Becoming a Full-Time Filmmaker: When to Quit Your Day Job.

By , posted 19 December 2014

Jumping on your first set can be so romancing, especially a feature film set. For 20 or so days, you feel like you've discovered your place in life. You learn a brand new language, get into a nice groove, and really build relationships with most of the crew.

Then... reality sets back in. The picture is wrapped and you have to go back to your dead-end job at Rite Aid, dealing with old ladies who have just gotten their first digital camera and don't know how to print them. At least, that's what my situation was. I thought because I was a grip on a small independent film, I was all that and a bag of chips. Yet, I was really only ringing up that bag of chips for the customers. Where would my next job come from? How would I get it? And the most important question was when can I quit my day job?!?!?

The answers were unclear and I knew the only way I'd get them is by finding out myself. So, I applied to Craigslist, and waited... I applied to Mandy, and waited... I searched Facebook, and waited... And six months later I was on my second set gripping a music video. Hmmm.

A week later, I was on another music video and a few weeks after that, a pilot. Things started to really pick up for me, but when can I quit this damn job?!?! After more small productions here and there, I finally landed my second feature in the position of Best Boy Grip, for $500. Yes, that is $500 for the ENTIRE feature. The kicker is the Best Boy Electric, who holds the same hierarchy as I do, wasn’t getting paid. So, my situation wasn’t all that bad.

Rite Aid wouldn't allow me to take off for the entire feature, so I had to drive from NYC to Atlantic City on our weekends and work. I was working seven days a week for quite a while. On my final weekend of returning to Rite Aid during the feature, I loathed being there so much that I put my two weeks' notice in without even thinking about it.

I had no plan. I had no direction. What I did have was a HUNCH that the gaffer I met on this feature (my best friend to this day) will POSSIBLY get on another feature in northern Maine that he can MAYBE get me on. And he did...

Looking back on it now, I can't believe I took that risk on a hunch. But, when you're 19, you haven't got a lot to lose. I capitalized the words hunch, possibly, and maybe because those are not words to live by. A lot of people are going to say those words to you and you shouldn't do more with them then take them with a grain of salt.

Things to consider before quitting your day job:

1. Whether you're quitting for a start-up or to become a boom operator, save your money to live on for a while. Not everyone, but most freelancers start off slow. There's nothing wrong with cushion.

2. If you can afford it, give your two weeks' notice and quit on good terms. I know once that taste is in your mouth; all you thirst for is to get out. Be smart and have something to fall back on. What's even better than a cushion is a safety net.

3. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuck, "Hustle your face off!" By that, I mean set yourself up for success. Before you even give your two weeks, connect with as many people as possible in your line of work. No contact is a bad contact.

4. Is now really the most appropriate time? Most of every industry in every city has a slow part of the year. For NYC freelance filmmakers, it is the dreaded months of January-March. Make sure you're quitting at the right time.

5. Don't be irrational. I didn't take any of the advice above into consideration at all! I don't recommend that approach. Use the 48-hour rule and give yourself two days to cool off and think about all of the scenarios.

What was it like for you when you went 100% freelance? Leave us a comment.

Mark Boucher
Aphid Productions / The Production Journal

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