How do I become a great video freelancer in NYC?
March 14, 2007 1:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I become a great video freelancer in NYC? I graduated from college last year with a degree in filmmaking. I know how to make videos - I've used decent cameras (vx2100, pd150) and I know my Final Cut Pro. Through personal connections, I was recently approached by two non-profit organizations asking me to submit proposals to do their promotional videos. I did and I am waiting to hear back. In the meantime, I'm freaking out that I may be in over my head. Any Advice?

I'd love practical tips and broader-picture advice. For example, where should I go to rent equipment, or should I buy a camera, etc. ? (It seems that 2 weeks of rental = 1 used camera and B&H). I'm working on my Powerbook with external drives, and I am dreading the crashes and spinning pinwheels of death -- is there anything I can do to help this?

Basically, I've made videos, and even won my share of awards, but I'm scared about having to please others with my work and working on an assigned time-frame. I understand that this all goes hand-in-hand with the "real world" - but I'm still nervous about how to navigate these operations.

I hope someday to work in feature films, and this is a great opportunity to keep up my practice and earn some rent-money at the same time, while building a portfolio.

(I've been planning to post this question for weeks now, but I kept thinking I'd have a more urgent question I'd need to ask. Watch - I'll have such a question tomorrow... :) )
posted by prophetsearcher to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If the opportunities for submitting video proposals is scaring you, that's probably an indicator that you're not yet ready to freelance on your own.

I would guess that you need to get a year or two of steady work under your belt before you have refined your chops and built up your network. Try to find either something steady that will keep your hands on the gear, or maybe get taken on by a senior freelancer who could be your mentor.

Also, check craigslist for nyc - in the jobs-> tv/film/video listings, there's always lots of calls for crew for freebies or "deferral" projects, and the occasional real paying gig. These can help you gain experience, contacts and a reel.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2007

I worked in commercial and TV production in NYC for a while, in various production jobs and then in locations. I rented cameras from quite a few places; off the top of my head I'd recommend checking these out:

Abel Cine Tech
Hand Held Films
Du-All Camera

Eventually I found that my path lies in accounting (no, really) but I still keep in touch with the locations guys I worked with, and they've got their fingers everywhere. Most of the work I got was through connections I'd made, and most of the advancement I saw was through ubiquity in the industry -- guys do a certain job all the time with as many different production companies as possible until their name is the first that springs to mind when someone needs, say, a DP for a day.

Another option is to intern somewhere like MTV and get treated like shit for shit pay until you wash your hands of it all or fuck your way into a permanent job. But that's not exactly freelance, nor is it exactly fun.

I don't work in the industry anymore, but I have a few friends still who freelance scouting locations for film, TV, and commercial shoots who have much more knowledge and advice than I do specific to your situation. I dunno if they can necessarily spare the time to help, but my email's in my profile if you have further questions I might pass on.

All that said, my experience is really within the industry part of the film industry -- getting permits from the mayors office, arranging shoots and street closures and holding areas -- and might be very different from the (spec?) work you're considering. There are all kinds of companies that hire all sorts of freelancers, and lots of the jobs there take nothing more than knowing a name, showing up at 5:30 in the morning, and working until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Good luck.
posted by breezeway at 1:41 PM on March 14, 2007

Oh, and if you know someone in one of the film unions, try and get into a union.
posted by breezeway at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2007

Very similar experience to you, prophetsearcher, only in DC. I graduated last May with a degree in film studies from an Ivy (no awards, but hey, we can't all be winners), and spent most of the summer replying to every Craigslist job I thought might take me (and a few that I was pretty sure wouldn't). I PA'ed for a couple of indie films, and spent some time temping in IT/tech support to pay the bills. I've been to a lot of interviews, and heard a lot of very honest critiques of my reel, which have convinced me I need to do some more time learning the ropes before I'd have the chops to convince other people to hire me. Just recently, I stumbled into a temp job as a writer/reporter/phone operator for a well-known broadcast TV series' website, but I'm still actively looking for work since this gig is up in a couple of months, and hoping that my applications to grad school (in a discipline tangentially related to film, incidentally) come through.

Moral of the story? This industry is pretty rough. Competition is intense. There are entry-level opportunities with room to learn and grow, but they're few and far between. I imagine you have it easier in NY (NYC craigslist vs DC craigslist is day and night, in terms of activity, from what I've seen). Yes, you'll work some shit jobs, but hopefully you'll learn a lot and sooner or later you'll be able to move onwards and upwards. At least, I hope so, for both our sakes.
posted by Alterscape at 4:41 PM on March 14, 2007

always be in over your's the only way to keep learning
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 5:02 PM on March 14, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for your responses thus far --

just to give you some more background -- my degree is also fron an ivy (maybe we were classmates!), and i spent months on craiglist, hitting 'refresh'. like you said, it was a real jungle - and i had to fight to get an unpaid internship, which i spent 7 months at, working like a dog without any sort of recompense. they loved me and begged me to stay, but the only thing they offered me was a metrocard and the occassional lunch money. it's just the industry standard, i guess, to, well, exploit.

i've had some PA opportunities as well, and have some more coming up. In the mean time, I need to pay my bills. Similar to you, alterscape, I've stumbled into some work doing web marketing work and am starting some other online initiatives - but filmmaking is the true love.

the great and scary thing about the freelance opportunity is that it will bring me closer to my goals. compared to what the organizations might be paying for a 5-minute promo, they're getting a steal from me, so that's at least something to quell my anxiety, right?
posted by prophetsearcher at 6:24 PM on March 14, 2007

Best answer: If you really want to make it as a freelance videographer, you probably need a camera. The Panasonic AG-HVX200 is a pretty exciting leap forward as far as lowish end video is concerned. I shot a spot with it recently and was pretty impressed (self link, obviously, but pertinant).

If you're trying to position yourself as a director, you don't nessecarily need a camera, although you'll need some networking to get it done. It sounds like you need to link up with a cameraman (preferably with a package) that is as eager as you are to build a portfolio.

You sort of need a fast desktop system if you want to edit professionally. Final Cut 5.1.2 is Intel native. Write it off. G-Technology makes the fastest, most reliable drives in my experience. The G-Drive Q has an eSATA port that (in theory at least) is pretty bitchin'. I haven't picked up a eSATA card yet so I can't attest to it personally, but my G-Drive Q is fast enough through FireWire 800 to edit Uncompressed 8 and 10 bit video.

Feeling nervous is normal, and good. It keeps you on the edge and limits mistakes. I was terrified the first few large budget jobs I worked on, but it always worked out fine. I'd rather be nervous than cocky.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:23 PM on March 14, 2007

Best answer: Video production is definitely something you can only learn by doing. So is client management. Honestly, if you've got the clients then a major part of the work is done. If you really feel insecure about something, then hire people with an expert level of those skills. I've put together videos (not for broadcast) and have hired people for camerawork and sound. It was nice to have help, but honestly, I wasn't particularly amazed at what they brought to the project. So, it's good to be nervous and careful (as mentioned), but don't get so nervous that you become insecure and start doubting yourself. That's a negative feedback loop.

One thing I would recommend - and this applies to all freelance work - is manage your client's expectations. Yes, you wrote a proposal and they saw your reel, but still you want to make sure that they know what they are getting. (And the art is to give them just a little bit more than what they were expecting.) It's like when a friend recommends a movie as "the most amazing film!! you've got to see it!!" - and you see it with those expectations and think "it was ok...". It doesn't matter how much they paid, or that it's a non-profit - you just have to make sure you over-deliver just a tad.

Good luck!
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:40 AM on March 15, 2007

Crap. Sorry if this makes me sound like a curmudgeon.

You're not going to get hired. You're young, you're inexperienced (nobody cares about your collegiate work.)

They want to know/see that you have experience and they don't have to teach you to follow the rules. You shouldn't be renting equipment or buying, and you're not going to be editing.

It's a waste of money to buy a camera, when you don't know what sort of work/format you'll be shooting in

You're going to apply your ass off for internships and assistant work, that hopefully leads to consistent work. If you want to work camera, you'll likely volunteer or do PA work, work long hours, smile, and hope that some camera/set work opens up...and someone likes you enough to have you do some shooting.

Yeah, the HVX 200 is a neat camera. And final cut rocks. But if it was just owning the tools that got you hired...would you like to lose your job in 3 years, because some kid came out of film school?

The film industry (esp. in NYC) is all about working your way up. Not as a penalty - more that they don't know/trust you.

Meanwhile, all that equipment that you just bought/rented? They already own the equpiment.

If you're trying to break into freelance Video work which is different than film - I'd suggest contacting the NYC film office and getting a listing of videographers. Then contact those people and see if they want/interested in an intern/assistant.
posted by filmgeek at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2007

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