While some uncertainty can act as useful motivation, it can be a dangerous mentality when you consider it also opens us to pursue any opportunities – even if they’re not good ones.
With an empty calendar, it’s hard to turn down a gig. After all, what else do you have to do, right?
But not every job is worth taking when you consider the opportunity costs.
In my mind, a job has to satisfy one of three areas for me to deem it worthwhile:
- Financial Compensation
- Worthwhile Experience
- Creative Satisfaction
If a job doesn’t satisfy one of those areas, it’s not worth my trouble.
(On the other hand, a gig promising all three is an opportunity that should never be turned down.)
Let’s take a closer look at these so you can consider them the next time you’re on the fence for a job.
Money is the easiest way to justify a gig — we all have bills to pay and we all have our price. While filmmaking is fun and you’re passionate about it, it’s important to remember it is also a job and career so it needs to make you money.
And sometimes accepting a job will actually lose you money, especially when the day rate is low.
Seth Godin, a modern-day marketing Yoda, poignantly talked about this on his blog:
Freelancers are very good at having an innate sense of opportunity cost. They realize, for example, that taking on a friend at a discount might be very expensive if it means that other, better paying work is going to have to be turned down.
Now that just about everyone is in the business of selling their time in some form, it’s important to be aware that even if something doesn’t cost you cash out of your wallet, the opportunity cost is not only real, it’s just as valuable. Not only does it cost money to say ‘no’, it costs money to say ‘yes’.
Even if your calendar is empty and you are struggling to stay afloat financially, accepting a low-paying job may hinder your bank account as you pay for meals, travel, and production expenses.
On the other side of the coin, when you are blessed with the problem of too much work, money has diminishing returns in regards to your time.
What’s your price on time spent with friends, family, your hobbies and exploring the world?
It’s fine if you have no issues ditching relationships or lifestyle pursuits for the hustle of work (and indeed your film career may be more fun than anything else in your life) as long as you understand that you are leaving something on the table — even as you reach out to grab the money on it.
Some jobs — usually freebies — promise experience. But after the tenth or even twentieth job, there are also diminishing returns on what that experience breeds. It’s true you learn something new on every shoot, but the big lessons are few and far between as time goes on.
So when a gig offers nothing more than experience with the Epic, what do you have to gain?
Is the gig for a higher position in your department? Do you get to work with an A-List actor? Are you repaying a favor for a friend? Or sparking up a fresh favor for them?
If there is no tangible benefit to the job, you have to consider what it costs for you to accept it. Again I point to your time as a valuable commodity — not just in regards to freelancing in the film industry, but also as a currency of life to be used on friends, family, vacations and hobbies.
Experience is incredibly valuable when it’s fresh and unexplored, but it loses significance the more similar experiences you have.
Other jobs may offer creative satisfaction, but is the uniqueness of the project enough to off-set your time, your money, and your hard work?
We all seek out the projects that warm our hearts and engage our imaginations and hope that we’ll be able to make money on them too, but the trade-off isn’t always there.
This is the most fleeting of the three demands a gig should satisfy and also the most rewarding if you manage to snag it — which is why I weight it the most heavily when I am asked to crew freebies.
For instance, I am friends with a few industry contacts on Facebook working on a low-budget zombie movie. If they had asked me to help on it — for low or no cost — I don’t think I would’ve accepted. Zombie movies aren’t interesting enough to me to offset the low rate and they are shooting on a DSLR which I have plenty of experience using.
The only exception is in the beginning stages of your film career, experience should be at the top of your list and the focus of building your career. Creative satisfaction is nice, but you can ill afford to be picky when you’re first starting out.
When I set out in the film industry, I didn’t have the ability to be picky with my projects. The horror genre isn’t my favorite, but Ghosts Don’t Exist — a low-budget horror feature film and my first professional gig — offered an undeniable opportunity.
But after freelancing for awhile, not getting paid and earning no significant experience is a tough pill to swallow when the gig is also not very creative or of little interest.
It’s OK to Say “No”
My point is that not every job is worth taking.
Some gigs have underwhelming promises of experience, low day rates, or aren’t interesting enough to spend 12 hours engaging with.
An empty calendar can be intimidating, but it doesn’t mean your career is lost.
And stuffing it with jobs that fill your calendar, but not your wallet, resume, or creative soul is a warrantless pursuit.
In those cases — if you can afford to leave the experience or leave the money because you have enough of either — it’s OK to turn them down.
And even if you’re stretched for money and want a line on your resume, ask yourself if the job in question will benefit you with enough of either.
Because even though the film industry is a lifestyle, it doesn’t have to rule your life all of the time.