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1st Time Freelancing: Tips and Advices?


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#1 Jason Vong

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 07:36 PM

Hello there,

I have been lurking around the forums for quite some time now and picked up a lot of helpful information. So I want to thank you all for that!

Let me get right to the point. A few friends and I (college students) would like to do a little freelance work around our area at no charge. We are doing this for experience because we are still relatively new in this area and want to network as much as possible. We were wondering if anyone could offer some tips and advices on freelancing.

In addition to that, since we are offering our service at no charge, would it be wise to draw up a contract anyway? We don't have much knowledge on any of the legal issues so we don't know how much we have to cover on the contract to keep us safe. Any guidance on this would be great.

Also, let me attach the ad we are going to post on Craigslist:

Hello there!

We are ~5 college students who are looking for something to film. It could be a short film you have in mind, a public service announcement, or even a music video! We will be glad to assist you in any way FREE OF CHARGE. Yes, as young upcoming filmmakers, we understand it's a big risk paying amateurs to do filming for you. That's why we want to work at no charge so that you could be at ease in case anything doesn't work out. Also, by working for free, we can build up a great portfolio as well as a name for ourselves. We believe the most important thing right now is networking and the big bucks will come in later. We will be working closely with you and guarantee 110% effort. Since we are not charging anything, we only ask that you keep us well-fed if the filming takes more than 3 hours. Nothing too expensive—pizzas or $1 Menu McDonald's will do just fine.

As of right now, we are still in school. During the month of May until mid-June, we will be collecting potential clients. This way, once summer starts for us, we can begin working with you immediately.

Below you will find the equipment we own as well as some of the films we have made so you can see where we are in terms of skill level.

Equipment:

Editing Softwarse:

- Adobe Premiere Pro (1.5/2) <-- handles SD work
- Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 <-- handles HD work

Cameras:

- Panasonic PV-GS500
- Panasonic PV-GS15
- Canon Vixia HF100 High Definition Camcorder

Sound Department:
- Rode Videomic
- Apex 175 Shotgun Condenser Microphone
- Olympus WS-110M Digital Voice Recorder

Tripods:
-Targus 58”
-Targus 71”
-Manfrotto
-Quantaray QSX MiniPro Plus Mini Tripod

Homemade additions:
-Expandable boom pole
-Three-point lighting kit
-Wagon

Films (we are still going to add more to this list:
- Once in a Lifetime: http://www.frugo.org...a-lifetime.html
- Turf War (Sample of our HD Film)


If you find any use for us, feel free to drop an e-mail, and if possible, we will reply as soon as we can.


Thanks in advance!

- Jason
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 05:48 AM

Draw up deal memos anyway specifying the reimbursements you'll get (e.g. gas food) and when you will get paid (e.g. on deferment which basically means not getting paid!).
Try NOT to work for free, if you can, it undermines other professional's pay too, sadly, and c'mon, even if you're just standing there doing a street-lock up as a PA, your time IS worth something, so ask for SOMETHING; even if that something is as low as $100 a day, or if you want to do minimum wage, $75 a day (for PA it's like 72.50, but round up).
I have done shoots for a 6-pack before..... but that's for friends, like when you paint a friend's apartment or help them move out, just you're making a film instead.
If you are bringing out kit, you should get paid for it, and your contract should specify insurance coverage and responsibility.
If you'd like, on my website, I have a draft "rental agreement form" which specifies the rules for my equipment, listed here:
http://www.adriansierkowski.com/ra.pdf

Good luck!
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 11:36 AM

My advice would start with telling you not to give your services away. If you want to pursue filmmaking as a hobby, fine. If you want to pursue it as work and to provide a service, treat it as work. Get paid, be professional. If you provide that service for free, it undercuts working professionals who have families and bills to pay. As one of those people, the idea of giving it away piss me off, frankly.

Edited by Chris Keth, 14 May 2009 - 11:37 AM.

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#4 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 11:55 AM

Working for free opens up doors and opportunities to work on more films for free.
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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 12:14 PM

It can also open doors to paid gigs.
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#6 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:00 PM

It can also open doors to paid gigs.


It's possible, but people get to know you as the guy that works for free. I often found when I got the chance to work for a "known" DP for free, it was because his regular guy wouldn't do it. I got to the point where if anybody called me to work for free, I'd look around the house and see what I needed. I'd then ask the producer or production manager if they had a TV or a couch. Then I'd say, I could do it for that. I never got the TV or the couch or the free day. It never hurt my career either. :lol:
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#7 David Rakoczy

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:20 PM

It's possible, but people get to know you as the guy that works for free.


Only if you continue to do so... a couple times here and there can do wonders for someone starting out.. it did for me!
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#8 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:21 PM

The ideal way to do this is: work for free THE FIRST TIME ONLY. It's the best of both worlds: one puts a foot in the door (making connections, showing what one can accomplish in a professional environment, etc) while starting off on a career path.

Unless this is just a hobby for you, as Adrian and others said, you deserve to get paid for your work and by working for free (or inordinately cheap) you undercut other working (generally more experienced) professionals. The latter is a double edge sword: while some newcomers have managed to underbid more experienced hands, at some point or another the (not so bright) producers realize that they get what they pay for, for better or worse. This ultimately can lead to the newcomer to lose out after initial gains when said person bites more than he or she is able to chew. This happens more often than not.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 14 May 2009 - 03:22 PM.

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#9 Jason Vong

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:37 PM

Thank you for those who responded!

I don't plan to keep working free forever. What I'm really aiming for are networking and connections. This summer will be for starters. Then after summer, once I get comfortable and gain some experience, I will begin to charge for my services.

I understand that by working for free, I'm taking work away from real professionals. I dont want that to happen. I'm just looking to do small productions, for people who can't really afford professionals now, especially with the economy being like this. I specify that we are new at this so it will be at their own risk if they hire us.

And we won't be technically working for free since we are asking to be fed.

But overall, some of you are highly suggesting that we shouldn't say we are working for free? We should atleast put down we will work on a deferred payment plan?

- Jason
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#10 Chris Keth

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 04:20 PM

Thank you for those who responded!

I don't plan to keep working free forever. What I'm really aiming for are networking and connections. This summer will be for starters. Then after summer, once I get comfortable and gain some experience, I will begin to charge for my services.

I understand that by working for free, I'm taking work away from real professionals. I dont want that to happen. I'm just looking to do small productions, for people who can't really afford professionals now, especially with the economy being like this. I specify that we are new at this so it will be at their own risk if they hire us.

And we won't be technically working for free since we are asking to be fed.

But overall, some of you are highly suggesting that we shouldn't say we are working for free? We should atleast put down we will work on a deferred payment plan?

- Jason


Personally, I think the least you should charge is minimum wage for all the workers and actual cost of equipment rental, transportation, tapestock, etc. Figure that out per day and call that your "introductory" pricing for the first job for a given client only. If you do that, it will come out to significantly less than a professional company doing it so it should meet the criteria of getting you work, as well as paying you guys fairly for your time. If there's something you really want to do that can't pay that much, then you can start talking to them about a deal.
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#11 Michele Peterson

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 07:28 PM

First off, Never give gear for free. Yo are paying to work. The money you spent in gear, you are giving away to someone else. Not only do they get free labor, but free gear, come on now, don't set the stardard too low, or you'll only ruin the industry for yourself int he future. If you have gear, go make your own stuff. Do no undercut professional who you are going to want to hire you next month.

I realize that many people are desperate to do any work, even free work in film and all of us have done it once, but I'll warn you that I have never gotten a well paid job from someone I worked for free with. There are producers out there that are decent human beings and will pay you for your manual labor hauling stuff around while you learn the rest and then there are those that take advantage of you and want you to do it for free. Those cheap producers will never want to pay you down the road once they get it for free. They tend to not see that YOU did them a favor by working cheap on their little spec project and that THEY owe you back on the next bigger budget, instead, my experience is that they question why your rate went up.
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#12 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 07:36 PM

If you are bringing out kit, you should get paid for it, and your contract should specify insurance coverage and responsibility.
If you'd like, on my website, I have a draft "rental agreement form" which specifies the rules for my equipment, listed here:
http://www.adriansierkowski.com/ra.pdf

Nice, simple and to the point. Mind if I use it as well if need be?
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#13 Jake Iesu

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 03:13 AM

I am going to have to disagree with people here. Coming from the southern hemisphere though I can only comment from my experiences in this industry, things in the North may be quite different.
In Australia, You are kidding yourself if you expect a focus puller will hire you with no experience knowing the job is paid.Well maybe it does occur occasionally but it is certainly uncommon and mostly as a last resort. Especially considering the lack of work floating around at the moment and the amount of full time, already established loaders and 2nd's looking for work. The exception to the rule is of course Short films, shorts in Aus usually have minuscule budgets and rarely do crew get paid, ask around if there is any short films that you could jump on board. They tend to be a proving ground for new assistants, Think of it as introducing yourself to DP's and Focus pullers professionally or in some senses a job interview. If you are professional and committed to the job at hand you will get noticed.

Having said this though, if you are offered work on a job that you know is paid (for the other crew) don't do the gig for free,
or for lower rates. Or at least if you do, don't do it more then once or twice, you will quickly move onto your peers poop list and into the "Cheap Guy"
pile, not a place anyone wants to be.

But certainly never give the gear out for free, that is like asking to be exploited.

Hope that helps.
Jake

Edited by Jake Iesu, 25 May 2009 - 03:16 AM.

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#14 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 09:20 AM

Jim, sorry for the late reply (must've missed this as an active topic) please feel free to use that as a template as you like.
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#15 dean s moriff

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 01:28 AM

I would think you are on dodgy ground changing the terms of a signed agreement. I would take any existing booking cancellations on the chin and put it down to experience with the knowledge that your new T&Cs will cover you for future bookings.
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#16 David Rakoczy

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 08:01 AM

'Glory'

Kindly go to My Controls and change your screen name to your real name per this forum's rules... ;)
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#17 Frank Barrera

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 10:54 PM

i dont understand how an inexperienced novice taking a free job would undercut professionals. i dont see how any production that is willing to hire someone from the above ad could also be a production that was just about to hire a seasoned professional but then saw the ad in Craigs list and then suddenly decided to save some money instead by hiring some college students for free.

if these students get hired to do anything its probably going to be a job run by some recent college graduates who cant afford to pay normal rates.

it seems sort of apples and oranges.

i dont even see a small local car dealership hiring them for a commercial. it just doesnt make sense.
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#18 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 11:59 PM

I agree with Frank. Looking at it from a client's perspective, if a company/business needs a serious project completed, that Craig's List ad as written above isn't about to attract them. Time is valuable. Even if the "filmmakers" are free, other resources that are needed in front of the camera won't necessarily be. So to hope that these "kids" will get usable shots and edit the results in a quality way is a lot to ask.

The fact tends to be that water finds it's own level, meaning that inexperienced people won't be working on any project that demands experienced and qualified people. In other words, the ad will do the sifting for them and no working professionals will find themselves out of a paying job just because these aspiring filmmakers are offering their services free of charge.


Now, having said that, my advice to those gentlemen is to pull that ad if they want to really work on anything worthwhile. For starters, listing the equipment you own won't impress anyone. Most businesses won't know what most of that is anyway. If someone DOES know what all those names and numbers mean, it also means that they know that you're too inexperienced to trust with their project.

When you enter into any project, what IS important is what the purpose of it is... and that purpose will drive the equipment requirements. By listing the gear you do have will limit your client base to only clients with projects that will use that gear. What you want as a freelancer is to be flexible enough to work on ANY project, regardless of the gear you may or may not own. For instance, if all you have is a Super 8mm camera and all you're willing to work on are projects that need a Super 8mm camera, then you automatically knock yourself out of the running for any other kinds of projects. I could just as easily buy a van full of plumbing supplies and tell people that "Hey, I have a truck full of pipes and tools... I have no idea how to use any of it, but let me practice on your house. If it doesn't work out, then oh well. If it does, I still won't charge you." Do you think anyone in their right mind is going to let me into their home based on that pitch?

So, you first have to determine exactly what kind of projects you and your friends really want to work on regardless of any equipment you own. Don't let the gear drive your choices... let the projects you want to make drive the equipment choices. Once you hone in on whatever it is you want to create (music videos? Commercials? Narrative movies? Marketing interviews? Corporate videos? How-to's? etc...), approach clients as a "vendor" would, selling your "company" as a one-stop shop that will produce, shoot, and edit their project. If you and your friends don't know EVERYTHING you need to know in terms of skills, technical, and logistical requirements, you're not ready to put yourself out there as a Freelancer yet. What you SHOULD do instead is find a way to get on other people's projects to observe and learn. You and the friends can (and should) go out and produce your own projects using the lessons you learn from others, but until you really know what you're doing on a professional level, you shouldn't even consider putting yourselves out there. Of course at that point, you should have the skills and confidence such that you won't have to or want to give your services away for free. Ideally, you work for free on someone else's project in order to learn. But you don't helm anything for no money unless you A) know what you're doing and B) will be able to make some kind of money or large career move after investing your time and money into it.
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#19 Jason Vong

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Posted 02 July 2009 - 12:13 AM

I agree with Frank. Looking at it from a client's perspective, if a company/business needs a serious project completed, that Craig's List ad as written above isn't about to attract them. Time is valuable. Even if the "filmmakers" are free, other resources that are needed in front of the camera won't necessarily be. So to hope that these "kids" will get usable shots and edit the results in a quality way is a lot to ask.

The fact tends to be that water finds it's own level, meaning that inexperienced people won't be working on any project that demands experienced and qualified people. In other words, the ad will do the sifting for them and no working professionals will find themselves out of a paying job just because these aspiring filmmakers are offering their services free of charge.


Now, having said that, my advice to those gentlemen is to pull that ad if they want to really work on anything worthwhile. For starters, listing the equipment you own won't impress anyone. Most businesses won't know what most of that is anyway. If someone DOES know what all those names and numbers mean, it also means that they know that you're too inexperienced to trust with their project.

When you enter into any project, what IS important is what the purpose of it is... and that purpose will drive the equipment requirements. By listing the gear you do have will limit your client base to only clients with projects that will use that gear. What you want as a freelancer is to be flexible enough to work on ANY project, regardless of the gear you may or may not own. For instance, if all you have is a Super 8mm camera and all you're willing to work on are projects that need a Super 8mm camera, then you automatically knock yourself out of the running for any other kinds of projects. I could just as easily buy a van full of plumbing supplies and tell people that "Hey, I have a truck full of pipes and tools... I have no idea how to use any of it, but let me practice on your house. If it doesn't work out, then oh well. If it does, I still won't charge you." Do you think anyone in their right mind is going to let me into their home based on that pitch?

So, you first have to determine exactly what kind of projects you and your friends really want to work on regardless of any equipment you own. Don't let the gear drive your choices... let the projects you want to make drive the equipment choices. Once you hone in on whatever it is you want to create (music videos? Commercials? Narrative movies? Marketing interviews? Corporate videos? How-to's? etc...), approach clients as a "vendor" would, selling your "company" as a one-stop shop that will produce, shoot, and edit their project. If you and your friends don't know EVERYTHING you need to know in terms of skills, technical, and logistical requirements, you're not ready to put yourself out there as a Freelancer yet. What you SHOULD do instead is find a way to get on other people's projects to observe and learn. You and the friends can (and should) go out and produce your own projects using the lessons you learn from others, but until you really know what you're doing on a professional level, you shouldn't even consider putting yourselves out there. Of course at that point, you should have the skills and confidence such that you won't have to or want to give your services away for free. Ideally, you work for free on someone else's project in order to learn. But you don't helm anything for no money unless you A) know what you're doing and B) will be able to make some kind of money or large career move after investing your time and money into it.


Brian,

thank you for the reply and laying it out there for me. You're right about us trying to go find something ourselves and improve our skills from there before actually running a business with hardly any experience. We will hold off on our freelancing business for now and focus on looking for projects that we can be of help in any way.

Also thank you, everyone for your replies. I will keep these tips in mind.

- Jason
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#20 Jason Hinkle (RIP)

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Posted 02 July 2009 - 09:24 PM

I think you guys show great motivation and it's admirable that you want to go out and get your foot in the door. If you're serious about starting a business one of the big parts of that is packaging your services together into a "product" that, yes, has a price tag. For example "Commercial Package A = $$$". You would gain tremendous business experience by doing this and then trying to go out and sell packages.

I think it is perfectly legit to give away a few free jobs to get things started. Businesses do this all the time, it's simply a form of advertising. The reason this strategy doesn't turn into paying work for most individuals is because we don't go into the job with a plan on how we'll convert it into paying work. Speaking for myself my plan was only that I imagined somebody would just see and appreciate the quality of my work and tell all their friends to hire me! Unfortunately it only works like that if you do some advance business planning. Otherwise you wind up giving away free labor and gaining nothing, which is probably what your ad is setting you guys up to do.

From my experience running a small business for 7 years, you have to treat every job as if it was a paying customer even if they are not paying you this time. That includes a contract where you indicate what the terms of the work is, and you write in a credit under that showing the deduction you gave. You should even send them an invoice at the end marked "paid" - this sets a very clear tone that you normally expect to get paid for your work. It establishes your rates, your professionalism and this is what you need to do if you want the next job to be a paying one.

On the other hand, if you're just looking to shoot for fun - heck just go find some actors, theater groups etc and stick with shooting fun projects. Or do your own commercials for a local business that you like. There's plenty of stuff to shoot - you don't need to find some cheapskate on craigslist!

Best of luck to you!
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Gamma Ray Digital Inc

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