Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due

A few years ago I was watching this amazing reel for a motion graphics company. They had all these cool clips from movie credit sequences they’d done, commercials, motion logos, etc. Not too long after that I saw a reel from a larger company where the founders of the previous company had worked. Guess what. I saw the same clips. It was obvious that the reel I saw first included clips the founders of that company had done while employed at the larger company.

I’ve seen the same Vimeo clips on multiple filmmakers’ websites as part of their respective reels, leading me to ask “Who’s films are these?”

Practicing Good Creditquette

Credits count. They help potential clients determine whether or not to hire a filmmaker, producer or studio. To be fair to them and those involved, I encourage you to practice what I call good “credit-quette” (get it? Credit + etiquette = creditquette. I made that up all by myself. So please give me proper credit if you use that term elsewhere. 😉

killiinglincoln-creditsFilmmaking is a collaborative process. In many cases, there is no ONE filmmaker involved. In the world of “Hollywood” and feature film and television, the unions (e.g. WGA, DGA, SAG, etc.) have VERY specific rules on how union members are credited. The WGA (Writers Guild of America) even distinguishes between when you use “and” vs “&” (eg. written by “Jack & Jill and Tom & Jerry” has a different meaning than written by “Jack, Jill, Tom and Jerry”).

Obviously, there isn’t any such governing body for small production companies who do commercial work (or even event work for that matter). Can a second shooter on a wedding include a wedding highlight clip on his/her reel? Can an editor who edited a job for another studio include that video on his/her reel or portfolio? What if one person directed it and another person was the DP (a REAL DP, where they played a major role in lighting design, camera work, etc.) Can each of them include that film on their respective reels or portfolios?

As you can see, this can be a sticky situation. The only advice I can give is how I’ve handled it, and how I see it based on my nearly 11 years in the biz.

Fair and Forthright

For me it comes down to as simple as this: be fair and forthright. As long as a filmmaker makes it clear what his or her role was on a film, I think it’s fine for them to include it in their reel or portfolio. (I have one slight modification of this as it relates to studios that hire contractors or employees, but I’ll get to that a little later. Also, note with a reel it’s more complicated because you could have many different jobs and you’d need to list what your role was for each clip in the reel. It can be a lot of extra work, but I’ve seen it done.)

Generally speaking, I think the filmmakers who have the strongest argument for inclusion in a portfolio or reel are the ones who had the greatest creative impact: namely director, DP, writer and post-production (I think you can make a case for colorist too). If you gripped or 2nd AC’d a film, I think it would be okay to show a film on your portfolio for the purposes of showing the caliber of films you work on.

Think about it. Why does a potential client want to see a person’s portfolio? To see if that person or company has the skill, style and experience to produce a certain caliber of work. Can you do for them something similar to the videos you have on your portfolio.

I think where this situation is most problematic is if you are a multi-hyphenate filmmaker or production studio. You shoot, edit, DP, color correct, etc. In cases like that, when you present work, you are representing these as videos you’ve done within the context of whatever services you primarily promote. If that’s shooting and editing, a potential client who sees your portfolio is going to look at those videos as examples of your shooting and editing.

However, if your focus is very specific: e.g. you’re JUST an editor or JUST a sound guy, then a potential client knows that the videos in your portfolio are related to that aspect of the job, and will consider as a potential vendor accordingly.

Contractors and Competition

If you own a production studio that hires contractors and/or employees, you may not want to have them include videos they shoot or edit for you on their reel. This is actually how I approach work my company does. Even though I personally shoot and edit a vast majority of the work Dare Dreamer Media does, I from time to time hire out shooters, editors, color graders, etc. I hire people who have a certain level of skill and experience commensurate with the level of service and quality I offer my clients. But I am hiring them to do work for my company, not theirs (as the executive producer and creative director, I steer the direction of the shoot and edit even if I don’t personally do it myself). So my contracts with them specifically stipulate that they are work-for-hire and that all work they do is the property of my company and can only be used by my company. I believe this is completely fair and within the context of good business. It also holds up with the “fair and forthright” statement I made above because people who work for me know up front what the deal is. (My contracts do allow for exceptions as long as it’s in writing).

Many filmmakers and video producers run in the same circles and comes across the same potential clients. So when you hire people who are in also competitors in a way, it’s only fair to have those kinds of agreements in place. As a contractor you may want to charge a premium for that right. Maybe you charge $40/hour if you’re allowed to include a video in your portfolio (with appropriate credit given of course), but you might charge $50/hour or more when you’re not allowed to use a video in your portfolio. Again, as long as everything is laid on the table up front, it’s fair and good business.


I think an excellent role model for good creditquette is the production company Variable out of New York City. They have a short video description that makes it clear as to what role they as a company played in the production of a piece. Here’s an example for the promo video for the National Geographic film “Killing Lincoln.”


Then along the left-hand side of the page they include a full credits list of all the key creative players (see image at beginning of post).

If you do a search for this promo you’ll find it uploaded numerous times on Vimeo. But in each case it is very clear what role the Vimeo account holder had in the video. Whether it was the motion graphics designer or the post production house. Below is the video from Variable’s account.

How do you practice good creditquette?

One thought on “Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due

Comments are closed.