It’s a question as old as time, that people in a creative occupation ask themselves. Well, not really. Although it is a legitimate scenario most of us face at one time or another in their career. Can you do your own thing, still pay your bills and live comfortably?
I love being freelance. There’s a freedom you can’t get in any other line of work. Although there are certain aspects about it that’s especially tough for someone just a few years out of school. They say it takes five years to break even at any new business venture, and I have come to believe that to be true. What I love about being freelance is the fact that you can, in an ideal world, pick and choose what work you want and focus on that. You’re your own boss. You work when you want during the day (or night) and you have a sort of control of your life you can’t have in any other way. But then again, being freelance controls you in more ways than you can imagine, because the world isn’t ideal – you’re always on the clock – you are never not working. Chasing the jobs. Chasing contacts. Chasing the next thing that’ll pay the bills and to bring you one step closer to where you want to be.
Getting where you want to be in your career – and keeping your lights on, don’t always go hand in hand. On one side, you want to do the things you’re passionate about. You want to progress towards your dream. On the other hand, you need to do the kind of work that enables you to stay in the business and put food on your table. Whatever that work might be. Until you reach a certain level, these two will in a lot of way counteract one another in a lot of cases. You can’t have one without the other, until you get to a level where you get paid to do exactly what you want to do. This is no small feat. Being able to have creative freedom – which comes by having financial freedom – and being able to pick and choose what you want to create is my goal. It might sound naive, but I think most artists and creative people desire this.
I have talked to several of my peers within the film industry, but also other freelancers in different creative fields. One of them being a good friend of mine Allan Hagen, who is a magician and storyteller. Our experiences as freelancers overlap, despite the differences in medium.
I find that I do my best work and I am the most motivated when I am quite happy – and if I feel that if you are working towards some vague “dream”, that dream will probably not come in the shape and form that you imagine it will. Instead, tell yourself that you are already living the dream, albeit an early version of that dream. You are doing what you love, you are getting paid. Maybe not as often as you’d like or as much as you’d like – but it’s getting there. At least you’re doing it. And it makes you hungry for more. That’s what’s going to get you to the next step. – Allan Hagen, magician & storyteller
I started writing this article earlier this year when I was freelance, and had been for two years after finishing filmschool. As I am writing this I have been employed for almost 8 months as media content creator for Scania – one of the biggest truck suppliers in Norway. This has resulted in a couple things that have surprised me. A given is the financial stability and the peace of mind this resulthas resulted in – no more worrying about what you have to do to make it through the next month. What surprised me was that this sense of security rejuvenated my love for the craft. I have regained a passion I felt I had lost during these two years as a freelance. As much as I loved the freedom being freelance gave me, it made me worry a lot about money. Having a steady paycheck made making films and telling stories fun again. Taking on work on the side, during weekends and in the evenings became more of a pleasure, than a chore. The second thing I didn’t expect was for my work to become better as well. I felt a stagnation prior to this job, I think the peace of mind brings out the creativity you need to improve.
The ultimate goal is however to be a fulltime freelance – to have a small, but solid portfolio of recurring clients you have a good relationship with. To become “the guy”. This begs the question of how do you reach this level? This ladder of a million and one stepping stones has a few different routes you can take. Most of them lead to the same destination, and I can safely assume no one knows which way is the easiest, most effective or the fastest. Some might even say the harder and longer it is, the better. If you sign the dotted lines with a media house or bureau, working under their name and brand – are you really building your own reputation for the future, or theirs? If you work freelance, that’s exactly what you are enabled to do – but then again, are you sure you’ll be able to make rent each month? If that answer is no, then your reputation in the business becomes redundant by the fact you’re homeless. If your head has to be focused on “how do I make money by the end of this week so I can pay the bills?”, rather than “what can I produce that’ll take my career to the next level?”
For me, the most important part of being creative, pursuing a career in the arts and performance and being self-employed, is reaching a place where you are genuinely happy with where you are at in your life and your career. I’m not talking about being complacent, that will lead to a lack of productivity and progress. Just hitting that sweet spot where you are happy doing what you are doing, yet you’re always hungry for more and always looking to go further, do something bigger, and outdo yourself. – Allan Hagen, magician & storyteller
As of right now I am very happy with being in a fulltime position, but I am sure at one point in the future I will retry being freelance again, once I’m comfortable and confident in doing so. I consider myself lucky to have been hired by a company that gives me freedom of creativity, and that also allows me to do my own thing on the side. I will be able to progress creatively, but also make steps in the right direction in life. When you are a “struggling freelancer” making investments like equipment, a house and even the simple things like taking a vacation is a difficult thing to justify, because you do not know when the next paycheck will arrive.
Life has a way of working itself out most of the time. Although it might be hard at times.
Thanks for reading,
Pictures by Christoffer Coffe Johansson, Gatebil