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How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now

Todd Blankenship

So you want to go full-time freelance as a filmmaker? Here are a few ways I made the hustle work, and how you can do it too.

Top image via ImageBySutipond.

Most filmmakers want to freelance. We want to live that romantic lifestyle of being on set (hashtag setlife) and having a new challenge to overcome every day. Never being in the same place, traveling the world, becoming the intrepid wanderer in search of the next story to tell.

For most of us, this lifestyle is extremely hard to grasp. It takes a ridiculous amount of courage and a lot of very specific financial and personal concessions to get started, and you have to truly rely on only your own abilities to pay the bills. That is an unspoken part of the freelance lifestyle. The amount of courage and belief in yourself that it takes to make the jump. If you’re not really good at what you do, you can’t keep the lights on.

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — Making Freelancing Work

Image via Bronze Bow Media.

Before I had this job here at PremiumBeat, I freelanced for around 4 years and I learned a whole lot. I tend to be anxious about a lot of things, and probably at the top of that list is money. So, I was very careful and methodical about going freelance. I have a lot of thoughts on things that worked out well, as well as things that didn’t work out at all.

Here’s my advice for the best ways to get started.

A Retainer Is Your Best Friend

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — What is a Retainer

Image via Idutko.

I love retainers. I love them so much I want to shout about them from the mountaintops.

A retainer (at least that’s what I call it in this context) is where you work out a deal with a company to pay you every month (or quarter, or week, whatever you work out) regardless of the amount of work that you do for them. More specifically and ideally, it’s where you work out a deal for a specific amount of deliverables (finished work) that you provide for that company or person in a given period of time.

For example, you can set a deal where you’ll provide 2 finished pieces of social content (a couple of 1 minute videos for their youtube or instagram) per month. After you deliver, they pay you a set amount of money once a month. Then, they may have the option to ask you for a bit more if needed. You may find that some months they need you a ton, and others they may not call on you at all.

Personally, I wouldn’t even consider going freelance unless you have something like this set up. When I initially became a freelancer all those years ago, it was because I had a retainer set up. I would work in an office setting with a company for around 2 weeks a month, and provide all of their video content. It was a truly amazing setup. I had plenty of time for other projects and clients, and they were able to get the video work that they needed.

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — Setting up a Retainer

Image via Andrey_Popov.

The trick to a good retainer deal is for it to be mutually beneficial. You get that sweet sweet “mailbox money” (money you know will be coming in the mail once a month) and peace of mind. Meanwhile, the company you work for doesn’t need to hire a full-time employee and generally spends less (benefits, salary, etc.) on what they need. It’s good for everyone.

Retainers are all about setting up that base money that you can build on. Get a good chunk going into your bank every month so that you know you can at least pay rent. Then, work your way up from there.

Types Of Retainers To Propose

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — Different Kinds of Retainers

Image via Jacob Lund.

It’s a pretty exciting time for filmmakers since most businesses want video now. There are a lot of different and new applications for video content, so it’s easier than ever to propose retainer style video solutions to a business. Here are some ideas for what types of retainers to propose.

Social Content

This one is an easy one. A lot of businesses want someone to pump engaging social content into their various feeds. This can be anything from quick one minute promos for Insta or stories, to doing nice quick coverage of various events.

If you’re able to do some motion graphic design, this is even better. You can give them quick animated snippets with their products or logos, etc. Create anything that shows that the brand has a personality, and can grab attention on social media.

This type of retainer should have pretty low impact for both sides, in my opinion. You should be able to make quite a few quick videos like this, and this arrangement will lower cost for the client. Depending on the brand, of course.

Youtube Specific Content / Managing Channel

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — Build Something You're Proud Of

Image via Galeano Stock.

You can also pitch to fully cover and manage a youtube channel for a brand. This could mean a weekly upload, crafting an entire series, or just making a commitment to oversee and help create a brand’s entire youtube presence. This is a bit more of a time investment for the freelancer, therefore probably a bit more expensive for the company.

This is the main type of retainer I’ve been able to do myself, and it’s really a lot of fun. You can build a new channel from the ground up and watch it grow. You’ll watch your client’s brand go from one with a lack of personality to a brand with a face. Part of that new personality is engaging content that you oversee. This can take a lot of forms, including interviews, testimonials, and commercials. There is a lot of creativity to explore in this type of retainer.

Whatever They Want

This is where you set up a kind of wild wild west deal with the client. You are their video person for whatever they want. No rules, no deliverables, just for whatever they need you’re their guy. These are a bit riskier in terms of your own time investment. As such, you should charge more. They may use you so much that you aren’t able to take on other clients, so you need to set your price accordingly. Not to mention, if one of your other clients needs you but you’re busy with your retainer client, then your retainer client needs to take priority. This can lead to some very awkward situations.

This is essentially where you more or less become the employee of a company. The only differences is that you’re without benefits and you may or may not be able to work remotely.

Bring As Much To The Table As Possible

How To Become A Full-Time Freelance Filmmaker Right Now — Keep Expanding Your Skillset

Image via ImYanis.

While a lot of people will discourage being a “Jack of all trades, master of none,” knowing more than just filmmaking specific skills will help you out dearly in your freelancing journey.

First and foremost, I can’t recommend enough knowing how to do motion graphic design (and non motion design as well). That has helped so many times in my career. Not only can you offer professional quality video, but you can also provide animated graphics and logos when needed. The more skills you can offer your client, the more they will need you and want to keep paying you.

You don’t have to become an expert. Just know enough so that it’s clear that you’re talented and have the type of creative vision that they need. You want to become the one-stop solution for any of their video and creative needs. Just knowing how to do a nice, smooth animated logo transition or how to add some sleek animated text to something will help you out dearly.

Here’s a tutorial I made with some After Effects basics that can help you get started.

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