Thoughts About Identifying as a Filmmaker

It happened again this week. I mean, I guess it would make sense for why I’ve been asked about this more than once by now. When your day job oversees funding, distributing, and occasionally producing films (and a film festival), I can see how it would only be natural one would ask if you have any filmmaking aspirations of your own. So when a visitor asked if I am a filmmaker, I said no, but I did say that I am a screenwriter. He argued in saying that a screenwriter is a type of a filmmaker. But is it?

That’s what I’ve been turning over in my mind since that brief encounter. As someone who has been writing screenplays of different lengths within recent years, I feel like I’ve reached a point in my journey as a writer where I have the right to call myself a screenwriter, even if none of them have been produced yet (although with my recent slate of submissions to film festivals and competitions, I damn sure am trying to make that happen). But to call myself a filmmaker, that I do have some reservations about.

Usually when I think of the word “filmmaker,” I usually consider it synonymous with the word director; the one with the most creative influence in what happens out of everyone else involved in the creation of a film. As for the role of a screenwriter, I’ve always seen it as a weird hybrid between being a writer and being the starting point of something much larger than them (although that doesn’t translate to them receiving proper acknowledgment for what they do, as we all saw with Adele Lim last fall).

I looked up the definition of a the word “screenwriter” in three different online dictionaries, and not once is the word “filmmaker” used. Instead, a screenwriter is referred to as someone, a writer, or a person. While those words do prove to be accurate, they do fall a little flat when describing just what that someone, writer, and/or person contributes to the making of something as large in scale as a film. When I looked up the word on Wikipedia though, the article is said to be part of the site’s series on, surprise, filmmaking.

It’s a weird yet fascinating thought experiment to consider. But even after that little bit of research about how the role is defined, I still hold reservations about considering myself a filmmaker.  While my thought process about filmmaking has certainly developed over the years and being involved in the process of two feature-length narrative films in different ways over the course of a summer has definitely given me perspective, I think all that has really done is help me become a screenwriter. I’ve created screenplays, but none of them have been transformed into films yet.

At the end of the day, that’s just how I interpret the whole thing. I consider myself a screenwriter, but until someone is willing to take a chance on any of the multiple stories I have to tell, then I do not consider myself to be a filmmaker.

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