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  • Going freelance. Your experiences? The do's, the dont's and the horror stories.

    One of the reasons I preordered the BMC was the idea to go as a freelance camera op after University. I spent most of my time whilst there, writing about camera operation and demonstrating effective ways for amateurs to shoot. The other half was spent shooting academic films and getting some freelance jobs I managed to score. However whilst studying, jobs came to me and if I waited long enough I never really had to put myself out there.

    I've graduated now and the preparation work has been going pretty well, Personal site etc. But still haven't grabbed that first client!

    I thought it would be pretty interesting and hopefully helpful for any other younger members to hear experiences and tips for those of you have been successfully working freelance or with larger organisations.
    • What tips would you get to new guys? What to avoid, what to aim for, do's and dont's.
    • Essentials that are a must for any freelancer
    • Best ways to find those first jobs?
    • Fantastic early jobs you felt privileged to shoot or work on? Best clients
    • Any horror stories? Worst clients
    Tom Pierrepont - In-house Camera Operator and Editor (UK)
    @Tompierrepont
    www.tompierrepont.com

  • #2
    Communication is key. Clarify every single thing with the client in writing so that you are 100% sure of the clients expectations and what they want.
    Give them plenty of communications regarding the status of a project.
    The clients that always come back to me, are the ones that I have engaged the most with - not been TOO formal in emails (this doesnt mean be informal either, just make it a nice personal service).
    I think the two hardest parts of any freelance job are 1) Whether to take the job and 2) How much to charge.
    Remember that when putting in a bid for a project, the cheapest bid does not always win. It's all about service and value for money.
    Clarify what the client is getting for their money and also offer ways in which they can save money (for example, filming resolution, film length could be reduced etc)
    Decide what is the best rate for a project - Day rate, Hourly rate or a project rate.

    A time based rate such as day or hourly means that if the client keeps changing their mind on something, you are still getting money. But a project rate means that if they keep changing their mind, it could end up costing YOU money. So when charging with a project rate, factor in Amendment charges or limits. For project rates I usually explain that I will show them a first draft of something, then the final version and they get 1 amendment after the final version, or else X amount extra for a further set of changes. etc. This can encourage a client to not mess around experimenting on YOUR time.

    99% of my freelance work has been via networking rather than advertising/listings etc. Let people that you know personally who are in similar lines of work know of the services you offer. Contact people, goto conventions, pro-actively promote yourself. Dont just set up a website and wait for jobs.

    When trying to decide to do a job which involved something new, ask yourself if you can honestly deliver a quality service and product. Sometimes it will be a yes, other times a no. But remember that every time you try something new, it adds to your set of skills, broadening your job prospects. So in other words, dont be afraid to try new things.

    Your first job can be scary, you WILL make mistakes, always, no matter how experienced. Don't be afraid of this, just try to anticipate it. Be Honest with your client if you fuck up. But endeavour to fix the problem.

    These are my thoughts based on my minuscule 4 years freelancing (primarily NOT in the film industry but CGI industry, but i think the same things apply) so other people may not agree with me.
    Best of luck to you!
    Tom Majerski
    Cinematographer / Photographer / CGI Artist / Filmmaker

    http://www.TetraGrade.com
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5157752/

    Comment


    • #3
      It's all about who you know. With that being said, before it's who you know, it's what you have done. So a killer sizzle reel helps, as does advertising the hell out of yourself. But it's also a great idea to make yourself a "calling card". Shoot a short film, a local commercial for a good non-profit, or a video for a favorite local band. Do it out of pocket, put everything into it and then use that to advertise to clients. Also, figure out what exactly you want to do. Do you want to be an AC? Editor? Colorist? DIT/Media Manager? All of the above? It sounds like you want to do the all-in-one thing, which is fine, and it opens you up to a bunch more jobs, but you will definitely lose business to professional non-union workers who specialize in a field. But try everything, figure out what you enjoy doing the most, then pursue that with vigor.

      Cheers

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi Tom P.: I've always thought this classic article contains some great nuggets of wisdom:
        http://magazine.creativecow.net/arti...e-market-types

        Some other tips:

        Try to have fun!

        Find out what the going rate is in your area for the kind of work you want to do. Avoid underbidding your professional colleagues -- or at least not underbidding them by a large margin -- because at some point you'll inevitably rely of them for referrals or need to work together with them on projects. There's also a good chance that the "going rate" is a relatively fair, sustainable level of pay. Your time is valuable; don't sell yourself short. If you work for significantly less than the going rate, chances are you'll starve and forfeit making alliances with fellow freelancers.

        Figure out how much money you need to earn as a freelancer to make it a sustainable venture. In addition to normal expenses such as cost of housing and/or office space, food, clothing, and so forth, also factor in things such as wear and tear on your video, audio, lighting, computer & other equipment, the cost to eventually replace it, business liability insurance & insurance to replace stolen/broken gear (and depending on where you live: health insurance), and so forth. Add up all your estimated costs, and then estimate a realistic "day rate" that covers costs plus the profit margin you want. Then compare your estimated day rate to the going rate for similar work in your area, to determine if you can make a living as a freelancer in your area.

        When possible, separate your labor rate from your equipment rate(s). Your labor will be a constant, but the gear list (and owned vs. rented) will vary, sometimes right up to a shoots' call-time or even on the day. Keeping labor & gear rates separate makes billing easier, more accurate, and more fair for both you & the client.

        One of the first questions you should ask a potential client or employer, before they ask you how much you want to get paid or how much you propose to do a job for, is to ask them how much they're considering spending for your services, perhaps expressed as a range. In other words, ask them something like, "What is your total video production budget?", or "How much were you thinking of paying per day for a Director of Photography (or Videographer, etc.)?" Obviously they might respond with almost any amount (or range), but that's the point of the question. Instead of you guessing if they're able to pay a rate that you've previously determined you require for your business to be sustainable, find out right away. Or as soon as possible, simply tell them what your day rate is. Don't beat around the bush. An exception to this are clients that ask for a bid. For those folks I'd recommend bidding the "going rate" or possibly a little higher. If they really want to hire you based on your portfolio, then you'll have room to negotiate the rate.

        For pre-production planning & consulting work, charge by the hour or by the day. For production work, charge by the day or half-day. For post-production, charge by the hour.

        Charge time-and-a-half & double-time for overtime. "Day", "half-day", and "overtime" vary by region. Some areas consider a "day" to be up to 8 hours, some 10, and some 12 or more. Research what's common in your area. Half-days can vary, too, as well as what percentage of your full day rate you should charge for a half-day. In some areas half-days are billed @ 50% - 75% of day rates.

        Determine what you want to charge for job-related travel time. This varies enormously. Some folks strictly bill for every minute of their "portal-to-portal" business travel time. Some folks charge a percentage of their day rate. Whatever you do, make sure you charge a sustainable rate. Your time is valuable. (See also "opportunity costs", below.)

        Establish a cancellation policy: For example, if the client cancels a gig less than 24-48 hours before the scheduled call-time, they will be billed X% percentage of the agreed-to day rate plus 100% of any costs already incurred, plus something to help cover your "opportunity costs": If you turned-down work because you made a commitment to the client who ultimately cancelled.

        Try to have fun! ;-)
        Last edited by Peter J. DeCrescenzo; 08-13-2012, 01:41 PM.
        www.peterdv.com
        Blog: http://HereForTheWeather.wordpress.com

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Peter J. DeCrescenzo View Post
          Hi Tom P.: I've always thought this classic article contains some great nuggets of wisdom:
          http://magazine.creativecow.net/arti...e-market-types

          There is a lot of truth in that article, although it is a bit cynical :-p


          I get a lot of referrals and work via third parties, so although often my pay has a cut taken from it, I get to deal direct with someone I know well and trust rather than a new client (and all the problems they can sometimes bring). Being a relatively new person to the freelancing game, it is a sacrifice I am willing to take...for the time being.
          Tom Majerski
          Cinematographer / Photographer / CGI Artist / Filmmaker

          http://www.TetraGrade.com
          http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5157752/

          Comment


          • #6
            I too work with third parties, exclusively if it's a referral. It's important to pay the man bringing the work in, so make sure you pay that cut.

            As far as everything else, learn to listen to the client and find out what their needs are. If you can satisfy those needs, and you believe in the work, make a bid and see if you can earn their business.

            Someone said this, but find the kind of work you want to do. Don't be afraid to turn down headaches or projects not going your way. You'll thank yourself and me later.
            Facebook - Angelis Digital Studio

            Comment


            • #7
              Great advice guys, seriously good to read.

              Like I mentioned, I've had it pretty easy until now with jobs coming to me. This will be the start of me getting out there, talking to people and actively trying to win positions. Like two of you mentioned, I assumed it was a big importance to find companies that you share similarities with, so you can connect at a better level and bring something strong to the table.
              Tom Pierrepont - In-house Camera Operator and Editor (UK)
              @Tompierrepont
              www.tompierrepont.com

              Comment


              • #8
                I'm almost in the same boat as you Cornelius. I'm glad you asked these questions. I have a few clients lined up, and am finishing my first official commercial under my new company today I'm learning hurtfully fast. I have no mentor so I'm figuring this out as I go.

                One issue I struggled with was the first meeting, talking about the budget, goals, etc. Some of the people I've met recently are not clear at all on anything. So I found this little gem on another forum, and can't wait to use it. It's an initial meeting agenda that is ment to be sent out before the meeting, and covers everything that will be talked about upon first meet. It warms up the client, and allows them to come to the meeting prepared, and as you go through the list, you can hit the budget section without awkwardness (my favorite part ~sarcasm~).

                Here's a copy and pasted unfinished version:
                Initial Meeting Agenda
                Project Title
                Initial Meeting Agenda – Date

                Objective
                How will the project be used. It may have multiple usage but fewer is better and must be prioritized. Different means of distribution will have drastic impact on duration of the video and number of key messages that can be reasonably included. See deliverables.

                Key Messages
                In order to fulfill the objective, what are:
                • Points that need to be highlighted
                • People that need to be interviewed
                • Footage that need to be obtained (both new and archival)

                Personnel
                Mailing address, email address, phone and fax number of point person representing client. Person/Organization documents should be billed and addressed to.

                Roles & Scope of work
                Client act as Executive Producer/co-producer responsible for funding and assume ownership, copyright, and legal responsibilities. Clients need to be able to make decision and sign off on previews in a timely manner.
                Contractor act as line producers/co-producer, director of photographer, and editor.
                To a lesser extent, contractor can generate motion graphics, graphic designs, and mix sound/music.

                Timeline
                Start date and end date.

                Budget and Payment
                Tell me your budget range and I will tell you what we can do or tell me what you want and I’ll give you a budget range.
                Anticipated Expenses (travel, special equipment, and other expenses unique to this project). We will also discus terms for payment.

                Type of production:
                Television Spots: 15/30/45/60 seconds
                Organization/Program profile: 3-5 minutes
                Short Films: under 12 minutes
                Half Hour Program: 27 minutes
                Full Hour Program: 56 minutes
                Feature Films: over 60 minutes

                Deliverables
                Means of distribution: Online streaming, broadcast, theater, etc.
                Means of archival: Cloud Storage, discs, HDD, SSD, etc.
                Delivery Specs: Resolution (1920x1080, 1280x720, etc.) , codecs, frame rate, broadcast safety, etc.

                Variables
                Any anticipated changes that need to be considered for the project.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by RyGuy View Post
                  I'm almost in the same boat as you Cornelius. I'm glad you asked these questions. I have a few clients lined up, and am finishing my first official commercial under my new company today I'm learning hurtfully fast. I have no mentor so I'm figuring this out as I go.

                  One issue I struggled with was the first meeting, talking about the budget, goals, etc. Some of the people I've met recently are not clear at all on anything. So I found this little gem on another forum, and can't wait to use it. It's an initial meeting agenda that is ment to be sent out before the meeting, and covers everything that will be talked about upon first meet. It warms up the client, and allows them to come to the meeting prepared, and as you go through the list, you can hit the budget section without awkwardness (my favorite part ~sarcasm~).

                  Here's a copy and pasted unfinished version:
                  Nice! Thanks RY, I'm going to seriously get this printed. Also nice to hear someone else who's in the same seat.
                  Tom Pierrepont - In-house Camera Operator and Editor (UK)
                  @Tompierrepont
                  www.tompierrepont.com

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Something else to consider: know your numbers.

                    What's your overhead? How much money must you earn per month to stay afloat, and how much have you collected already?
                    What are your hard costs? What does it cost you to shoot an 8-hour day? Don't forget to include the cost of your equipment and insurance.

                    Once you know your overhead and hard costs, you should always quote at least double as a retail price. That way, they can negotiate you down without killing your enterprise.

                    Also, consider setting your prices to account for how much you expect to work. If your overhead is $1X per day, but you only work 10 days out of the month, then you better incorporate $3X into your bid, or you'll be losing money on the job.

                    Finally, get rate cards from your larger competitors. See what they charge, and then reverse engineer their rate using your overhead and hard costs. You might find that you've set up a business that can't be sustained. It's always better to discover that by working out the numbers than by going bankrupt.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The agenda is a good start. Some suggestions to consider:

                      Make a Work Order. This is a computer printed form with company letterhead that outlines your policies, and leaves blanks for the job specifications, deadlines, deliverables, etc. Most importantly, it sets down clearly in print what your terms are for payment, and the steps you'll take to collect payment if they fail to pay on time.

                      Printed forms are powerful psychological tools. Many people will automatically accept terms that are printed on a form, simply because it's a form. Want to make sure they pay on time? Put "Agreed" and a blank for their initials next to the terms of payment, and another one by the collection terms. Explain to them what each paragraph means, and get them to initial them, just like when they sign for a car loan.

                      Get A Commencement Payment. In many freelance creative jobs, it's common practice to be paid a fractional advance at the start of work. This isn't viewed as an advance, but rather a payment to commence work. It's a way of balancing the risk between parties who don't know each other well enough to extend credit. Instead of one party assuming all the risk, each party shares the risk. The client risks a fraction of the payment, and you risk that the client won't pay you the balance. It's common to look at the big process breaks in a job, and link them to payment steps. Often it'll be four big steps, broken down 30% 30% 20% 20%. Like Commencement/First Assembly/Fine Cut/Delivery.

                      Include A Kill Fee. A Kill Fee is a penalty the client agrees to pay you if they cancel the job after hiring you. The purpose is to disincentivize them to cancel the job, and to compensate you for the opportunity cost of accepting a job that won't pay off as promised. Typically, the kill fee is the same amount as the commencement payment, and it's common for the client to be obligated for the full amount of the job if they cancel after the commencement period is over.

                      Include A Liability Waiver. A liability waiver is legal language that says they won't hold you responsible for screwing things up. So if you make fools of them and lose them a big account, they give up the right to hold you accountable.


                      Include A Litigation Waiver. A litigation waiver is legal language that forfeits their right to sue you in court, and substitutes Binding Arbitration for dispute resolution. Binding Arbitration is a process where a single person (usually a retired judge) listens to both sides of the complaint, then renders a decision that is final. Generally, Binding Arbitration is much better for the person being sued than a court trial.

                      Most importantly...

                      Pay For A Lawyer. Even though you can download these kinds of documents from the Internet, and copy language that approximates what you need, hire a lawyer to look it over anyway. It's the cheapest insurance you'll ever buy. The lawyer will make sure your Work Order is air-tight and you can rely on it to protect you.
                      Last edited by popcornflix; 08-13-2012, 09:25 PM. Reason: spellcheck

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Oh yah, I hired an accountant. They can set up your LLC or S-corp or whatever they suggest. I have an LLC because I partnered with my brother and my accountant said it was best for my kind of practice/tax reasons. My accountants also told be to put aside 35% of each bill for taxes. Your accountant, if you get one, should give you an estimate on this... don't take my word on it.

                        Welcome to the world of small businesses, where you have to know and do everything. I consider that when I give estimates on my projects now. I can make your video and suffer your ignorance, or get paid at a nice 9-5 job with most of my taxes and benefits taken care of.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          tons of good advice here. the most valuable lessons i've learned in the past five years are:

                          1. do great work and don't be a dick about it. - most of my business is word of mouth and i know that the demise of my business could happen quickly, the same way.
                          2. don't compete with the cheap guys and don't be the cheap guy. - do good work and command respectable compensation.
                          3. the more oars in the water, the easier it is to keep moving. - for me, this is the biggest one. i am a dp, cam op, editor, dit, colorist, vfx artist, motion graphic artist, production company. when the shooting slows down, the post picks up, and vice versa. when i'm on set, i have the perfect opportunity to sell my post services. and when i'm in the studio explaining exactly why a client's footage is messed up, it's a great time to sell myself as their next dp.
                          4. don't chase a dangling carrot and don't dangle your own carrot. - take each gig for what it is. don't sacrifice your time for the possibility of something coming out of it (in most cases). See video below for an example of what i mean.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by RyGuy View Post
                            Welcome to the world of small businesses, where you have to know and do everything.
                            More great advice from everyone, thanks again. Can't wait to get home and go through them all properly.
                            Tom Pierrepont - In-house Camera Operator and Editor (UK)
                            @Tompierrepont
                            www.tompierrepont.com

                            Comment

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