Hopefully this article comes across as insightful and not an ego trip. I’m going to delve into some of the processes that worked for me and how I went from full time employee working for a company I knew I didn’t want to stay in forever, to freelance camera operator choosing my clients and the loving every single day of it.
The early years
I’ve always been interested in film-making from a young age. I used to perform and film my own WWE inspired fight videos with my younger brother. The stone cold stunner was a personal favourite. This soon progressed into writing, directing, editing and starring in World War 2 short films. Some of my earliest work is still available online if you care to look hard enough.
I then took this passion for storytelling further by studying Film Production Technology at University. (A good path for some, not for others. The topic of whether attending University is necessary within the film industry is hotly debated, and possibly something I’ll delve into on a later blog).
I graduated after 1 hard and 3 fairly cruisey years later. The aim was then to get a job within the industry and avoid moving back home with my parents. I didn’t fully know what field of film-making I wanted to enter at this point so applied for any and all crew roles (big mistake). Vague/broad skill sets aren’t hugely appreciated in the film industry. The phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is banded around a lot. Also with no real credits, experience, equipment or contacts I was pretty much pissing into the wind. I knew I had to specialise and throughout my childhood and university I was always directly behind the camera. I decided to focus on becoming a camera operator rather than a film-maker for now.
I took a job as a marketing representative for a summer camp organisation. This offered me the opportunity to move to Manchester (the largest media hub outside of London) and be close to busy video production companies.
The next steps to becoming freelance
Whilst working a full time 9am-5pm Monday – Friday job plus a part-time job as a Chinese food delivery driver I began my quest of becoming freelance. That’s right, I had a good film degree and still spent my evenings delivering takeaway food. This was definitely not beneath me and served as a way for to pay rent, buy beers and slowly build my camera equipment.
I continued to develop my portfolio by working on my own and other peoples projects in my spare time. I setup a basic website with a showreel and contact details. I talked to everyone and anyone. I followed people on social media and began the most important role of any freelancer. I started to build my network.
As my time in Manchester progressed I began putting together a spreadsheet of all of the video production companies in Manchester that I was interested in working for. I researched each company in depth and personally contacted one of their team members. Note I used the term personally! The amount of people that contact me with a ‘Dear Sir’ email looking for work experience using the contact form on my website still astounds me. My name is Cal. It’s in the domain name of the site you’re currently on. This just showed lack of research and effort resulting in instant deletion as this was somebody I wasn’t interested in helping. Personalising your emails go a very long way.
I always kept things short and to the point. People don’t have the time to trawl through your essay to find out the purpose of the contact. In the early days I had to play the numbers game and after weeks of research I contacted 30+ different companies.
I was very pleased with the responses. Some asked for my rate and kit list. Others asked for a CV. Funnily enough nobody asked or cared about my degree.
I found emailing much more effective than blanket phone calls. People don’t like being put on the spot. With an email you can reflect on the content and form a proper response (or delete it in many cases). Either way I found I got better response from email than phone.
I met for coffee with numerous people and before I knew it the bookings came in thick and fast. Maybe it was my polite email, confident face to face meeting or varied portfolio that swayed it for me. I imagine it was a combination of them all.
My First Gig
During my first job and to this day, every job I endeavor to work hard and be a nice person. This has brought me repeat jobs, referrals and the opportunity to give up my full/ part time jobs to pursue camera operating full time. That’s it really. No magical secret. The key is to network with everyone. There’s a reason ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is such a powerful and popular phrase.
I’ve had to breeze over some aspects for time sake but if I was to offer one final bit of advice it would be to do your research, be persistent (as in don’t expect results over night) and work hard. I am personally still at the very early stages of my career and still have a lot to learn. I consider myself very lucky and have been able to work on some amazing, fun projects and met some very inspiring people in the past 6 months alone. Good luck in your freelancing lifestyle. I know earn more money doing a job I love that offers me the time and freedom to work on whatever I want.