I remember being told about job security. About how if I worked hard and did a good job I would be rewarded with a loyal company that cared about me and we would have a long and wonderful relationship. Too bad that glass slipper did not fit. I take that back, I am glad it did not. 15 or so years into being an independent contractor have treated me well. I would like to say it is all smiles and hugs, one good job after another and the phone always rings when it should with the next excellent job. That too is a fairy tale.
The reality is that the market can mess with your head. When you are busy you are king of the world. When the slow streak happens and yet you see all your production friends posting AMAZING SHOOT WITH THE BEST CREW IN TOWN! photos your ego shrinks like a penis in cold water. Very cold water.
That is the roller coaster we ride. I try to explain to new freelancers that it is a tough road filled with treasures and bandits. You can do a great job and never get a call back. When I first went freelance, my biggest hurdle was overcoming a fear of talking on the phone. It was a huge deal. I stuttered, sometimes badly, when I talked on the phone. But I needed the damn thing to reach out to companies to market myself. A little backstory… I did not go freelance because I wanted to, it was because the company that had moved me to Nashville pulled the plug after one year and I had a family with 2 kids and a house payment. Being laid off is a cold rush that is not pleasant. I drove home, made a list of every connection I could think of and started making calls, logging each one, asking if it was ok to check back in a few weeks, keep me in mind etc… Midway thru, I got a call back to do 5 days of editing. That call was one of the best rushes I ever got. I was hooked. Yes, I just compared freelance to drug addiction. Each Monday was call day, slowly the bird took flight.
What makes freelance work? From what I can tell it is split equally between skill, attitude, ego, personality, connections, work ethic, and luck. And you have to love what you do. I describe my company now as a construction company that makes images instead of houses. My great grandfather made houses that were art. They stand today. I like to see myself as that same level of craftsman. I also know my houses (films) probably will not be standing 100 years from now.
I’ve been in the business for over 30 years now. Each year I try and do something new. Drones and stabilizers are making this decade very interesting. Keeping up with the evolving market is another part of the game. 2 years ago, the death of the steadicam was announced. I have had more steadicam jobs this year than ever before. Surviving for me has been the ability to stay flexible. Being a jib/steadicam/drone/stabilizer/camera guy who works in corperate/film/television/sports & events helps a lot. It seems that when one zone goes a little soft, another picks up. Gear also helps. Buying the right gear that can provide decent income is a huge help. It can also take you down if you overbuy.
So what keeps me up at night? My damn ego. My mind whispers that “no one loves you anymore.” It takes me back to a time, maybe Jr. high, the shuffling of popularity, who’s the quarterback, the homecoming king? I have to shake it off like it was a junebug in my ear. (that has actually happened to me, it was, lets say, unpleasant).
I believe my job has some of the highest highs you can get. No, I have not won the gold in diving or walked on the moon, which I am sure is pretty high inducing as well. It can also mess with your head & heart. I guess I have read about that with athletes and such as well.
I guess my biggest advice is don’t take it too personally. That’s the hardest part. In a talent driven competition it can hurt not to get the call or get picked for the team. Thats the bad. The good is working. Getting your ass kicked and making a pretty picture in the process. Telling a story that matters. Being part of a creative team. I imagine its like being in a really good band. Each night you change the lineup a bit also…
So hang in there. Go make pretty pictures and tell stories you care about. Some SOB will always be there mocking you. He sucks. His voice does not matter, even if it is the one in your head. Strap in and enjoy the ride.