The Dream vs. Stability

You want a job in the film industry.  You, like so many others around you, moved to LA to find your way in on a feature film or scripted television show.  You also want a stable, full time job so you can pay your bills.  Did you know that most people who work on the big movies and television shows don’t have stable, long term jobs?

The vast majority of movies and television you watch, are made by an army of (a majority) of freelancers.  There are exceptions, which I’ll get to, but for now let this fact sink in.  Freelance.  There is nothing “secure” or “stable” about the type of work we do here in Hollywood.

If you’re looking for a stable, full time, high paying, long term, permanent job, I’ll tell you right now, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.   Not letting that stop you?  Ok, read on…

Each production (a movie or television show, etc.) is a job.  The making of that production is the duration of the job.  Eventually, after maybe a year or two (depends on the production, budget and deadlines, etc.), the show gets finished, and released, hence the job ends.  The movie’s release date is your guaranteed Unemployment date.

If you’re working in live action, in production, or post-production, odds are you are a freelancer, in the Union (I’ll cover the Union in another post, but just FYI, the Union is how freelancers get benefits and a fair, live-able rate of pay, etc.).

If you’re working in animation, odds are, you might be full time at the animation company (not always, but it is common).  For example, Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney Animation, Lucasfilm Animation, etc., all make their productions from a Full Time Team of permanent Employees.  Animation is a different beast than live action, so consider that (it generally doesn’t pay as well as Union rates though).  But the live action feature films and television shows, those are basically all freelancers, but they are the real deal (name any famous director, actor, producer, etc.).

There are exceptions to freelance in the bigger live action productions.  For example, the visual effects and 3D vendors, who are responsible for making most or all the visual effects and 3D conversion, are made up on full time, permanent employees of various vendors (a vendor is a smaller company, not always located in LA, many times Canada or somewhere else in the world, who is hired by the freelance production team to produce some aspect of the movie for them, whether it’s a bunch of visual effect shots, or even the Title / Credits sequence).  You can also be full time at the DI / Online facility that handles the film.  In addition, you can be full time on the Studio side, though that’s not really where the “filmmaking” aspect takes place, it’s more of an office environment (full time / permanent work though) where you communicate with the actual freelancer filmmakers who are actually touching the movie, an provide support to the production with various needs, expenses and deadlines.

But, again, the freelancers are the real Creatives behind the success or failure of any production – think the actors, director, producer, writer, editor, etc.  If you can line up stable work in freelance and keep that momentum going, good for you!  Somehow I’ve been doing it for 6 years now, and I keep telling myself I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.  Finding work is an art form in and of itself, which you need to get good at, and that’s a whole another post for anther time.

So, back to the question, of The Dream vs. Stability – you generally can’t have both (a few small exceptions listed above).  So take your pick.