Photo © 2011 J. Ronald Lee
You really want more work. More than anyone else, you can’t wait to step back on set and wow them with your skills.
And wowed they will be because you know you’re the best at what you do.
You do all the right things: you network, you learn the techniques, and you prove to everyone on set you got what it takes. Couple this with the fact that you’re passionate about what you do and you’re the ideal crew member.
But the phone doesn’t ring. You’re left wondering why producers aren’t tripping over each other offering you gigs.
Well, it may be their fault, but it may also be yours. If you make any of the 5 mistakes below, you could be hurting your chances to land that perfect job.
1. You don’t return phone calls quickly
Sometimes you’re busy, in the shower, or even working when you get a phone call about a job. It’s not imperative for you to answer every phone call instantly, but returning the call in a timely manner is.
I was sitting next to a producer once as he called people to staff his crew for a shoot the next day. If somebody didn’t answer their phone, he went down to the next name on his list.
Even if you’ve been recommended for a job, you’re one of many names on a list. If you don’t get back to whoever called before the next person does, you’re out of luck and out of work.
2. Your day rate is too high
When you first start out in filmmaking, you work for free or whatever they’re willing to pay you. After a few jobs under you’re belt, you get asked what your rate is and you don’t really have an answer. The conundrum then is to come up with some number you think you’re worth, but without going so high you miss out on the opportunity.
To avoid this trap, I always ask what the budget of the film is before giving a rate. If the producer doesn’t respond with what they can realistically pay me, I follow-up with something like this:
In terms of day rate, I realize you are stretching the budget so I want to be fair to you all. My rate is normally $xxx.xx, but I am more than willing to negotiate on that so it fits within your budget and I can be a part of your project.
This quick note does three things:
- It shows I am interested in the project beyond money
- It establishes what I normally make, setting a baseline for negotiation and also letting them know I am professional enough to set a value on my work
- It mentions being fair and negotiating which implies a two-way conversation on the subject
If you’re non-union but charging union rates, that’s not a good start. If you’ve only got two jobs under your belt, but asking for a day rate that’s higher than the Key Grip, you need to come back to earth.
Even if you’ve got 20 years of experience to justify an exceptionally high rate, you may have to lower it to remain competitive within your market.
I’m not saying you have to charge peanuts, but being willing to negotiate on your rate and have it at a reasonable level is crucial.
3. You’re practically invisible online
When I get a job and a crew contact list, one of the first things I do is start checking out the people I’m working with. The easiest way to do this is to Google their name and look them up on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).
Most of the time, I get a sense of the projects they’ve worked on, but every now and then, someone comes up blank and I’m instantly skeptical.
I’m not the only one who does this.
Producers and production coordinators do it too. They want to get an idea of who they’re contacting before they reach out to them.
When a name comes up with zero search results, it doesn’t help your case. If you don’t have any sort of presence online, you may be missing opportunities that are never even extended out to you.
Blogs, portfolio sites, IMDB listings, and profiles on sites like Production Hub can all put a face to a name.
How you want to share your work and to what degree is a personal decision, but at the very least consider a LinkedIn profile and make sure your Twitter and Facebook pages are up to standards.
4. You don’t write cover letters (or you do and they suck)
Why spend so much time crafting the perfect resume only to bomb it by sending it without a cover letter?
Resumes by themselves only tell half the story. A good resume will explain what you do and how much you know, but it won’t say why you do it and who you are.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to connect with a potential contact on a personal level. Most of the time you only need to send a simple note describing who you are, why you want the gig, and why you’d be a good fit.
If you are sending out cover letters, but without the results you’d like, consider re-working it. Here are some great resources that will get you on the right path:
- What Does a Good Cover Letter Look Like? (Ask a Manager)
- How to Write a Cover Letter (Forbes)
- Is Anybody Even Reading Cover Letters? (Evil HR Lady at BNET)
- 5 Easy Tips to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out (Careerealism)
- Cover Letters: Types and Samples (Virginia Tech Career Services)
After a few jobs in a row where I got no response from sending off my resume, I went back and completely rewrote what I had to say. The difference was a drastic increase in the amount of response I got. My change? I stopped writing what I thought people wanted to hear and wrote what I wanted to say.
5. You aren’t willing to be flexible
The beauty of freelancing is your schedule is flexible. The ugly part of freelancing is your schedule is flexible and others know it.
Because of this, you have to be willing to grab jobs as they come, sometimes the night before or even on the same day.
Most jobs won’t be last-minute, but there are several opportunities to fill in the gaps in your work-schedule with short-term gigs with little notice.
I once got a phone call for a job the day before it was supposed to happen and turned it down because I was halfway across the state. (It was a bummer, I heard the paycheck was pretty hefty)
Don’t become too set with plans, especially for unimportant events like drinks for Happy Hour at the bar. It’s OK to turn down a job now and then because you have a personal event, but if you make a habit out of it, you’ll stop getting phone calls completely.
The Good News and the Bad News
The bad news is these mistakes may have already cost you a gig or two. The good news is you can fix them all right now.
These are simple mistakes that are easy to fix with a change in mentality or a bit of work at the computer. This is your career so don’t be lazy and close this article thinking you’ll get to it later.
Put in the time now to correct these mistakes and you’ll be in a position to find yourself on more sets. Just make sure when you get there you aren’t trying to get fired.
Have you made any of these mistakes? What did you do to correct them? Are there any mistakes I missed that could cost you potential work? Let me know in the comments!