If you were an astronaut sitting atop a rocket, upon launch you’d be put through a whirlwind of 2.8 million pounds of force. This would help separate you from the Earth’s gravitational pull and travel from the ground into the upper strata of the atmosphere.
As a freelance filmmaker, you want to be the astronaut, but are stuck in the crowd watching the launches on TV, hoping one day to pull yourself from the gravitational field of inexperience and into the upper strata of the professional world.
To boost yourself into this realm involves, in part, establishing your professional credibility.
But how do you prove to those cutting the checks you’re skilled and worth the money? It’s tough, but with these five steps, you can start the countdown to blastoff.
1. Maintain Your Online Presence
When you work as a freelancer, your name is your brand, your company and your reputation. Part of that identity is your online persona — whether you want it to be or not.
In the past, I’ve gotten flack for advising people to have an online presence whether with their own website or IMDB and I stand by that. Though it doesn’t matter once you have experience, every extra effort when you’re first starting out is worth the time.
Get a Website
The best way to combat a bad online presence or the lack of one is to control it yourself by building a website.
When I got my first paycheck from a film gig, I invested the money straight into a domain name and some web hosting. When all was said and done it cost me about $120 to have my own website for a year. I built the site myself, but nowadays there are plenty of free and paid opportunities to have a website template added on for you (it’s called astro-turfing).
You may think $120 is a lot of money for a website, but the exposure it provides to new people as well as those seeking you out will pay itself off even if you only ever get one job as a result.
Remember this is your professional identity so consider it an investment rather than an expense.
If you decide to get a website, it is integral you have a self-hosted domain (i.e. evanluzi.com as opposed to something like evanluzi.tumblr.com) because it proves you take your job seriously enough to invest money into it.
For cheap web hosting I suggest BlueHost as they have treated me well with my personal site and this one as well. I also know many others who have had positive experiences with them. For cheap designs, I suggest building your site around the WordPress platform with one of thousands of free themes.
Lastly, be realistic. Don’t bill yourself as “the greatest cameraman ever,” or list yourself as a director unless you actually direct.
Of course, who you are isn’t necessarily who people will perceive you to be. Googling your own name is the best way to find out what others are reading about you when they do the same.
If pictures of you in college are popping up, request to have them taken down. If that old YouTube account pops up with student films you’re embarassed about, consider deleting the account or removing your name from it.
The whole point is that you need to research what others will find out about you through the internet by using the same methods they will.
Exercise Privacy Options
When you Google your name, some questionable material may rise to the surface. But there’s a secret — a lot of this stuff can be controlled by you.
Not many of us are well-known enough to be written about by others on the internet, so most of the websites that rank in Google with names are controlled by an account from social media sites or other membership communities.
If you like Facebook to be personal, make the privacy settings reflect this. Same with Twitter and other social networks. It’s best to go all in or all out — either be professional and open everything or keep it personal and closed.
2. Clean Up Contact Methods
Once you have an established online presence, a producer may visit your website and decide that they want to give you a call or send you an email to check your availability.
At this point, you have someone’s trust and it’s yours to lose.
When someone wants to get in contact with you, they should have the feeling they are contacting somebody who knows what they are doing — like they would a business. After all, the hiring process, though relaxed at times for freelancers, is ultimately a business meeting.
Use a Professional E-Mail Address
You can’t get more professional than your name, so use it for your email address.
That Hotmail account you set up in high school under the guise of “TankMasterD00d82” probably isn’t going to impress anybody, even if you are a “tank master.”
If your name is taken, use a variation on it. In fact, if you create a website like I mentioned above, you can create an email off your domain to come across even MORE professional: John@johnpowers.com or firstname.lastname@example.org are both simple and authoritative.
It might be worth it to have an email dedicated solely to film jobs and then route it to a common inbox. Gmail is very good at handling things like this.
Record a Simple Voicemail Message
Ringback tones, joke rings, voicemail messages where you pretend the phone isn’t connecting — some of these are great social expressions of who you are, but all of them will annoy a person who just wants to leave a message.
A simple voicemail message works best:
Hi, you’ve reached (your name). Please leave a message with your name and phone number and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Most of the time people are listening for two things in a voicemail message: 1) if your name matches the person they meant to call and 2) the beep to let them know they can start talking.
Don’t overcomplicate things.
3. Make Some Business Cards
A lot of people are afraid to have business cards because it seems too official and so lame. I used to be in this group of people that got embarrassed to hand out business cards.
I no longer think that way.
Many times on the last day of a shoot, business cards are exchanged like gifts at Christmas time. Giving your business card to somebody is nothing more than giving them a memorable way to contact you.
So get rid of the salesman mentality and just realize someone having a card is more likely to remember your phone number than someone you gave a ripped up piece of paper with a number jotted down on it.
Designing Your Business Cards
Designing a business card is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. If you are talented with Photoshop, Illustrator or another design program, then let your imagination run wild.
If you have no design experience, there are plenty of templates online. It doesn’t have to be spectacular (though the better the design, the more impressive it looks and, subsequently, you will feel better handing them out), but if you want to hand it over to more skilled hands, try a website like Fiverr.com.
The important thing is to have all your essential contact information on your card and probably more than you give away on your website. As an example, I have a website that only gives an email address, but my business card contains my phone number.
Getting Business Cards Printed
You can try the whole print-at-home products you find at Target or Best Buy, but they are not dependable and the cut on the edge of them from perforations isn’t clean.
Depending on how many you are getting printed, you can investigate local print shops or chains like Kinkos. There is also a website called ClubFlyers.com I have had recommended to me. They offer 1000 cards for only $15 which is a very affordable price.
4. Join Professional Groups and Services
It’s the best advice you never want to hear: “Networking is the key to success.”
Sorry, but it’s true.
You can spend all the time in the world trying to work around it, trying to ignore it, and trying to prove it wrong, but you’ll eventually find yourself falling back into its trap.
So, you can either waste time and end up back where you started, or you can skip all that nonsense and get down to it. Either way, you need to meet people and you need to make yourself available as a professional to be considered one.
Networking isn’t always active, it can be passive as well, such as having yourself listed in crew directories or on websites that gather crew.
Local or Regional Listings
Many cities, states, or regional governments have film offices designed to mediate between filmmakers who want to shoot in within the jurisdiction and the people, businesses, and areas where they would be shooting.
These are the most effective types of crew directories.
I am from Virginia where the Virginia Film Office keeps a production directory where you can list yourself in many crew positions. If you were to look me up, I am currently listed under 1st Assistant Camera and 2nd Assistant Camera with a credit list and contact information.
These directories do not guarantee you will get work from them, but for the small time investment, you can’t turn them down.
Besides, it can strengthen a word of mouth recommendation if a person sees you’re listed in the directory as well. It lets them know you take yourself seriously enough to seek out professional services and get your name in them.
Online directories are the easiest step you can take right now with little to no cost. Many of the most popular crew call websites are free to have a listing (though you pay extra for additional features).
Here are a few:
If you spend an hour right now, you could set up a profile on each of these and though it may never lead to any jobs at all, if it leads to one job — and subsequent jobs from that — it could be worth the small time investment.
Filmmaking Alliances and Unions
Unions are bar none the easiest place to network and find solid work (duh). Unfortunately, it’s a Catch-22: to get in the union you have to work so many days, but to get work, it helps to be in the union.
So what can you turn to?
There are many alliances or unofficial groups created solely for the purpose of networking.
In my home state, there is the Virginia Production Alliance and in your area there may be something similar. No matter how small it is, it only takes one person worth meeting in that group to make your time worthwhile.
And one way to network and perceive yourself as a professional is to hang around with other pros.
5. Walk the Walk (Prove Yourself)
All of the steps above will mean nothing if you don’t adhere to this one:
You need to embody the professional demeanor to be perceived as a professional.
No business card, website, or social media presence will give you claim to that title unless you earn it. These days, people don’t care what you say you are or what you want to do, they want to know if you can do it.
So pick up your bag of tools and get to work on it. Do everything in your power to get work, do everything in your power to act like a pro, and do everything in your power to gain experience.
Don’t goof off on set, don’t ever get lazy, and never think that “I don’t know” or “I can’t do it” are acceptable excuses. Professionals won’t settle for that and, if that’s what you want to be, you can’t settle for it either.
Set impossible standards and reach for them. Ask the crew you work for at the end of each day, “Is there anything you wish I did better today?” and let them be honest. Listen to their critiques and give it a fair shot.
Professionals not only talk the talk, but walk the walk and are always trying to run. They want to be better than everyone else even if they know they can’t be in certain areas. They feed on the fuel of set work and power through the days you think you just won’t make it.
Being a professional isn’t just a title or an appearance, it’s an attitude and a work ethic.