How to Make a Living as a Freelancer in the Film Industry

CameramanBy Alek Sabin

Working in the film industry is a wild adventure for any type of creative professional. Did you know that the film industry is also alive and well in the Rocky Mountains? Between beautiful sets that directors from all over the world travel for, and great cost-efficiency, the mountain west is home to a lot of film production.

It’s a wonderful industry for people who enjoy the idea of working at a different place every day and facing new challenges on every project, rather than doing the same routine, over and over again.

However, there are also a lot of challenges that come with working in the film industry. First of all, there’s always 20 other people gunning for your job and waiting for you to fail, and working project-by-project means there’s always uncertainty about when the next job is going to come around. However, working in the film industry can be wildly fulfilling, if you find a way to make it work. Here are some tips on how to make a living as a freelancer in the film industry…

Be a specialist at what you do

Freelancer film

Many people get into the film industry thinking that they’re just going to do everything and are eager to try their hand at anything that someone lets them do. This is a great attitude for when you start out, but eventually you’re going to want to find your discipline. If you really want to make money working in the film industry, then you need to pick something that you’re a specialist at, and stick with it. Have you found that you have a good ear for production audio? Perfect, there’s always a need for good sound engineers. Do you have a good eye for how the physics of light work? Great, a director of photography is usually only as good as their gaffer. Becoming known as a specialist in a certain department is a quick ticket to higher rates and better work.

Look outside of films with your skillset

For certain professionals in the film industry, their skillsets have a market beyond the film industry. This is great, because then you can supplement your income with your skills even if you aren’t continuously on film projects. For example, makeup artists can get jobs both on and off film sets, if they know how to market themselves. Glamor makeup artists are always in demand for weddings, and special FX makeup artists can make a killing around Halloween-time by doing makeup for people with specific costume needs. Think of ways that you can use your talents outside of a film set, and you’ll have a lot more economic security.

Camera crew on set

Stick to your rate

When you reach a certain level that you can charge industry standard rates, don’t work for below those standards. When you do so, you are driving rates down for all professionals in that department, and they’ll all hate you for it. Unless you are helping a friend out on a personal project, stick to your rate.

Get your own equipment

After you’ve found your specialty and have been working in the field for a while, then you’re going to want to take the next step and start to build your own equipment kit that you rent out with your services. This is an investment that can really bring home the bacon. While most audio, lighting, or camera equipment is quite expensive, you can charge hundreds or thousands of dollars a day for a kit rental. However, you also need to make sure that you are taking care of that equipment. On-location outdoor shoots in extreme weather can take a toll on your equipment, on top of making it more dangerous to drive with your equipment. Make sure you take steps to protect your equipment, after you’ve made the investment.

Take advantage of tax deductions

When you work in the film industry, you’re probably going to have a dozen different tax forms to go through at the end of the year. Some shoots that are longer term will take you on as an official employee and have you fill out a W-2, while other shoots will only hire you out as a contract worker, and you’ll either need to file through your personal business or as a 1099 contractor. Either way, make sure that you are taking advantage of the tax deductions for money spent on equipment, using your home as an office, or even traveling out to set.

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