First Steps: 9 tips for Media Freelancers

Occasionally I lecture at Reading College and supervise students’ shoots. I am happy that their technical quality is getting better by the year. Be it because of DSLR cameras that a lot of students buy or because of greater accessibility to online tips and resources: I don’t know.

However, frequently asked questions don’t differ from the days when I was a student myself. I hope that by giving some answers to those questions things will be a little bit easier for those who are about to begin their journey in the world of freelancers.

The most important question of course is: “How do I get in?”

How to get the first job when you have no contacts in the industry?

The short answer is: make those contacts yourself, and then they will be truly yours. Direct Clients, Production Houses, Independent producers: in the end of the day, all of those are people and its people that you’ll need to deal with.

Here are the first steps for you to take.

1. Cut your showreel and make a good-looking CV

You have been on shoots and have seen the process. Put it there. But never lie, because people to whom you lied will find out sooner rather than later. And trust me, its going to be sooner then you think. One editor lied to me about his knowledge of Final Cut. It turned out that after me asking a couple of simple questions he didn’t have the answer. It created an unpleasant atmosphere and none of us want that. We all want to work in a good environment.

2. Create your website and establish presence online

It’s easy for me to advise, as I am guilty of not quite being there but relying on personal connections and managing somehow because of that. It will help your employer to know as much about you as possible. I am still working on some of it myself but be sure to have:

  •     Youtube or Vimeo account
  •     Facebook account
  •     Twitter account
  •     Linked in account

But be sure to put there only what is relevant to your career. I wouldn’t put any personal stuff that I wouldn’t want my producer to see. Remember, it’s your living CV in a way and pictures speak louder then office-friendly words!

3. Approach your local production houses

How? Well, first of all find out what those are and who is in charge of hiring freelancers there. A lot of those will be small and medium size businesses where everyone knows everyone. Before you make that phone call look at their websites so you sound competent in the company’s work. Ask whom to send your CV and a link to showreel to. That is very important because if you email it to the usual info@ account it may simply be put in spam and then deleted if you don’t make that first initial contact. Then call them in a couple of days. It’s time to check if they’ve received it and what they think of it. Your polite persistence will be remembered.

4. Use the contacts you never knew you had

Let me give you an example. When I started freelancing, I was quite scared and wasn’t sure as to how on Earth would I get anything anywhere so that I could pay my rent at the end of the month. So I called every number in my contacts list on the mobile and simply asked if my friends (who are not necessarily in media or filmmaking) would know anyone who may need a freelance cameraman or video editor. I was lucky. (You could probably be too: you never know until you pick up the phone) My friend’s brother needed some work doing very urgently and he didn’t know anyone in the area who could deliver. I made sure that I was in the area and did deliver for him. Repeat business followed. More work came my way.

You may think that your friends or relatives don’t have contacts. That could be true but they just may know someone who may and that’s when you come in.

5. Follow up

When you made a phone call or did a good job be sure to follow up. I normally ask the new places I ring when would it be ok for me to call them back. 2 weeks? 1month? 6months? It normally it is 2 weeks. Make a note in your diary and call them then. That way if they’ll need someone they just might use you. And be friendly if they tell you that there is nothing available. There may be something if you call in 6 months time. It happened to me. I had a call 6 months after I called the company and they came back.

They remembered me. So it’s not that grim out there for you!

6. Never complain on job

That is worse than you can think. If you agreed on a price, stick to it and deliver. Be professional about it. I got screwed over a couple of times but in most cases when I think that someone is taking liberties they are not. It may certainly sometimes look like that but it isn’t. They just want to have a product that they want. Sticking to that attitude brought me more repeat business and more respect from clients and employers than I could imagine. I did complain on jobs (normally due to exhaustion) and certainly know that looking back I shouldn’t have.

7. What if there is absolutely nothing happening?

Ask to sit in the editor’s office or go to a shoot for free. If it’s local to you and you are in the beginning of your career that is a good beginning. You will meet people in person and learn a lot on the day. Even if that means making tea and coffee all day long. It’s worth it. I know when I edit and if someone will call me and ask if they could sit in and just watch me edit making a cup of coffee occasionally I would probably say yes. You can contact me on mike@firstcutmedia.co.uk if you are a student and when I see your showreel, I will contact you. You will not be paid but you will see how other freelancers with some experience edit.

8. Look smart

Not smart as in look like a you’ve just bought everything off the mannequin in an expensive boutique but reasonable. I feel a little bit strange writing this because I was a rebel at school and wore all the stuff that probably made my good folks cringe (sorry Dad!). If you come to me like that I personally wouldn’t mind but if we are working together in front of a client then it will be a problem. Things like hair dyed in all colors unimaginable, facial piercing, exposed tattoos: all of that is never a problem for me but for the producers and employers you may be a no-goer just because of that. So bare that in mind, that’s all.

9. Be punctual

If you are late on the shoot at the beginning of the career, your career may be at its end. Never be late. Come earlier or on time. When shooting a live event it may be a shoot lost for good and then comes trouble. At that point I don’t even want to think of the professional consequences. And its one thing that you can’t buy but its one of the most valued assets that you have. The others are: honesty, loyalty and politeness.

And finally: don’t be afraid. It’s an exciting world that offers a great learning curve, personal development and loads more.

I hope it’s been helpful!

Until next time,

Mike Bogatyrev.

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About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at filmcareer.wordpress.com

2 comments

  1. Sound advice – the tea-making skills proved highly valuable at the start of my career!

  2. Mike Bogatyrev

    Indeed! My first work experience took place in Newport (Isle of Wight) at the Solent TV station. That week I have made more tea and coffee then I ever did in a year!

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