As a freelance video editor, I get a lot of questions from people that are looking to build a career in the filmmaking industry.
Either as an editor, producer or director.
Since I don’t really consider myself in the best position to give people advice on this matter I thought I’d reach out to a nice little group of people that are far more experienced.
These 11 people have been kind enough to respond to these two questions:
How did you get your first paid job as a filmmaker/video creator?
What are your tips for beginners that want to make a living out of it?
The goal of this post is to hopefully, provide newcomers with some guidance and tips.
Here’s what we got back (make sure to scroll past the gifographic to get to the full answers).
Funny enough, my first paid job was shooting an advertisement for a local nail salon! I was in the “I’ll take anything I can get mentality” and this was what landed on my doorstep!
I poured my soul into making this video solid, from watching tutorials, going over and above on my hours and doing countless phone calls with the client just make a damn video about nails PERFECT.
From shooting promo videos for local nail salons to getting brand deals with companies like Samsung and Panasonic I’ve always implemented the same practice that I learned from day one: DO YOUR BEST.
I did my best on that silly shoot and in return, I received two more jobs that built out my resume and expanded my network. If you continue to do your best on any job that comes knocking at your door, there is only room for growth.
My very first paid job in the production world was a Christmas themed Lady Gaga parody music video that some friends and I found on Craigslist. We had all just went in together and bought a T2i and a 50mm 1.8 and we were looking at any excuse to use it.
We met with the band wanting the video and agreed to shoot it for only $300. The location of the shoot was an hour away and was for 2 days. Essentially there was no way we made any money on the project. However, it was a really good experience and really pushed us because we wanted to make something we’d be proud of. I believe it was all of our first paying job so we definitely felt the responsibility to do it well and do it right.
The video went on to receive over 100,000 views and was shared by Hot Topic and featured on an Australian news station. That was also the first time any of us had received press for our work so we were stoked about this as well.
Overall, my tips for beginners are to always be creating, have a great attitude and just be easy to work with. There will always be someone that can do your job better and/or cheaper than you. However, what’s going to make you get hired again and again is those strong relationships you build and cultivate over the years. Treat your clients well, be pleasant to work with and create great work. That’s what will help you in your journey toward success.
My first gig came back in high school when I produced very short films. Simply, someone saw my work and hired me to film a conference.
Now if you want to make a living out of it and make enough to live comfortably, be patient, it takes time.
First, know specifically what you want to do in the world of video. There are so many markets for production.
Secondly, understand that there are countless people looking to create production companies and look at what they are doing. See what they are doing right and wrong. Most people focus on the wrong things. I don’t care if consider yourself a freelancer, you must treat your profession as a business. Most video creators focus on gear and dreaming of landing Nike commercials. Video has so much power, as you’re able to communicate more effectively and create emotion way easier than any other form of media. So use that as your competitive advantage. Not a Red camera.
Three, focus on your marketing and really understand how video makes businesses money. If you can obtain that knowledge and have a strong funnel, you’ll have a great opportunity to convince clients to hire you.
Keep in mind that the ignorance of the market is your biggest competitor.
My first paid media job was directing broadcast television in Missoula, Montana, after graduate school. I got it on the recommendation of a friend. In fact, most of my jobs came from people who knew me and knew my work.
This points out the most important part of job-hunting: People hire people they know AND who’s skills they also know. This means that, as creative folks, we need to get out and meet people. Build a personal network. Showcase our skills and talents. Waiting for people to call you is a losing game. Instead, proactively market yourself and your career.
I started out in film school at the University of North Texas. My first paying job was as a social video intern at Southwest Airlines, which I got after finishing up an internship with a small production house called Media Juice Studios.
The first internship was unpaid, and I got that through a friend who had just finished their internship there, and they were looking for a replacement. Southwest Airlines was my first “official” paid gig in the video industry, and I got that one actually through LinkedIn after I saw an application advertisement for the position. I believe I was 20 years old when I got that job.
One of the reasons I believe I got that job was because I had a pretty great demo reel from my recent projects, along with the recommendation from my boss at Media Juice.
My tips for beginners? I’ll give you a list.
1. Don’t be afraid to work on corporate gigs. I know, if you are someone who doesn’t want to “sell-out”, then you might be someone who never makes a dime creating videos.
Now more than ever, companies want to tell stories through video for their social media pages – mostly because that’s what performs the best. One of my favorite videos I’ve made is a small doc I made for Southwest about a retiring pilot.
It was a great story, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell that story without working for Southwest. It might take you months to find a PA job on a film set, but if you want to stand out from the endless sea of people aching for those jobs, hone your skills in the corporate world.
You will get better at your craft, get more opportunities, and as a bonus, corporations pay a lot more. My current job at Shutterstock is a “corporate” gig, per se, but I’m getting paid to write, shoot, edit, and direct my own videos for Youtube every day, which is an opportunity that I feel extremely lucky as a 23-year-old to have.
They also pay salaries if you get the right job – which is really nice if you appreciate healthcare and not paying 200 dollars for prescription medicine.
2. Make friends with everyone you meet in the industry, and be a good person that’s easy to work with. I know that sounds simple, but if you are easy to work with, people will want to work with you again. Even more so if you are friendly. Half of my paid gigs have been from friends and connections that want to work with me again because I like to have a fun time on set while still working hard.
3. Do some free gigs to start off. If you don’t have a product to show to a client when pitching your services, they might not trust that you can produce a good video. Make some short films with friends, or ask an event if you can be an event videographer for them. Just have content that you can show to a client saying, “Hey, I’ve done this before. I can do it again.”
4. Know your worth, and when to speak up. Once you start getting paid for gigs, you are going to have to deal with paying clients. They can be tough. Don’t let them lowball you if you have a rate that you don’t want to lower. I’ve been taken advantage of by a few clients because they knew I was young and inexperienced.
Here’s an example – when I was doing freelance editing, I took a gig editing a project for a Church. My rate was $50 per minute of finished video (4-minute video = $200). They accepted my rate, but every time I would turn in a finished product, they would ask for revisions.
I edited about 8 versions of this damn video and sunk about 40 hours of my time into fixing things for them. Since I didn’t have a revisions clause in my contract, they kept asking and asking. So if you do the math, I was editing for $5 an hour.
Not great. Always put in your contract the limits of that deal, and if they want more revisions, charge them more for it. Know how much you believe your time is worth, and don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. Fun fact, they actually didn’t pay me for 3 months after I completed the video, and I would email them every day about payment.
It wasn’t until I threatened them with small claims court that they paid. So yeah, don’t be afraid to ask to be paid what you are owed. It is your livelihood, after all.
I got my first big job as a filmmaker back in 2017 for a global car company.
They wanted me to travel to the Alps and shoot a short film about the car which should be published on my own channels as well as on their own. It was one of the first jobs I could really translate into something I had in my mind before and get paid as well for.
Here’s my tip to young, aspiring creatives:
Work on your portfolio, own projects that don’t get you paid and try to separate from the rest. Brands always hire people who are doing things unique in their niche.
Try to find a style that represents your passion and build up a strong social media game. Don’t hesitate to share your process.
Reach out to brands and show them what you already created. The day will come when brands reach out to you and not the other way around, that’s when you are in the position to decide about budget, ideas and what you really want to work on or not.
My very first job was in film distribution business to create, edit all feature movie’s trailers, teasers, behind the scene and featurette.
I was excited to work with feature movies, watching those films before anyone else and making all the materials what will be an impact on the audience.
Back to the year 2003. I was just opening my wings on Final Cut and were happy to spend nights without sleeping just to be in the studio and edit those things.
The fully digital era just started to grow, we were still working with 35mm films to send in a lab, get a digital copy, then transfer it to the actual top Mac computer and start to edit in Final Cut.
There was no such thing, that getting any sound design with one click on the internet.
Don’t forget, that the first reaction of the movie industry was ignorance of digital media, then fight against it, because of the fear of internet downloads. Later they realized that it’s inevitable to work with it.
A real industry growth started that moment, including sound design studios.
I’ve been always around movie making and even in hard times, I did extra jobs in editing.
I would say, find your own strength, find your own voice in editing – believe or not it’s a storytelling art form which brings you closer to the writers than directors and producers.
Be strong in storytelling, find your own rhythm and beats and just do it!
Hard work and talent always pays out!
I got my 1st paid job as a filmmaker by messaging club promoters on Facebook who were hosting events near me and offered my service at an “Introductory Price” even though I had never even been paid before and that was essentially a marketing tactic to make it sound like they were getting a good deal.
I would say the biggest determining factor for success in this industry, especially from a freelance aspect, is being PROACTIVE! You gotta really want to make it and take steps towards it every day whether that be applying to work, improving your skills, etc.
My first job was as a result of being in the right place at the right time. I studied Media Arts at a local University.
The faculty had purchased a Media 100 editing suite, which was brand new cutting-edge technology at the time.
I was able to play around on it here & there. A local production company had also purchased one and were looking for a full-time junior editor to use it.
They knew the University had one and approached them to recommended recent graduates who’d used a Media 100. Apparently, a whole load of us applied and I was lucky enough to get the job.
My number one tip is to work for as many different companies as you can, even if it’s volunteering, before committing to a more permanent role.
You only need to do one or two weeks for a company to get a feel for what they do and how the company operates, and what it’s like to work there. Considering that College / University degrees can cost tens of thousands of dollars – where you are paying them to teach you – obtaining a week or two of experience for free is not a bad deal.
It is amazing that different companies who are doing the same sort of thing can have such different work environments.
I’ve seen a few graduates take the first job offer that comes along and they end up working for the same company for years and years, with no real experience of what else is out there.
I think you’re much better off to spend a few months volunteering for different companies, one or two weeks at a time, just to gain a broader perspective on how people work together.
Then you’ll build up some contacts and be able to make a decision about future job prospects without missing out on something potentially better.
Being a filmmaker full time can be one of the most difficult and most liberating experiences you’ll ever have.
The way I earned wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be back in high school. My first paying job as a filmmaker took a lot of hard/free work, sleepless nights, and lots of stress.
I was always self-taught myself film making, usually solo, which meant my network was thin, especially in High School.
I interned at a tennis foundation in Las Vegas where I built enough sweat equity and produced videos for free for four years before they offered me a few paying gigs.
Even then, it was a non-profit so they didn’t pay much but they opened up opportunities to network with others and tennis is a sport where you can really do that.
While doing side gigs filming tennis videos and working at a yogurt shop I was able to purchase a camera and some sound gear. Eventually the more freelance work I started to do the more I started to get hired out for more jobs.
One of the most consistent clients I’ve ever had the privilege of working with hires me to travel all around the country producing half-hour television shows for FOX and NBC.
I was referred to him by a friend and he needed a (free) video done for Floyd Mayweather. I was reluctant to take the job at first because… how do you not have a budget for a Floyd Mayweather video?
But after all the years of free work I had done, doing favors was standard, don’t question it, just do it.
I did the video and did it fast and like 99% of the free videos I had done up to that point, nothing happened.
Then a few months later he called me out of the blue to fly out to Oklahoma to produce a TV show for NCAA and the rest is history.
My main advice would be to always learn and keep working on your craft and not just one area.
Learn color, learn how to mix, learn to edit, learn to produce, etc. The way the film/ video production industry is moving, everyone knows how to do everything (to a point).
My mentor likes to call these people “assassins” someone who can direct, shoot, mix, edit, etc is an assassin who is deadly in this field. A final thought is to always show off your work by posting it online, sending it to friends, and colleagues, etc.
You never know… that test footage you shot one day just might lead you to your next job!
I think my answer will seem of little use to many but of particular interest to some. I think it largely comes down to how you see yourself in your profession and what you want out of it.
For example, I have many friends that spend (or spent) a lot of their early time in the industry doing corporate videos to fund their other endeavors and whatnot, whilst others through connections with established DP’s managed to get AC work; similarly with editors getting assistant roles in post.
This is fine if you want to get into production and you just need to be on set and working on films as much as you can, however, I’ve only ever seen myself as a storyteller so being an AC or editing assistant or corporate video maker as a source of income has always felt counter-intuitive for my ambitions and my goals.
I’ll leave others to give advice or insight into finding work in this matter.
I have through people who came from the same filmmaking communities as me (and do join them), has been recommended as a director and an editor and have directed and cut several feature films on the indie scene.
But no amount of assisting/working my way up would have given me those opportunities. I’m not trying to bash this approach and for many, it’s how they learn their skill set and its paramount that the industry creates thoroughbreds.
But (perhaps to my detriment) I’m rather more concerned with the story I want to tell next and getting it made.
I’ve always professed that I would happily work at Homebase 5 days a week if I got to make films on the weekend. And whilst this is nothing against Homebase I think that it reminds me of the reason I do what I do.
Coming home from jobs outside the industry propelled me to spend more time learning, more time developing and more time writing to improve myself as a storyteller and a filmmaker.
And don’t get me wrong; sometimes I NEED to be on set. I always try to make at least one self-financed short each year that does something new which gives me that, otherwise I’ll work on other people’s films.
I am in love with filmmaking and the painful process and there’s nothing else I’m gonna do.
I do currently have other revenue streams including occasional freelance editing gigs, teaching film and private events (via another company so I’m not spending time looking for work), and I have tried to shape my life and existence around living life healthily, happily (but importantly not unchallenged) and ideas/story creation so that every day I am working on my own stories, ideas, and imagery that satisfies me.
If you know you want to tell stories, just be careful spending all your time telling everyone else’s. That said, working with as many different people as possible and broadening your experience will only better you as a filmmaker and a person. Just don’t lose sight of what you love and why you do what you do.