Every year hundreds of students graduate from universities and film schools optimistic of finding that long dreamed for full time job. In a reality they will land a 3 months internship that will be followed by a series of short term contracts. In a world of the ever shrinking, ever competitive television and commercials industry how does one stay employed as a freelance crew. I often hear of the good old days when there were five gaffers in the whole of Johannesburg and they all knew each other. Now there are far more crew agencies , representing thousands of freelance crew.
The labour laws of the country are pro employee, once you hire someone it is nearly impossible to get rid of them. Most production houses survive from project to project and they just can not afford full time employees. So how do you make it?
The 5 dos
Be good at your job. It really does not matter if you are at the bottom of the ladder or you are an expert, once you start lacking on the job and become unreliable, word will soon get around that so and so is a waste of time. It is a relatively small industry. I am always surprised whenever I walk onto the new production and realise I know a quarter of the crew already. Word of mouth recommendation are your best tool, make sure it is the best stories about you that get re-told.
Keep in touch with former classmates and colleagues. When an opportunity comes people will recommend the first person that comes to their mind, you want that to be you.
Once in a while do pro-bono work. Can you imagine this company that has constantly given you work is doing a PSA for Save the rhino foundation and they ask you to come and help. You say no, I do not do free work. Then they get an 'intern' who does it so good and they also find out he is much cheaper than you. Do you think they will come back to you?
Attending industry events and Awards ceremonies. I know how drag it is to attend these events sometimes but this is the opportunity to hang with the industry movers and shakers and let it drop about that little Award you won in a tiny festival in Hungary. This is an industry obsessed with Awards, so attach that 'Award winning …. to CV.
Join an agency. There is a big number of reputable crew agencies around. A good agency will keep you in a steady flow of work. The bummer though for the new graduates is that most agencies wont you put in their books until you have 3 to 5years experience. At that point really you do not feel like you need them.
All said and done though all really that matters is your talent, your attitude, and your willingness to diversify. Adapt or die.
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