Filmmaking / Directing : When can you call yourself a Filmmaker? by Michael Fitzer

Michael Fitzer

When can you call yourself a Filmmaker?

I'd like to know people's thoughts on this and I ask this question in all sincerity... Are you a filmmaker or screenwriter just because you say you are? I've been in this business 20+ years and this is how I make my living. I'm a big fan of grass roots Indie filmmaking and helping those with less experience whenever I can however, I am not a fan of people calling themselves screenwriters just because they wrote a script or calling themselves filmmakers just because they made a few "videos" or happen to own a camera. That would be like me buying an expensive knife and calling myself a chef. Trust me... you don't want that! I believe "screenwriter" or "filmmaker" are titles you have to earn from the bottom up. Learn the craft, learn the industry. Respect the experience of others enough to build up the same credibility for yourself that they have worked for years to accrue. I didn't dare call myself a filmmaker until I made my first film and signed the distribution contract. I didn't call myself a screenwriter until I began winning awards and having work produced. Until then, I was just someone who worked in film industry. Earn the title, don't kidnap it.

JD Hartman

What's wrong with being someone who just works in the film industry? Isn't it "good enough" to be a Grip, Gaffer, Scenic, Scripty, HMU, etc., etc. and be a master of your craft? If it weren't for all the nuts and bolts technicians in the film industry, none of these scripts would ever be more than words on a page.

Michael Fitzer

Sorry if I wasn't clear in my post. There's nothing wrong with being a grip, gaffer, etc. I worked for years as a grip. I'm simply reacting to all these people who come out of the gate calling themselves filmmakers or screenwriters. I think you have to earn it. Why in this industry do some people feel like they can attach titles to themselves that others have spent years honing the skills for? I used to teach at a summer art conservatory for high schoolers. I'd give lighting workshops, camera workshops, etc. This conservatory would have guest lecturers come in all the time who would tell them, "you're a writer when you say you are" or "you're a filmmaker when you say you are." It used to drive me nuts!!! Am I a flautist when I say I am? No! I need training! Why is it different for other areas of the arts? Actors need training. Set designers need training. Grips need training, but we throw around the title of filmmaker like it was yesterday's clothes. Like most people in this industry I make my living doing commercial advertising and corporate work in between movie work. From a corporate perspective it sometimes makes it difficult getting clients or justifying expenses because this industry is saturated with unqualified people who can't do what they say they can do. Usually that is a hurdle that is gotten over pretty quickly but it is a hurdle nonetheless. Maybe I'm being petty but it bugs me.

Jacob Buterbaugh

I think of myself as an aspiring writer-director. There is a distinction between being and aspiring. Obviously, I'd like to drop the aspiring part. I think a lot of people are just ashamed to admit that they're still learning, still in the early stages of their filmmaking journey, still really just figuring things out. Personally, I dig it. I see it like this: I'm building a foundation, and the better my foundation is, the better my filmmaking will be... Although, I'm not getting any younger, so I need to move a little faster in my filmmaking journey. It bugs me when people are just starting and they think this stuff is easy. It bugs me when when people are just starting and they act like the industry owes them something. It bugs me when people are just starting and they think they know everything. It bugs me when people are just starting and they show little to no respect for the art and/or the industry of filmmaking. I think most of the unqualified people you're referring to could possibly fit into one of these categories. Long story short, I think I see your point.

Christopher Birk

I do completely agree with you, however I also say that it's really nothing to worry too much about. There are many people calling themselves actors as well, when they hardly have done anything and don't know who Shakespeare is. Though it takes a while to learn - and that mostly because way too many people are "all talk and no action" (I think that's a bigger issue) - I feel like you can see through these people and their "lack" of work. Though I don't personally think it matters what you call yourself, your passion matters - and just because you don't have much experience you can still have lots of ideas - and these people shouldn't just be dismissed because of being "green". I say: Know who's full of BS more than look at who has a million things done already. Because there are plenty of people with long resumes who are full of crap - and don't think too much about what people call themselves. It can be annoying, yes! But for some it also helps them closer to their dream if they say the words - and that's an important thing. I struggled for a long time myself, with whether I could call myself something I didn't make my main living doing - and that can certainly also be discussed; if you should be "allowed" to do that or if it's considered a hobby then. I think maybe the trick is to not get too hung up on labels and words and to not get too hung up on other people's use of them :)

Michael Fitzer

Thanks for your contributions everyone. It's just something that has stuck in my craw for awhile but you're all obviously more emotionally mature than I am. ;-). When I was first being trained in this business I was schooled by people who put a lot of weight into roles, positions, titles and what all of that buys you on and off set. On set that is very important for reasons obvious to all of us. As for the rest of it... It's a new age so I suppose I'll let it go. That is for the therapy.

Dan MaxXx

when i can quit my day job and live comfortably making movies full time and write on the IRS forms under occupation, "Filmmaker." Until then I am just another wannabe

Tivoli Silas

To me, the only real qualification for being a filmmaker is to make films, even if that isn't your full-time job. A filmmaker is a broader title than director, editor, screenwriter, etc. My LinkedIn currently says that I am an "Independent Filmmaker" even though I am just starting out in the business.

Brendan Faulkner

I've directed or co-directed 4 feature films. 3 were released, 1 by Sony Pictures. I have one being re-edited for the American market having been released in Europe. I have added footage and upgraded the effects. And the last is waiting to be edited. I came up through the ranks, learning everything by being on film sets and doing every job offered from pa to grip to camera second, camera first, ad then Director. I call myself a Filmmaker. Oh and I wrote and or co-wrote 3 of these film. I am on the east coast (Manhattan, Connecticut, Westchester) and am open to work on your film in a paid position. I have taught enough first time directors and line produced for others first timers in unpaid positions to not want that again. I hope that answers your question?

Jackie Sass

This is an interesting discussion and I want to keep reading as people comment. This is a difficult question to answer... I think this is due, in large part, to everyone's idea of success differing. An example: "I will call myself a 'runner' when I win a race..." vs. "I will start calling myself a 'runner' when I can make it to the next block without dying." My dream is to have steady film work --that is my 'success' standard at the moment-- but I still consider myself an actor despite having done mostly done theatrical work. And despite it not being a major source of income. I understand where you are coming from, though. I've run into quite a few 'filmmakers' who have only taken videos of their kid's birthday party... This frustrates me when I'm searching for legitimate work!

Jacob Buterbaugh

I think it's okay to call yourself a writer, or a filmmaker, or an actor, or whatever assuming you've actually done it before. I think the real problem is that some people exaggerate their skill level or their accomplishments, which wastes other people's time, and insults people who have truly achieved their level of skill and accomplishment.

Pippa Hinchley

To me its have you been paid to write or make films? Doesn't matter how much but it's the concept of someone having given you a job, hired you I guess that makes you a pro. On the other hand if you make a short film and it gets into a bunch of top festivals then you are probably in debt but have also the right to call yourself director/ screenwriter. Whatever. I suppose it's being validated then by the industry, via pay or accolades..?

Doug Shear

I think that you are what you do, whether or not you achieve a measure of success doing it. For example, many writers were virtually unknown during their lifetime but left a body of work that became classics. They were writers because they were writing. If you are making films, you are a filmmaker.

Matthew Craig Scott

I feel like the word "filmmaker" has sort of fragmented into several different meanings. People who don't know me personally tend to assume first that I'm a "video guy", or I make docs, or I'm a YouTuber, etc. I'm in production on my second narrative feature film and have started including a descriptive term like "emerging" to better describe the stage at which my career is at, so I don't mislead others but still own the title "filmmaker". I don't believe validation, accolades, money or success should have anything to do with it. I heard someone once say in an interview (I forget who it was - it might have been Clint Eastwood) "Nobody will remember who got paid for what or who made how much on that deal. In the end, all that matters are the titles on the shelf."

Brendan Faulkner

Well said Matthew

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