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Freelance Lessons Learned

10 Aug 2011
Ande Schurr shares his 'lessons learned' from six years of freelancing and asks you to share yours.

Ande Schurr shares his 'lesson learned' from six years of freelancing and asks you to share yours.

Ande works in the film industry but his lessons apply to many freelancers including; specialising and generalising are two opposite, yet valid, pathways and having a mentor is the fastest way forward.

The industry is never quiet. You are.

People often ask me, is the industry busy; is there a lot of work? It is a valid question however it is flawed for this reason: it removes self-responsibility, as if a quiet or busy industry has nothing to do with you. My answer is, don’t listen to anyone who says the industry is quiet. It is never quiet. Only the person who voices such an opinion is having a quiet month. There is always something happening.

Don’t think you're sorted.

Your clients are great friends and allies on the day of shooting but they may forget about you if you don't keep in touch after the shoot. Avoid thinking you are their chosen one. It just takes one new producer at their company to start using their chosen one instead, and all of a sudden you haven’t heard from them in a year or two.

Specialising and generalising are two opposite, yet valid, pathways.

One film school tutor I know believes that being a generalist is the best approach to finding work in the industry. However I chose to specialise right from the start of my career and personally feel that this is the best approach. The bottom line for him is landing as many of his students into jobs as possible. I admire his success rate, which I think is over 80%. It is clearly a winning strategy and really I cannot fault his approach. My only caution is that the industry learns quickly who a person is and is slow to change. If you are seen to always be chopping and changing roles, then they may think you lack commitment and give the job to a specialist instead. That being said, there are many roles within camera, within sound, within production and within editing that can be explored and developed to the benefit of the freelancer.

The industry is big enough.

People judge film schools harshly for producing thousands of graduates each year who have nowhere to go because the industry isn’t big enough. I disagree. The industry is as big as we make it. There are so many opportunities, career pathways and clients who need work done. Only the strongest survive in our industry so it need not be of concern to the freelancer wondering how they will differentiate themselves from others. You will be able to set yourself apart favourably if you give yourself time and follow good advice.

Having a mentor is the fastest way forward.

Is the concept of a ‘self-made’ man or woman feasible? Everyone has someone to whom they owe their career too. Some person who gave them an opportunity that opened up another opportunity. It’s hard to find the right mentor because a good mentor can’t be bothered with someone half–hearted. You have to find an industry professional who you admire. That shouldn’t be too hard. The next step is to find a way to observe them at their work. That may lead onto the next step of working as a trainee for them which in turn may lead onto paid work and becoming that professional’s trusted number two.

The big jobs are rare, so you need to be rare

I observe the top sound people. They’ve won Oscars, worked on the blockbusters and are respected as the authority in their field. At the start of my career I was in a rush to get to the top. Then I realised I needed a huge amount of experience and a complete overhaul of myself so that I could handle the pressure and the responsibility that a shoot demands. That work continues each day. Each shoot helps mould me. Each challenge gives me the chance to be clearer in my communication with colleagues, shaper at my craft and better as a person than I was yesterday. One day I may very well do the big jobs but until then, I’ll keep doing the jobs I get as best I can.

Pay immediately, or come with a plan.

I have had very few people fail to pay me for work I’ve completed. In fact the grand total is three people. Ever. It is a source of bafflement to me. What faster way to ruin your reputation than for a person who fails to keep their word on paying their debts. Why would they do this? Are they unable to pay? Then all they have to do is say that and come with some kind of plan. I have had one client ask me for an extra few months to pay my invoice because his company had gone through some tough times. They paid well before that period of time was over. That is integrity. Because of how I feel about people paying their debts, I try to pay all mine immediately.

Perhaps you are newer to the industry than I am, or perhaps you are more experienced. Either way, I hope you can see where I am coming from with these lessons. No doubt you will have your own which you have learned. I invite you to share those below. I would be very interested to read them.