Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Making friends and affluencing people

Do you enjoy stress? Do you write best when faced with an ever-shortening amount of time in which to complete your task? Do you need a near impossible challenge to get you motivated? Welcome to the world of freelance creativity. Come on in, the water's boiling and the kitchen is hot. Darn hot. [Maybe too darn hot, but that's for you - and possibly Cole Porter - to decide. If it is for you, get out. If it is for Cole Porter, that's not your problem, he's already dead.]

The joy of being a freelancer is that you work when you want, at least in theory. The reality of freelancing is that you're at the whim of commissioning editors, producers and all those other people with the power to say yes. You get an email, a text or a phone call asking if you'd be interested in a particular job. Chances are, it's already been offered to somebody else, but they couldn't or wouldn't do it. If you're shocked to discover you weren't first choice, get over it. You're being offered the gig now and that's all that matters now.

Can you fulfill the job? Can you meet the challenge creatively? Most of all, can you do it in the time available? Not the deadline you're being offered, that's almost always negotiable, but in the time you have left in your schedule. With any luck, you'll already have a full plate of projects on the go, ideally with or for a variety of employers. There's nothing worse for a freelancer than keeping all your eggs in one basket. It only takes a moment for some git to knock that basket over and your future income gets scrambled. Without bacon. Or toast.

A friendly editor leaves a title and their replacement's no fan of your work? Chances are you won't get much work from that title anymore. [The friendly editor might well get a better job and employ you there instead, but you can't depend upon that.] In TV script editors can be quite mobile. They have their favourites, writers with whom they gel, people they can depend upon and know they'll enjoy working with. Chances are, those script editors will want to employ those writers again on whatever show the script editor graces next.

As a freelancer, you've got to nurture your friendships and working relationships with script editors and commissioning editors. That sounds mercenary, but ideally it should be a friendship as well as a working relationship. Sure, you'll sometimes find yourself working for bosses you don't always respect, but editors feel the same about a lot of the people they employ, both inside and outside the office. For the most part you can't choose your colleagues, only your friends.

I've had editors with whom I've kept in touch with nearly 20 years, because a working relationship turned into a friendship. It's easier for that friendship to blossom once you remove the employer/employee element from the relationship. I edited comics for more than a decade, but it wasn't until after I'd stopped that I could enjoy going to a comics festival or convention. [Big hello to everyone attending Comic-Con in San Diego this week, you lucky buggers!] I quickly learned who was genuinely friendly - most people in British comics, happily - and who had been sucking up.

In most creative professions, three criteria will determine your ability to get more work from commissioning editors and producers in future. Firstly, what have you done for them lately? Was your last job a success, did you meet or exceed expectations? Secondly, how professional are you? Do you always hit your deadlines, meet the required specifications - are you trustworthy, a safe pair of hands? Thirdly, do they want to work with you? Or will you drive them crazy?

When I was an editor choosing which freelance creator to employ, I applied all those criteria to aid my decisions. Track record was important, professional was crucial. I employed plenty of people I disliked - and a few I even hated - because they delivered the goods. But if somebody failed to deliver on time or in terms of quality, that's when the personal factor came into play. If a creative was too demanding, too needy, too high maintenance, I'd pull the plug. Life's too short to be working with undertalented assholes.

You want to get work? Do good work. Be professional. And be a pleasure to employ. Affleunce awaits!


Barry said...

Great post, nice to see good advice from a working professional who has seen life from the other side of the chequebook.

I'm spinning a lot of discs at the moment and it's nice to know it's what's expected of me. Sort of.

Jason Arnopp said...

The freelance life is indeed a thing of beauty. Not always easy, but marvellous nevertheless. I could never imagine going back to a full-time office job now: I'd miss the freedom too much. On a purely financial level, I'd also miss not knowing how much I'm going to earn each month (which I realise might sound insane to some security-craving folk).

As you say though, David, you are indeed at the mercy of commissioning editors' whims. One of my problems is being almost entirely able to say no to work. Which isn't that terrible a problem, because at least I'm being offered enough work to bring it about.

If I had any kind of tip for freelance stability, it would be this fairly common-sense one: make sure that you have at least one regular job. A foundation. Something you do every week, or month, which will maybe even pay the rent/mortgage (or most of it) if you experience a sudden dry spell...