Freelance vs full-time production accounting for film/tv

So, you are a production accountant for film/tv thinking of making the switch from full-time to freelance work.  Welcome!  The decision is tough, but worth considering.  The great thing about film/tv freelance work is there is plenty of it!

Freelancer:  A term commonly used for a person who is self-employed and is not necessarily committed to a particular employer long-term. 

As you know, full-time production accounting entails working with one specific company in which you are assigned to a variety of shows or films.  In addition, you may be asked to take on other accounting tasks relevant to the company’s day to day expenditures along with maintaining day to day bank activity across many projects.  Regardless of your responsibilities, the company you work for, in the end is responsible for the work you perform. 

As a freelance accountant you are on your own.  You are hired by a production company for a particular film/tv project that has defined start and end dates.  Your job ends when the film/tv wraps- out production or post production.  Your responsibilities end when the job ends.  All production accountants provide a wrap memo, which clearly communicates the status of accounts, expenditures, budgets, etc before moving on to next project.  This insures that the production company can properly take over the responsibilities of the accounts and outstanding issues.  Top notch freelance production accountants are always available to answer accounting questions that may arise after the film/tv project has ended.

Going Freelance is a commitment and not to be taken lightly.  You work project to project which means you will experience unpaid down time between projects.  There will be times when a project lasts longer or ends quicker than what you planned.  Although this is rare, it does effect personal time and money management.  You are the responsible person.  There is no company to fall back on in case you are sick, or struggling with a variety of issues.

 

Pro/Con of Freelance

Pros:

  • Good pay.
  • Benefits available through your Union.
  • Time off when projects are finished.
  • If the project is hard/difficult people…good news is!  It will be over soon.
  • Potential to travel – if you like travel.
  • Meet new people all the time.
  • You become a more intimate member of the production team.
  • You can take ownership of the project.

Cons:

  • No time off while on a project. 
  • Having to look for a new job at the end of each film/tv show.
  • Potential to have to take jobs that are not exactly what you want.
  • Potential to have to travel – if you don’t like to travel.
  • Long work days.  No such thing as an 8-hour workday.
  • Temporary office-some are great some are not.

 

First things first

Freelance production accountants are in complete control of accounting from the start to the end of the project.  You work directly with the production company, UPM, line producer, heads of departments and various other employees to help facilitate the financial health of a film/tv production.    Each head accountant can set up systems that work for them and production accountant teams work together to tailor these systems to fit each production’s needs.

Preparing for freelance production accounting

There will be times when you do not have work.  If you choose to become a freelance production accountant, it is very important to have at least three months of your salary in savings.  Savings will help you enjoy your time off without worry and also give you the freedom to not feel pressure to take random jobs.  In snowy states production tends to slow during winter but luckily, in the warmer states it is open season all year long!

An important thing to consider is freelance accounting equates to long hours on the job.  In addition, you do not get paid for vacation and sick days.  While this sounds intimidating it is often worth having the freedom to fully see a production through from start to finish.  Good personal and family financial management skills can insure keeping up with the bills, having emergency funds and saving up for great vacations after production has ended.

Networking

Networking is a huge part of being a freelancer in any style of work.  Hate to say it, but the cliché “It’s who you know” rings true.  Word of mouth travels fast and reputation can have more weight than a perfect resume.  Working in the Film & TV industry is different than any other kind of work and both your personal and professional self are up for hire. 

A quick way to get a bad reputation is to lie about your accomplishments, be arrogant or insincere and difficult to work with. 

Ways to promote your reputation is having an exceptional work ethic, being good-natured and having common sense.   

EX:  One should never do just the minimal amount of work required.  People notice…and they will talk. 

In Atlanta, there are many Film/TV Networking groups.   Visit the groups and see which works for you. They can help find you jobs, network and provide support when you are out working on a production.  Bring business cards and a friendly attitude! 

Entering the film world: 101

Resumes:  film/tv resumes look very different from corporate resumes.  Please look at trusted resume websites for film/tv production resumes.  Your resume should have your contact information, the position you are seeking and your skills.  Once you start working independently, you will start listing the film/tv shows you worked on.  While you are still breaking into the industry, you will need to showcase your applicable skills for the entry-level position you’re applying for and keep resumes to 1 page.   Proficiency in filing, data entry and basic office skills are a good jumping off point.  If you have the opportunity to intern on a project or take a Workshop for Film Accounting, that experience will be valuable for interviews and landing your first job!  

Work hours & ethic:  Always give 110% in this industry.  If anyone slacks on their job it will affect the rest of the project.  That rings true from the Executive Producer down to the Intern, everyone has an important job on a Film or TV show and it needs to be taken seriously.  There is a lot of fun to be had but when it comes to work and performance there is little room for laziness.  Also, days are long, so be prepared for 10 – 12 hours days.  You work hard for a few months and then you play hard! 

Attire:  Vary rarely will you see a suit or business attire.  Dress for comfort as your days will be long and full.  Dress business casual for your interview but when it comes to actual workdays…jeans, shirt and sneakers are more than acceptable.    

Above are just some of the basics about switching lifestyles.  Only you can decide if it will work for you and your family.