9 Odd Things About Industry Freelancing Work I Wish I Knew Starting Out

9 Things About Industry Freelancing Work I Wish I Knew Starting Out
Design by Judy Moore in Canva
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Do you remember your first job doing industry freelancing work?  I remember mine.  I had recently arrived in L.A. and had managed to get a job doing non-union extra work.  It was a long day, and I remember being surprised at how hard the crew worked.  Extra work was tedious, and I was glad when the day was finally over.

And then there was my measly paycheck.  I made $22 for a nearly 16 hour day, and the modeling agent who got me the job took a 10% cut of that.  I realized that if I wanted to work in the film industry, I’d have to find much better-paid work.

There are things about industry freelancing work that I wish I'd known when I was first starting out.  They probably wouldn’t have deterred me from working in the business, but I would have been better prepared about what to expect.

Here are nine things I wish I knew in the beginning:

  1. Many people in positions of power in our industry have never worked a day on a set.

Many people consider themselves filmmakers because they work in the industry. In reality, they’re deal makers or financial managers who don’t know all that much about film production.

They have no idea how long shots take or how much additional crew may be required on some days.  Most of the executive producer credits we see on our shows are for writers who’ve never worked on set.

With the current IATSE strike vote now taking place, we're seeing how little understanding many producers have of the working conditions for film crews.

I didn’t realize this power dynamic when I started working in the business.  It would have been helpful to know.

  1. There are widely different payscales and numerous union contracts.

I thought there was one pay scale for each job when I started working in the business.  I didn’t realize there are many union contracts for different categories of work, such as low-budget features, first-year television shows, video, commercials, streaming, etc.

New media always wants a break from the unions in terms of compensation, and they usually get it.  The problem is that they expect that salary gap to continue indefinitely, even when the new media becomes very much mainstream media.

It happened in the DGA when digital video suddenly took over television.  Suddenly many of us found ourselves with pay cuts that were nothing short of ridiculous.

It’s essential to know in advance what contract you’ll be working under if you’re union.  For non-union contractors, know the area of the industry you’re working in well and don’t shortchange yourself on rates.

  1. There are no breaks and sometimes no time for lunch.

I never thought I’d be unable to sit down for even a short break on many days.  This was especially true when I was a trainee.

One time as a trainee, the UPM/producer on a show announced, ‘2nd a.d.s don’t sit, and trainees don’t lean.’  I was leaning against a railing on the backlot near the end of a long, hard day.

There’s often little time to sit and eat a meal at lunch, and good luck getting a break.  A quick bathroom break is about all we can expect.

And judging by what some IATSE members are reporting, even brief bathroom breaks are now a luxury.

I’m glad many in the industry are now speaking out on social media about these work conditions.  Even dogs get bathroom breaks.

  1. The turnaround times from wrap to call time the next day are often incredibly short.

If a turnaround time is nine hours, that’s from the time of set dismissal to call time the next day.  So we first have to get to our cars, drive home, do what we have to do at home, and get to sleep.

Then we have to be up early enough to get ourselves ready and drive to set.  We’re lucky to get five hours of sleep.

Short turnaround times after long, grueling workdays are not a sustainable way to work.  Our bodies start to break down, and our decision-making ability suffers.

I didn’t realize how unhealthy short turnaround times are until I experienced them myself.  IATSE members are calling out short turnaround times and more power to them for doing so.

  1. Working on set is family-unfriendly.

Anyone expecting to do freelancing work on set and have a regular family life will be disappointed.  Working on a film crew means a lot of time working and little time with the family.

And that’s not even considering distant location work, which can take crew members away from their families for months at a time.  It’s no surprise that the divorce rate is high in our industry.

I’ve heard people in our industry lament that they rarely spent time with their kids when they were growing up.  That’s a high price to pay and may be too high a price for many people.

  1. The concept of ‘Fraturdays.’

‘Fraturday’ is the term for the miserable Friday workdays of late call times and wraps that spill into Saturday.  These are not exceptions but rather the rule on many shows.

Call times get later and later from Monday through Friday, so we end up with a stunted weekend that doesn’t actually consist of two days. It’s a horrible schedule that takes its toll on us physically and mentally.

I never realized ‘Fraturdays’ were the norm when I started working in the business.  I quickly found out that they were.

‘Fraturdays’ are yet another reason that the industry is so family-unfriendly.  It’s a significant point of discussion in the IATSE negotiations, but I don’t see ‘Fraturdays’ going away anytime soon.

  1. The number of requests I received to work for free.

I’m not sure if requests to work for free are as prevalent as they once were, but I remember getting calls to work unpaid on people’s projects, in some cases people I barely knew.

After the L.A. riots, I got a request from a colleague working with a well-known producer filming a public service announcement about healing the city.  I agreed to work for free for two days on this project, hoping it would lead to paid work in the future.

It didn’t.  The producer continued hiring the same people he’d always worked with, none of whom were on the freebie project.  Lesson learned.

My advice is not to give your work away for free unless it’s for a cause you truly believe in and want to support with your labor.  It’s unlikely anyone promising to hire you in the future if you now work for free will do so.

  1. The difference between union freelancing work and non-union contract work should be clearly understood.

When performing union freelancing work, you are an employee with union benefits, such as healthcare and pension contributions.  When doing non-union contract work, you are an independent contractor with no benefits.

The L.A. film industry is heavily unionized, but this isn’t the case in other states.  Many workers work on both union and non-union jobs.  We need to understand clearly which type of work we’re doing.

If you’re working as an independent contractor, you need to price your services accordingly, as you’ll have to provide for your healthcare and pension expenses.  You’ll invoice the employer, as opposed to getting a paycheck with deductions.

This leads to the next thing I wish I knew in the beginning of my career.

  1. Get tax and financial advice from a professional who has clients in our industry.

Most of us who work in the industry doing freelancing work have multiple employers each year.  Our work may be a combination of freelance employment and independent contracting.

Doing taxes can be complex.  It’s well worth the money to hire a CPA who’s familiar with our industry and has clients who work in it.

It took me longer than it should have to realize this.


Those are a few things I wish I had known when I started working in the film industry.

What things do you wish you’d known?





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