20 Big Freelance Pros and Cons for Film Freelancers (2022)
If you’re a freelancer, you’re probably aware that there are freelance pros and cons that you need to navigate to have a successful career. Freelancing in the film industry can be both rewarding and challenging, as the highs are really high but the lows can be really low.
I’ve spent my entire work life as a freelancer in several different careers, so I’m well acquainted with the pros and cons of freelancing. If you’re wondering whether a film industry freelance career is the right choice for you, check out the twenty freelance pros and cons below to help you make a decision.
Some Freelance Pros:
You have the freedom to pick and choose your jobs.
The freedom to choose or pass on the jobs that come your way is one of the biggest pros of freelancing. Full-time workers with one employer don’t have that flexibility.
If you decide you want to take time off between jobs, you’re free to do so. Someone with a full-time job can’t do that.
You take or pass on jobs on your own terms, as your work schedule is up to you.
2. Freelancers are always working with different people.
You’ll probably change jobs often as a film industry freelancer and get to work with many different people on all types of shows. In the film industry, you’re rarely stuck with one group of people for very long, as most people change jobs frequently.
Each freelance job has a different crew, so you’ll have the opportunity to work with all types of creative people. I’ve always found that to be a major perk of being an industry freelancer.
3. If you’re in a film industry union, you’ll have health and pension contributions made on your behalf on every union job.
Once you meet the union earnings threshold, you’ll have excellent health insurance which includes medical, dental, vision, and prescription coverage. I can’t overstate how valuable those health benefits are for a freelancer.
The industry unions (IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, DGA) have benefits as good, if not better than what a full-time employee in a corporate job usually receives. Industry employers also contribute to union members’ defined benefit pension plans.
On a union job, you’re considered a freelance employee, not an independent contractor, so you’ll have employee benefits through your union that will accumulate as you go from job to job.
If you want a film industry career in L.A., New York, or another heavily unionized market in the United States, it’s definitely worth joining whichever industry union covers your department.
4. Job sites are always changing.
If you’re someone who dreads being cooped up in an office space every day, you don’t have to worry about that if you work on set. Most freelancing jobs in our industry involve working on all kinds of locations, as well as on sound stages, so you’ll work in different places all the time.
I always enjoyed having a constantly changing work environment, so industry freelancing was a great choice for me.
Yes, it can be challenging to work in different locations all the time, but it’s not boring, and it’s a great way to see places you otherwise might not even know about.
5. You’ll never have to be stuck in a rut on a job you hate.
You are your own boss when it comes to choosing which jobs to take and whether to leave a job you hate. Once you’ve worked in the industry for a while and built up your contacts, you’ll find that people call you with job offers and you never have to feel trapped on a job you’re ready to leave.
You’ll eventually have as much work as you want, especially since the film industry continues to boom with streaming and the long-term outlook is promising.
That’s the freedom part of freelancing.
6. You may work with top people in the industry as you go from job to job.
You’ll have plenty of social interaction and keep getting better and better job offers as you progress in your freelance industry career. You never know who you’ll end up working with in our industry.
You’ll get better jobs as your experience increases, and you’ll find you’re soon working with the top people in your field. That’s when you’ll really appreciate all the amazing creative talent working in our industry.
7. You’ll have great opportunities to learn by going from job to job.
Whether you work on small projects or big feature films, each job presents a great opportunity to learn new things. You’ll have a chance to learn from many different people on multiple jobs, which is one of the best ways to improve your skills.
One project may have loads of stunts while another has underwater work and another has lots of visual effects. Every job presents opportunities for you to learn new things.
And there’s nothing like learning new skills from the top people in the industry.
8. You are more in control of your career as a freelancer.
You can decide when you’re ready to move up to the next level in your career based on your own career goals. You don’t have to wait for a boss to give you a promotion or stay stuck in a job you’ve outgrown.
You may need a certain number of days or hours worked in your industry union to qualify for the next category, but once you’ve got those, it’s up to you to decide when you’re ready to move up.
You’re in charge of your career.
9. You may get to travel to distant locations.
Most people who work in the industry go on distant location at least once in their careers. Some travel constantly. If you enjoy distant location work, there’s a good deal of it in the industry.
Distant location work is often difficult, but it can be fun, especially for those without young kids at home. You may end up traveling to places you’d never otherwise see, which many consider a major perk of freelance type of work.
10. Your coworkers may be human or non-human, as you’ll probably work with animals on set.
Okay, everybody may not consider working with animals to be a ‘pro’ of freelancing, but it certainly makes the workday more interesting.
I’ve worked with a bear (RIP, Bart the Bear,) camels, and too many horses, dogs, and cats to count. I’ve even worked with cockroaches on set.
If you enjoy being around all kinds of critters, you may be surprised to see what turns up on set.
And no, they didn’t kill any of the cockroaches.
Not everything in the freelance business is rosy, though. There are some serious cons to consider.
Some Freelance Cons:
Inconsistent work, especially when you’re starting out.
Work can be erratic in the beginning, and it can really affect your bottom line. That’s why I’m a big believer in having at least one other revenue stream.
Your daily or hourly rate also may not be very high when you’re starting out, making periods of unemployment even worse.
You’ll have to weigh the value of a steady paycheck from traditional employment versus the freedom of being able to pick and choose your jobs as an industry freelancer.
2. No job security.
You don’t have job security as a freelancer, but these days few in the workforce do.
Shows can get canceled or pushed back unexpectedly, a situation I’ve found myself in more than once, meaning you won’t be getting the paycheck you were counting on. It’s frustrating, and it can be scary if you haven’t worked in a while.
That’s why it’s essential for people in our industry to live within their means and save money when they’re working.
3. If you work as an independent contractor, you’ll have to set aside money for income taxes, retirement savings, health insurance, etc.
There are some tax advantages to being an independent contractor in terms of write-offs for business expenses, but you’ll need to be prepared to set aside money every month for quarterly income tax payments and other expenses.
If you’re an employee of a company, your employer takes state and federal taxes, Social Security, and Medicare out of every paycheck. Independent contractors are responsible for doing that themselves through quarterly taxes.
I recommend getting professional tax advice versus using a computer software program. The money you’ll spend to get the correct tax advice is well worth it.
4. No paid sick leave or maternity leave.
With no paid sick leave, people often come to work ill. Sick leaves have been an issue in the industry for decades, and although the producers and unions agreed to sick days for COVID 19, there still is no pay for lost work due to other illnesses.
So if you have to take time off due to illness, don’t expect to be paid for those days.
5. Long hours and poor work-life balance.
The brutally long workdays in our industry have been well-publicized, but despite several deaths and several films being made about the topic, nothing has changed.
It’s difficult to have a better work-life balance when you’re working fifty to sixty hours a week on set.
The long workdays take their toll on personal relationships and family life, and it’s a definite downside of working in the industry.
6. Sleep deprivation.
On single-camera episodic television shows, call times generally start early on Monday and are much later by Friday, so sleep deprivation is common. ‘Fraturday’ is term commonly used in the industry to describe the late call times on Fridays that cause workdays to spill over into Saturdays, leaving you less than a full weekend to recover.
It’s not a healthy work scenario, and it’s something you should be aware of if you plan to work on set in the industry.
7. Location work can take you away from home for months.
Yes, location work has both positive and negative aspects, depending on where you are in your life. For single people, it can be great and you can make more money. If you’re married with young children at home, being away for months can put a strain on family life.
If you’d rather not go on location, you’re probably better off choosing to work in television rather than feature films.
8. Work schedules can be unpredictable.
Days off aren’t always on the weekend, especially if there’s a lot of filming in a busy downtown urban area that’s easier to film on the weekends. You may find your own work hours shifting unexpectedly.
One show I worked on recast the female lead in mid-production, which meant we were suddenly on a six-day-a-week work schedule right before Christmas to reshoot scenes with the newly cast lead actor.
The industry isn’t known for its predictable work schedules.
9. If one of the industry unions goes on strike, you’ll most likely be out of work.
Strikes aren’t common in the film industry, but they do occur. I’ve seen two during my career, and they can go on for months.
It helps to have a financial cushion, which is something every freelancer needs. And another income stream helps, too.
10. The work can be physically demanding.
Depending on which department you work in, you may be moving a great deal of equipment around all day. The camera, grip, electric, props, set dressing, and even wardrobe departments have to move things around all day long.
It can be exhausting work, and you may be on your feet most of the day.
So that’s my take on the freelance pros and cons of working in the film industry. There are freelance pros and cons in every type of freelancing, so you have to decide whether the positives outweigh the negatives in your particular situation.
I’ve found the freedom to pick and choose my jobs and control my career more than outweighs the negatives of freelance work.
But anyone considering film industry freelancing must decide for themselves.