5 Important Things to Know About Freelancing Jobs in the Film Industry
Freelancing jobs in the film industry, which involve working on numerous productions with multiple employers, aren’t your average jobs.
Employers, employment status, and working conditions can vary widely.
Jobs can be union or non-union, and production companies can be signatories or not to union contracts. Your employer of record is usually the payroll company, not the production company.
It can all get very confusing.
(Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means I make a small amount of money from any sales made through the links here, at no additional cost to you. It helps pay for the cost of running this blog.)
Here are five critical things to know about freelancing jobs in the film industry:
- You may not always be considered an employee.
On some non-union jobs, you may be considered an independent contractor. If you’ve ever been on a show with different time cards for union and non-union workers, you may already know this.
Depending on your job category, you may submit an invoice rather than a time card, and your rate may or may not include kit rental. If you work through your own company, you may work under a loan-out agreement with separate paperwork.
If you’re an IATSE member who sometimes works on non-union jobs, you could be an employee and an independent contractor on different jobs in the same week.
You should always know what your work status will be before you accept a job.
Independent contractors who don’t have taxes taken out of their pay need to set aside money for quarterly tax payments. It’s wise to get professional tax advice from someone who knows our industry and has other clients who work in it.
As I learned last tax season, you may not necessarily have the same tax deductions as a union employee and an independent contractor.
We freelancers need to be meticulous in our recordkeeping, so set up a system to keep track of your expenses.
I’ve found that using a tax pro can save you money in the long run, especially with multiple employers. My husband and I would have missed many deductions over the years without our CPA, and the cost is well worth the expense and the time saved.
- You’ll have highs and lows as a freelancer.
In case you haven’t noticed, there are lows to freelancing jobs. Sometimes you won’t have work when you want it, and other times, you’ll get several job offers when you’re already working.
Jobs you may believe are a sure thing get postponed or canceled. It’s happened to me more than once, and after I’d turned down other work because I thought I had a job. It can wreak havoc on your finances if you’re unprepared for the downtimes.
The first few years of freelancing in our industry can be challenging, so I’d advise keeping your overhead as low as possible until you’re well-established in your career.
Freelancing can be frustrating and rewarding. If you save money while working and have another revenue stream, you’ll have no reason to panic when one job ends and you don’t have anything else immediately lined up.
My post on smart additional income streams for film freelancers has some helpful suggestions for additional revenue streams for freelancers to check out.
Your website or blog can be another revenue stream through affiliate marketing. Get affiliate marketing expert Michelle Schroeder-Gardner's excellent free affiliate marketing ebook to learn more about affiliate marketing. Michelle's an extremely successful affiliate marketer and her free ebook has lots of valuable information.
It’s tempting to spend while working, but saving for the downtimes is crucial when you’re a freelancer.
Be prepared for the lows, and you’ll be fine.
- Personalized outreach works best when you’re looking for work.
Over time, you’ll probably have a few people you regularly work with. In an industry based on contacts, that’s generally how it works for us freelancers.
However, that doesn’t mean you should let up on your outreach to new people. A colleague of mine found that out the hard way when several of his best contacts retired within one year.
It pays to personalize each email you send instead of sending generic blasts to many people. I’ve received both kinds of emails, and the personalized ones receive much more of my attention and responses.
Don’t wait until you’re desperate for work to contact people. We all need to keep in touch with existing contacts and make new ones regularly.
The freelancers who do this always seem to have work when they want it. Set aside time to keep in touch with your contacts, and you’ll be one of them.
- Speed matters.
Anyone pursuing freelancing jobs in the film industry has to be able to work fast, especially in television. You may be excellent at your job, but if you can’t do it quickly under pressure, you won’t be considered an asset to a production.
Changes always happen on set, and we must be adaptable and ready to move quickly, no matter which department we work in.
No department wants to be seen as holding up production, so be prepared to work fast and efficiently.
- Safety can never be an afterthought.
Safety on set is everyone’s responsibility. In addition to working quickly on set, we need to work safely, and we can never let the unrelenting pressure to work fast compromise safety.
Safety lapses occur across projects of all budget levels, not just in the low-budget world, and it has cost lives.
Much of the film industry is heavily unionized, and union crews take numerous safety courses, but safety fails still happen. The workdays can be brutal, the pressure to hurry up can be intense, and people can make bad decisions.
Understaffing, unrealistic shooting schedules, and a money over people mentality all compromise set safety, but we must stay committed to making the sets we work on as safe as possible.
Our own safety and the safety of everyone on set depends on it.
This is a great time to be a freelancer in the film industry. There’s a tremendous demand for streaming content, more so than I’ve seen in my career, which means plenty of opportunities for you.
If you’re ready to move up to the next level in your career, there are also probably more opportunities to do that now than there were a few years ago. Now’s the time to make those contacts you’ve worked so hard for in the past allies in your quest to move up.
If you’re good at your job and keep up with your contacts, freelancing jobs will come to you. After all the difficulties people in our industry faced with the pandemic shutdown and slow restart, it’s about time.