And you ARE directing people: the other shooters on your team; the guests; the bride and groom; you’re dealing with lighting conditions and acconting for them. Or take small corporate shoots like I do. I have to get lights, light a set, make lighting choices, etc. I wouldn’t even come close to saying or claiming to have the prowess of an ASC cinematographer, but based on the work I DO have to do, I have no qualms calling myself a DP. Now, with all that said, I don’t actually refer to myself as a DP. I stick with Producer/Director (like Andrew Hsu mentioned above).

        Great discussion. Thanks for contributing!

  15. ” …RED or Arri’s Alexa. But the truth is, those cameras are shooting VIDEO…”

    I don’t think this is correct. To be shooting video they would need to be shooting to video tape, and they’re not. Both terms, videographer and filmmaker, are inaccurate and technically misleading. I’ve tried to come up with a satisfactory new term, but have failed. I suspect that over time filmmaker will win out as it’s historically established and has a commonly understood meaning beyond the reference to the media itself.

  16. Good thoughts on the names. And you are very right. For those of us in the field we do wear many hats. That’s probably why my title is production director. That way it kind of blankets the many aspects of what I do.

  17. I thought it was ok to call myself a filmmaker until I worked with someone who started out and worked for years with 16mm film. His comment to me was this: ” What is it you load you camera with? Your only a filmmaker if it’s film you are shooting with!”. So the problem now is that I shoot on p/2 cards and it’s digital! I guess I am a digitalographer?

    1. Ask your friend, so what does that make David Fincher, Michael Mann and Steven Soderberg? If he really wants to get that technical. Kodak is a film “maker”. It’s pretty much understood nowadays that a “film” is no longer related to the media on which it was shot.

  18. How about just doing it all this way:

    – you shoot weddings? – Fine, you are a weddingographer
    – you make short stories? – You’re a shortagrapher
    – you make long stories? – You’re a longshotographer
    – you actually make movies that sell? – You’re a miracle man…
    🙂

  19. Digital Content Creator kind of covers the gamut so I frequently use that. But one of my favorites is a professional three person crew consists of a Shot Caller, Camera Pointer and Nit Picker.

  20. Well, we’re not shooting film or videotape either. We’re shooting files. Maybe we’re not videographers or filmmakers. Maybe we’re just “filers”. 😉

  21. Ron is very right that a “film” is no longer related to the media on which it was shot.
    Besides the definition of a fimmaker is: a producer of motion pictures.
    Those they have a problem with the accuracy of the term filmmaker I guess they could use Digital Filmmaker.
    DP is another story and usually suggests someone involved with this particular part of feature film production and definitely not one man show or video editing etc.
    Cinematographer does not suggest any post production work as well.
    Videographer is probably correct but arguably not very sexy.

  22. I don’t think it’s right for a person who has never has shot a foot of film in their life to call themselves a cinematographer. I don’t have a problem with people shooting digital calling themselves a DP.

  23. It is like someone who works at Applebee’s calling themselves a gourmet chef. How do you think a legit gourmet chef would feel. While the chef at Applebee’s might be cooking some great food, there is a difference between a grilled sirloin and a gourmet meal. I just feel calling yourself something because it sounds better is wrong and misleading. I like the Director/Producer title. Or Producer/Videographer. I consider myself a professional videographer. I would be insulted if some guy with a flip camera who rolled up to shoot a wedding would call himself the same thing.

    1. Hey Nick,

      I replied to this comment above in a longer reply, but I’ll paste it here as well:

      I don’t think your analogy of Apple Bee’s holds up either. A chef at Apple Bee’s is still a chef. He may not be as good or famous as Emiril Lagasse, but that does not diminish in any way his accomplishment just because he works at a chain family restaurant.

      As far as the guy who shows up to shoot a wedding on a flip, I can name a dozen wedding filmmakers who, if given a flip, would make a “film” 100 times more engaging, emotional, and entertaining than some of the stuff I’ve seen shot on equipment that costs many thousands of dollars.

      In general I understand your sentiment, but I would encourage you to expand your thinking on this topic. Take a look at the talent on Vimeo (and YouTube for that matter) creating original films shot on DSLRS or the RED. They are every bit as much “filmmakers” as someone who shoots on celluloid. Truth be told, there will come a time when NO more films are shot on celluloid. What then?

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