Spouses, best friends, parents — they all have their opinion on your job. Though they want the best for you and for you to be happy, but there are still obstacles in the way of their complete acceptance.
1. You Work Long Hours
The 8-hour work day and 40-hour work week is how most people envision a full-time job. So when they hear of 12 hour days and often 60+ hour weeks, it boggles their mind that someone is able, let alone willing, to work that much time.
Unless you work solely on higher-end commercial or industrial gigs, then one frustration for friends and family is you aren’t home as often as they’d like. When you factor in travel time, it’s not unusual to be gone for 14 hours of the day and spend the rest of the time sleeping (with a quick shower thrown in — maybe).
It’s an unusual schedule for those who have never experienced it, especially when, to you, a 12-hour day can feel faster than 8-hours of sitting in an office.
I remember halfway through Ghosts Don’t Exist my mother remarking she hadn’t seen me for three days because all I did was come home and sleep. I could tell she was frustrated, but there wasn’t much I could do — the days were long, the commute longer, and when I came home, I was simply too exhausted to do anything else but collapse on my bed.
2. You Spend Too Much Time Traveling
When you’re working long hours and on location, it’s the one-two punch to your loved ones. Not only are you working the entire time, but you’re not even close enough to grab a bite to eat with.
And with those long hours, even fitting in a short phone call can be difficult.
Feature films are particularly notorious for pulling you away from your social life. When I was in Las Vegas for a month and a half on a feature, I lost touch with many of my friends simply because I was incredibly busy and so distanced from the social scene in my hometown.
As a result, when I finally came home, a lot of people were disappointed that they hadn’t seen or talked to me in a long time.
3. Your Income is Sporadic
The hardest part of living in the freelance world is living in the freelance world. Simply being alive costs money: bills, food, drinks, medicine, cars… you need cash to take care of those things.
With freelancing, every day, week, and month can be shaky in terms of income. There are some months you make more money than you had hoped for and some where you make barely enough to scrape by.
The income is nowhere near as dependable as many would like.
And if you have friends who want you to spend money to go out, a boyfriend or girlfriend to buy gifts or dinners for, and a family to take care of, they may get frustrated at the fact you’re always operating on a budget.
Your ability to be fiscally flexible is limited by the fact that you never know for sure when you’ll get paid next — and let’s not even get started on working for free.
4. You Get a Lot of Job Leads… But Not as Many Jobs
It’s not unusual, at any one point, to be juggling multiple projects looming on the horizon. But like an amateur juggler at the end of his trick, you don’t always catch the balls as they come down.
I remember talking to my parents one time when they asked what shoots I had coming up. I told them about four projects I was loosely attached to and they were excited for me.
CUT TO: A FEW WEEKS LATER
They asked me again and, well, all of them had been scrapped. Two were delayed for funding issues, one was permanently delayed while the director was in the hospital, and the fourth just sort of fell off the radar.
They were very disappointed, as was I, but my expectations weren’t as high as theirs because of one of the first lessons a camera assistant taught me:
“It’s never guaranteed until you step on set,” he said, “and even then, it’s not really a sure thing.”
It’s hard for friends and family after awhile when they hear you talking about so many projects and don’t see you working on as many. The carousel of the film world is strangely foreign to them.
5. Your Schedule is Always Changing
Part of the draw to working freelance is the flexibility of it all. There’s no overhead for your employment because you determine when, where, and what you will work on.
At least that’s the idea.
But what tends to happen is the flexibility of freelance becomes a burden. Jobs will rise as quick as air bubbles in water and just as soon pop when they get close to surfacing.
Since film jobs are so undependable, your schedule is subject to those last-minute changes. Having a hard schedule where you can build in firm free time is simply an unrealistic expectation — and a frustrating fact for your friends and family.
Have you ever tried to plan an event where everyone RSVP’s with a “maybe?”
You quickly find yourself planning mini-vacations and trips around the holes in your schedule instead of scheduling gigs around the trips you wish to take. You also find yourself missing important dates — anniversaries, birthdays, weddings — because you’re on location or committed to a shoot.
6. Your Job is Easy to Misunderstand
Whenever somebody asks me what I do and I reply with, “I’m a camera assistant,” I always feel the need to follow-up with an explanation.
“Well, I’m in charge of…”
Many of the crew positions on film sets are misunderstood by those outside the industry, except for key ones like director, cameraman, etc.
These misunderstandings create tension with those loved ones who think, because you have “assistant” in your job title or because “grip” sounds too brute-like, that what you do is not important.
They don’t understand a camera assistant is actually a highly valued technical job that demands a specific skillset and millions of people across the world make a decent and fair living off below-the-line crew positions.
These are the same type of people who, though they don’t say it, are thinking you need to get a “real job,” you know, a job that matters. Which brings me to the last point…
7. Your “Reel” Job is Not a “Real” Job
Let’s get it out of the way:
They’re right. Your job is not a real job.
– Your job is not a real job if you define real jobs as one that requires a university-level education.
– Your job is not a real job if you define real jobs as one where you have a micromanaging boss.
– Your job is not a real job if you define real jobs as one where you don a suit, grab a briefcase, and get to the office by 9.
But that doesn’t mean your job isn’t a real job with real responsibilities and commitments. And, in time, can result in real money.
Friends and family struggle because your job doesn’t fit the paradigm they expect it to, but the career landscape is shifting and freelancing is an ever more popular pathway, especially in creative arts.
The reality is, if you haven’t already, you may have to quit a “real” job for your “reel” job or work both at the same time.
It takes a certain level of understanding, however, for friends and family to grasp the concept that your office changes everyday, that your hours aren’t consistent — as well as your paycheck — and that your boss is both a partner and a superior.
In no way is a film job a “real” job, but that’s part of the gig — even if it means some frustration for loved ones.