Videographer vs. filmmaker

“What’s in a name?”

Shakespeare’s Juliet asks the age-old question, but it’s strangely relevant to our industry today. What do you call what you do? You use a video camera, so are you a videographer? You’ve never actually used a film camera, but can you be called a filmmaker? Your projects will appear on YouTube, not in a theater, so are you more of a content creator than a cinematographer? Ever since high-resolution digital cameras largely pushed aside film, it’s been a conundrum. What’s your title? What’s more, how do we refer to the action? Are we filming, taping or capturing when we press the record button? Do we need to settle in on one?

If we take this discussion back to its origins, we find that the term “cinematography” came first. This is the combination of cinema and photography that was first coined in the 1890s. Interestingly, if you consult the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you’ll find the definition is still, “the art or science of motion-picture photography.” The prefix, cinema refers to “movies.” That’s short for moving pictures. That sounds antiquated, but aren’t we still making pictures that move?

The term “filmmaker” dates to the early 1900s as the film industry exploded. It sounds a bit more industrial and less high-brow than “cinematographer.” In the next half-century, magnetic recording would emerge with the dawn of television. The title “videographer” came about in the late 1960s to draw a separation between the two industries. Some might argue that this term seems to convey amateurism today.

As the 20th century ended, film and video cameras became intertwined and, soon, interchangeable. George Lucas was an early champion of digital cameras. He used a Sony HDC-750 on the set of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999). At the time, he challenged industry insiders to identify the scenes shot on digital. Two years later, Lucas would shoot “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002) on Sony’s first digital cinematic camera: the CineAlta HDW-F900. Notice that we’re still using the original “cinema” terminology. Most of the major camera companies have a cinema line.

This is not to suggest that “cinematographer” is the preferred title. It still sounds a bit fancy for those of us who may have come from a television background. But some historical connections make it work. But maybe you don’t make “movies” and your productions will never be seen in a theater. You might want to keep the “videographer” title. Then again, if what you do is entirely online, maybe you like “content creator.”

The bottom line: What title best speaks to your craft and the audience for your work? If you are building your business, which title speaks to where you want to be? There’s nothing wrong with planning for the future. Maybe you want to come up with your own unique title like movieographer or digipictographer or digital moving picture capture specialist. To put a twist on the English Bard: An image captured by whatever title would look as clean.