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Being freelance: advice and tips from production crews

6.22.16

Graham Nolte, one of Crew Connection’s best DPs—and so much more—shares tips and advice for production crews on everything he’s learned from freelancing.

Crew Connection: What is the most challenging aspect of being a freelancer? 

Nolte: Managing your finances. If you make great work, people will find you. But if you can’t organize your own capital, you’ll never reach your full potential. I see a lot of freelancers living outside their means. If you are going to seriously attempt to pursue a life of freelancing, then you need to start with your financial management habits. Freelancing has great uncertainty, and great rewards. You have to understand how to wield that power, and some basic accounting skills are a must.

CC: How do you manage your time? 

N: Essentially, you’re managing unpredictability. Even if other people think you’re unemployed for a week, understand that you’re on call for bigger opportunities, while doing the back office work of running a company.

Even if you feel you “have more time” being a freelancer, you’ll have to manage that time with your personal life so you can take work at the drop of the hat. If you turn down enough gigs because of other engagements, eventually those calls will stop. It’s not personal, you’re just a less ideal candidate than someone who can manage their schedule to fit the needs of their clients.

One time, while I was in Boston shooting a concert, I got a call to cover the Baltimore riots. They needed me there at 7 a.m. the next day, except that I had to pick up the equipment in Philly. I thought about it for all of two seconds then said, “Yeah, I can do that.” Because that’s what it takes.

CC: What is the main benefit of freelancing over working for a corporation or production house?

N: I think the corporate world is a lot like joining the army, whereas the freelance arena is like being your own mercenary. As a mercenary, you can always contract out with the government, as per your specific interests, but you don’t have to join the recruits at 5 a.m. to raise the flag.

Some people like being part of something big. Others like creating those bigger things while steering the helm themselves. That’s not to say you can’t do so in the nine-to-five scenario, but you certainly don’t start off with 100  percent control of the ship from the very first day.

CC: What advice would you give someone just starting out? 

N: Talent, hard work, and a positive attitude are mandatory, so don’t think you’re doing anyone a favor by offering them. The rest is up to you, and you’d better believe it’s going to be difficult. But remember, the payoff is huge. I’ve made in a day what I’ve made in a month working hourly wages.

Find what you like to do and follow it. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing in life, then get off the train. You’re in the driver’s seat. Don’t worry about anything else, because the money will follow.

CC: What are your top three tips for production crews?

N: Be on time. Talk less. Do great work.

Graham Nolte runs his own production company, creates virtual tours for Google, and is a  DP/camera operator on commercial content for clients such as Yahoo, ESPN3, and Dell. He has directed 2 feature length films and 25 shorts. His movies have played in theaters and festivals in  San Diego, Toronto, Anchorage, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Baltimore,  Washington, Vancouver, and Nice, France.


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