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How to break into the film industry as a freelancer

Posted on November 1st, 2019

Working as a freelancer is hard at the best of times. It can mean long hours, uncertainty when it comes to your working patterns, and an endless search for work in order to feel like you’re not putting yourself at risk of being out of a job. 

However, there are plenty of reasons to persevere with it and stick with what can sometimes feel like a draining and difficult challenge. Working in film can be highly rewarding, especially if you’re a movie buff or you love the places where the industry is popular – such as Chicago or Los Angeles. This article will explain how you too can break into the movie industry and make your mark as a freelancer. 


Do your networking

For those who work in the creative industries such as movies, networking can sometimes be looked down upon as an example of something that is just for the professional services industries, or something that’s somehow ‘fake’. However, that’s not the reality: there’s a real case for networking in this sector, as it can sometimes lead to an opportunity that you thought you’d missed. Turning up to physical events is a good idea, and given that the film industry often offers networking events that are structured around parties and other recreational opportunities, it shouldn’t be too much of a hardship. 

You may, for example, find that networking lets you meet a colleague who shares an idea for a plot or a script with you, and that you later get asked by that colleague to collaborate on their project if you have skills to offer. Or perhaps you’ll find a new boss though your networking, and a chance to fill gaps in your schedule. Sometimes, the fruits of networking only come many months or even years down the line – but it’s still well worth doing it. Now that sites such as LinkedIn have become so popular, it’s even possible to network without having to leave the house: remember to keep your profile filled out, and to update it regularly to show any internships or skills you’ve picked up.


Get a mentor

In cities where there is a thriving film industry, a mentor is useful to have on hand – especially when there are so many. Say you’re planning to become a freelance director of photography. Director of photography jobs in Chicago IL are so oversubscribed that without some help, you might not stand a chance. A Chicago director of photography mentor could be just what you need. Everyone knows just how hard being a film freelancer can be, and many people who are now successful have themselves earlier benefited from mentors, who have helped them with everything from job applications to resume polishing. Some freelancers put out appeals on Twitter or LinkedIn to find mentors, but often it’s through word of mouth – so don’t be afraid to ask. 


Have a buffer

It’s easier said than done, but it’s true: being a freelancer means that there are likely to be periods when you’ll be out of work no matter what. This goes for people at all levels of seniority: when even film directors have to have career breaks every so often, there’s no hope for anyone else to be in permanent, never-ending work! 

Luckily, though, all this means is that you have to be a bit more savvy than usual when it comes to your earnings. Ideally, it’s a good idea to always have six months’ worth of living expenses in the bank: if you’ve got enough to carry on living your current life in terms of rent, mortgage, bills and other essentials, then you’ll be able to use that to look for work. Remember that if you live in LA or somewhere else with poor transport, then you should factor in the cost of transport when calculating this, as you’ll need your car or your Uber or Lyft account to get to job interviews!

For those who are unable to do this – perhaps because of a high level of financial commitments or simply because your pay grade is so low that it’s impossible to partition off anything without losing your quality of life significantly – having a side hustle is wise. Why not set up as a freelance copywriter, for example, or get an arrangement with a local restaurant to wait tables during busy periods? It may not be ideal, but it can certainly get you from A to B during the difficult financial times.

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