So, you want to freelance full-time as a filmmaker? Here are a few ways I’ve managed the hustle and how you can too.
Most filmmakers want to freelance. We want to live the romantic lifestyle of being on set (hashtag set life) and having a new challenge to overcome every day. Never being in the same place, traveling the world, becoming an intrepid wanderer in search of the next story.
For most of us, this lifestyle is extremely elusive. It takes a ridiculous amount of courage and a lot of very specific financial and personal concessions to get started, and you really only have to rely on your own ability to pay the bills. This is an unspoken part of the freelance lifestyle. The amount of courage and self-belief it takes to take the leap. Unless you’re really good at what you do, you can’t keep the lights on.
Before I had this job here at Premium Beat, I was freelancing for about 4 years and learned a lot. I tend to be anxious about a lot of things, and money is probably at the top of that list. So, I was very careful and methodical about the transition to free leg. I have a lot of thoughts about things that went well and things that didn’t go well at all.
A holder is your best friend
I love retainers. I love them so much I want to shout them from the mountaintops.
A retainer (at least that’s what I call it in this context) is where you agree with a company to pay you every month (or quarter, or week, however you work) regardless of the amount of work you do. for them. More precisely and ideally, it is where you develop an agreement on a specific number of supplies (completed work) that you provide for a given company or person in a given period of time.
For example, you can set up an agreement where you provide 2 ready-made pieces of social content per month (few minute videos for their YouTube or Instagram). Once delivered, they will pay you a set amount of money once a month. They may then be able to ask you for a little more if needed. You may find that some months need you a ton and others may not reach you at all.
Personally, I wouldn’t even consider switching to a free leg unless you have something like that set up. When I initially became a freelancer all those years ago, it was because I had a backup set up. I would work in the office with the company about 2 weeks a month and provide all of their video content. It was a really amazing setup. I had plenty of time for other projects and clients and they were able to get the video work they needed.
The trick to a good deal is to make it a win-win. You get sweet “mailbox money” (money you know will come in the mail once a month) and peace of mind. Meanwhile, the company you work for doesn’t need to hire full-time employees and generally spends less (benefits, salary, etc.) on what they need. It’s good for everyone.
Retainers are about setting up base money that you can build on. Have a decent amount going into the bank every month so you know you can at least pay the rent. Then work your way up from there.
Types of brackets to design
It’s a pretty exciting time for filmmakers because most companies want video right away. There are many different and new applications for video content, making it easier than ever for a business to design a bracket-style video solution. Here are some ideas on what types of brackets to design.
This one is easy. Many businesses want someone to pump interesting social content into their various feeds. This can be anything from quick one-minute Insta promos or stories to nice quick coverage of different events.
If you are able to do some motion graphics design, that’s even better. You can give them quick animated snippets with their products or logos etc. Create anything that shows the brand has personality and can grab attention on social media.
This type of holder should have pretty little impact on either side in my opinion. You should be able to make a few quick videos like this and this arrangement will keep costs down for the client. Depending on the brand, of course.
Specific YouTube content / Channel management
You can also present to fully cover and manage the YouTube channel for the brand. This could mean weekly uploads, creating an entire series, or just committing to overseeing and helping build the brand’s entire YouTube presence. For a freelancer, this is a slightly larger time investment, therefore probably a bit more expensive for a company.
This is the main type of mount I was able to make myself and it’s really a lot of fun. You can build a new channel from the ground up and watch it grow. You will watch your client’s brand go from one with no personality to one with a face. Part of this new persona is engaging content that you oversee. This can take many forms, including interviews, testimonials and advertisements. There is a lot of creativity to explore in this type of mount.
Whatever they want
Here you and the client agree on a kind of wild west. You are their video person for whatever they want. No rules, no results, just whatever they need, you’re their guy. These are a bit riskier in terms of your own time investment. As such, you should charge more. They can make you so busy that you won’t be able to take on more clients, so you need to adjust your price accordingly. Not to mention, if one of your other clients’ needs you, but you are busy with your client, then your client needs to take priority. This can lead to very unpleasant situations.
This is basically where you more or less become an employee of the company. The only difference is that you are without benefits and may or may not be able to telecommute.
Bring as much to the table as possible
While many people discourage being a “jack of all trades, master of none,” knowing more than just filmmaking specific skills will help you greatly on your freelance journey.
First of all, I can’t recommend enough knowing how to do motion graphic design (as well as non-motion design). This has helped me so many times in my career. Not only can you offer professional quality video, but you can provide animated graphics and logos if needed. The more skills you can offer your client, the more they will need you and want to pay you.
You don’t have to become an expert. Just know enough to make it clear that you are talented and have the type of creative vision they need. You want to become a one-stop solution for any of their video and creative needs. Just knowing how to make a nice, smooth transition of an animated logo or how to add elegant animated text to something will go a long way.
Here’s a tutorial I made with some After Effects basics to get you started.
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