6 Important Things to Know as a Film Industry Freelance Worker

6 Important Things to Know as a Film Industry Freelance Worker
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Many of us in the film industry work as freelance workers, meaning we don’t have a single employer; we go from job to job.  There’s a great deal of uncertainty that comes with being a freelance worker, but there can also be a lot of freedom in not being tied to one job indefinitely.

As freelancers, there are certain things we need to understand to get the most from our careers.  Knowing the different types of freelance work and what that means for us is an essential piece of that puzzle.

Here are six important things to know as an industry freelance worker to set yourself up for success:

  1. Freelance employee vs. independent contractor

Being a freelance worker doesn’t mean that you’re automatically an independent contractor.  Under industry union contracts, union freelancers are considered employees and receive paychecks with taxes taken out and benefits, such as vacation pay added to their compensation.

For example, I’m a DGA member.  I see that I had federal and state tax, FICA, Medicare, and a pension contribution deducted from my pay on a recent paycheck stub.  I’m a freelance employee, not an independent contractor.

Once union members qualify through time worked, they’re eligible for health care coverage through their union.

Years ago, when I was a production assistant, I was an independent contractor.  I worked for a flat daily rate and received a 1099 rather than a W-2 form for my earnings.  Many of you are probably working as independent contractors now.

You’re responsible for paying your taxes, as none will have been deducted from your pay.

These distinctions are essential to understand so that you can plan financially and price your services accordingly.

  1. Your career is a business.

We’re often so consumed with work that we forget that our careers are businesses and need long-term planning.

If you’re an independent contractor, it may be appropriate to incorporate at some point in your career, rather than just being a sole proprietor.  There are legal protections from liability available to corporate entities that are not available to sole proprietors.

Many freelance workers in our industry work through loan-out deals through their companies.  Actors and crew members with equipment rental companies often work through loan-out contracts.

It’s worth the expense of getting expert legal and financial advice to guide you in making these business decisions.  We should all take the time to thoughtfully plan the business of our careers so we can set ourselves up for success.

  1. Keep a meticulous record of business expenses.

Ignoring this one will end up costing you money.  With multiple jobs every year, we freelancers need to keep impeccable records and receipts of our expenses, whether we’re independent contractors or employees.

I’m always surprised by how many business expenses I’ve racked up at the end of the year.  Most of those expenses are tax-deductible, and small costs here and there add up quickly.

We shortchange ourselves when we get sloppy with our record-keeping, so it’s worth spending the time to stay on top of this.

  1. Guard your reputation and mind your social media posts.

As freelancers, we need to practice reputation management.  Being a professional with a good attitude who’s easy to work with is a tremendous asset for any freelance worker.

That means no gossiping or backstabbing others, no matter how badly they behave.  It’s up to them to manage the problem of their lousy reputation, while yours remains stellar.

Early in my career, people hired me on some big projects over other, more experienced freelancers because I had an excellent reputation and attitude.  Those early credits helped me build my career.

Social media can be a helpful tool for us to build beneficial professional relationships online.  But, of course, we have to use it wisely.

We should all make it a practice never to post in anger or belittle others online.  We can ruin our reputations with careless social media posts.  Even high-profile people who should know better have made this mistake.

Think before posting anything online.  When in doubt, don’t post it.

  1. Be prepared for times when you’re not working.

There’s no way around the fact that we’re sometimes going to be unemployed as freelance workers.  Peace of mind comes with being prepared for that.

I’ve been through many periods of unemployment in my career, as has every other industry freelancer I know.  Living within our means, saving money when we’re working, and having another revenue stream is the key to survival.

In 2020, we saw how devastating the months-long industry shut down due to the pandemic was for so many people.  Life and our industry can be very unpredictable.

All we do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable downtimes all freelancers experience as best we can.

  1. Some are dabblers in our industry, and some are committed to a career.

I’ve worked with people in my career whom I’d describe as dabblers in our industry.  They were working as p.a.s, background actors, and other various entry-level positions.

That’s fine, but sooner or later, we all have to decide if we truly want an industry career as a freelancer.

After a few months tops, we should know whether we’re committed to a career in the industry or not.  It’s a challenging business to be in, and there’s no shame in deciding to do something else.  I know quite a few people who’ve done just that.

If working as an industry freelancer is for you, there’s no better time than the present to go all in.


These are a few essential things we need to get right as industry freelance workers to set ourselves up for a long, successful career.

Get the professional advice you need and build relationships with others in the industry.  And always be willing to give back.

In my experience, that’s what it takes to reap the rewards, both personal and professional, of being in our industry.





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