Freelance Filmmaking is for Crazy People

Freelance filmmaking in a small market is for crazy people. And, when I say that, I’m talking about myself.

I’ve been freelancing as a Director/DP for three years in a greater metropolitan area with a population of 300,000 people, so that gives you some idea of what I’m dealing with.

Just to give you a bit of context, I’ll tell you about my experiences from 2017. It was a great year, to be honest. I made decent money, and I won several awards. The greatest awards were winning three Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards. Of course, they are not primetime Emmys, but they are a big deal around these parts. I also won several regional Addy awards and a couple of Telly Awards (I honestly don’t know what to think of Telly’s, but agencies seem to like them).

After such a great year, I was riding on Cloud 9. I had a couple of medium sized budget gigs and I figured 2018 would be even better. Up and to the right is what everyone wants.

freelance filmmaking from Chris Weatherly and Zacuto

Fast forward to this year. Last week a buddy of mine approached me about a documentary idea. I’d love to direct a documentary. I asked him, “will we make any money?” His response, “No, but it will win us awards.” I kindly replied, “I have plenty of awards, I just need money.” I was sort of joking, but sort of not. I’m doing this freelance thing as a living, and I need to support my family with an income.

Look at Me!

Everyone loves recognition. That’s why we enter award contests, right? I want the approval of my peers and I want to know for myself that I’m doing good work. Plus, when I win awards I get to use that as an opportunity to self-promote. The one thing I hate more than anything is bragging about my accomplishments. But, it’s a necessary evil – at least that’s the way I see it. I have to tell everybody that my work is award-winning and that I’m amazing so maybe they’ll want to hire me. Ugh, it makes me want to vomit.

I honestly haven’t had any jobs with medium or larger budgets. It’s been a year of small budget gigs. I’m not complaining, but it’s not really what I was expecting. I did get to do two narrative short films, and that’s a win in my book because I love doing that sort of thing. But I honestly thought business for me would grow and I would be directing more jobs with larger budgets.

freelance filmmaking from Chris Weatherly and Zacuto

I mean, that’s what’s supposed to happen in life, right? That’s how we define success in America. If your business is growing then you are bringing in more money. Well, that’s not what has happened to me.

What is Success?

So I’ve had to redefine success. Maybe that’s cheating, or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about a down year. Success for me is being able to do the thing I love doing the most and make a living at it. I know, that’s not an original thought. However, it has become more of a reality for me.

My ego wants more money, more awards, bigger jobs, more bragging rights, better Instagram pictures, but that’s not reality for me at this point. I’ll continue to strive for all of those things, but if I can support my family doing a job I love to do…I’ll live with that.


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2 Responses to “Freelance Filmmaking is for Crazy People”

  1. Vinny Murphy on November 28th, 2018 6:02 am

    Nice post. This is what happens in private conversations but doesn’t appear in print much because it doesn’t sound as exciting as the pure fantasy of having a great time making films all the time. I’ll be checking out your work – I bet it’s good!

  2. chrisweatherly (@chrisweatherly) on November 30th, 2018 12:31 pm

    Hey Vinny, thanks for taking time to read this post and I appreciate you commenting on it. You’re absolutely correct in saying this is something that happens more in private conversations. Freelancing is tough especially in a small market. I think the trade offs are worth it though. Being your own boss, controlling your schedule and doing the things you love to do. There are highlights, but most of it is doing work to pay the bills.

About the Author

Chris Weatherly has over 20 years of shooting experience in both still photography and video. After earning his Master of Visual Communications degree from Ohio University, he worked as a photojournalist. After working for newspapers for several years, he left to become an Arts Director for a non profit organization. It was there he started using video to tell stories of life change. Now Chris works as a full-time freelance director for Wavelength Films where his unique style blurs the lines between narrative and documentary storytelling. He’s also passionate about striking visuals and emotionally driven stories.


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