How to Get Consistent Work as an Indie Filmmaker

Being on set and operating the camera are interesting and exciting times for most independent filmmakers. What isn’t discussed as much is how stressful it can be when you are looking for your next job to make sure you can pay your bills next month. The business of freelancing can be very stressful.

To get yourself started on the right foot you’ll want to hear from some experienced filmmakers who have been able to figure out how to get consistent work. One such person is Dustin Harrelson who has kindly put together a video on how he has done it. Learning from others is always helpful.

Dustin works mainly in the commercial filmmaking space and has been working full time as a freelancer since January. That’s at least nine month of living on just freelance video work.

Getting jobs here and there is relatively easy, it’s the consistency which is hard. And, if you don’t want to be scrambling to pay bills every month it is a problem you will need to solve.

Before diving into the how, let’s talk about the what. Right now Dustin is directing and shooting content directly for companies.

These entities will reach out to him or he will already have a working relationship and when content is needed he will come up with a quote on the project. These bring in solid money but are a lot of work and responsibility.

Building relationships is key to success. A lot of those consistent working relationships will turn into bigger projects or simply reliable work that will keep you working. You’ll want to reach out to companies you want to work with to start building that up.

Working directly for companies as a one-man band is a great way to work. Another option is to work on other people’s projects. Being a PA, first AC, or simply another hand on another production job is an excellent avenue for consistent work.

You’ll need to find some other local creators and try to build relationships there as well. It goes both ways since when they have larger projects you can get hired and make new connections and then when you have bigger jobs you can hire them.

Obviously, this will depend a lot on your location and circumstances. He is working in Birmingham, Alabama, not a massive city, but a big one in the area with businesses to support him. This may not be the case everywhere and small, more rural locations can be tough.

Time for the straight tips.

1. Build Your Skills

This is obvious. The better you get the more work will naturally come. As you do more and more jobs your portfolio will grow along with your reputation. Companies often talk to one another to find talent to work on creative projects and recommendations come from word of mouth.

Outside of getting better by doing more work you’ll also want to spend more time building your basic skills in your free time. You might not always have the drive that you had when you first picked up a camera but you’ll still want to make more stuff to keep your skills sharp and promote yourself.

2. Growing Your Community

This goes back to what we talked about earlier, but you will need to spend a lot of time networking. This is the hardest part and sometimes the biggest time investment.

After you get some opportunities you will likely start to meet people and build relationships. It’s very tough to do on your own. Take some jobs as they come up while also being proactive and reaching out to work with companies. Once your foot is in the door it gets easier.

Attend networking events with your industry, hand out business cards, send emails, etc. Location production companies and agencies are a good place to look and going for a full-time gig might be a better fit as you are getting started.

It’s key to be kind. People may work with you because you are good, but they won’t work with you if you are a problem or nuisance.

3. Humility

A good point to move onto is being humble. Just because when you work on your own you get to be the DP and editor doesn’t mean you always need to be doing that. On larger projects it may make sense to come in as a PA or 1st AC instead – if the money and time make sense at least.

This will help keep you consistently working and it will be hugely helpful to sometimes see how other people work and learn from them. Not always being the only person on set and just being able to show up and get the job done can be less stressful as well.

The main thing is that these moments can be focused on education and networking. Meet people and learn from them. Don’t bring attitude to productions.

Do a good job and be a pleasure to work with. Even if the job is basic and below your normal standards you should always work hard and deliver.

Over time you’ll have a combination of leads you find and people reaching out to you until your schedule gets filled up.

Do you have any tips to share about getting started as a freelance filmmaker?

[source: Dustin Harrelson]

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