Entering into the Industry


Hey everyone,

Most of us probably just have regular jobs that just pay the bills but they aren’t our dream jobs. My question is, how do you start getting paid gigs in cinematography and what is the job life like? Are you always updating your resume after each film and constantly looking for work? How would you stay afloat after finally getting that first paid gig?

(I work in an office, my paychecks are bi-weekly. I’ve worked on some short films but not getting paid for anything yet)

Freelancing Advice? (Video Editing)
School or Youtube?
Highschool dropout

Im interested in this myself. Does anybody know?


I too would love some feedback from the folks at Rocketjump (or any film/web group) that have made this their career. Personally, my career goals don’t go far past doing YouTube for a living. That’s more than enough for me! But I’d also love to hear personal stories from individuals who have “made it” in the business.


I would also love to hear ideas on that, though my particular craft is in the film editing department.


A lot of angles of the industry either begin as freelance jobs or are permanently freelance, so it’s important to keep in mind that you are your own agent and PR team until you amass enough work that starts doing the advertising for you. Freelance work is by nature inconsistent, so instead of a dry-and-cut list, here’s a few of my general impressions from my own experiences working freelance, and a few of the “phases” you’re likely to go through.

The two things you need to develop up-front are some basic skills and working relationships. By basic skills, I mean some fundamental knowledge and applicable abilities (knowing how to operate equipment or software) towards whatever part of the industry you’re interested in - you don’t need to know “everything,” but you should have enough general knowledge that you know what specific questions to ask when you encounter something you don’t know. In regard to working relationships, film is always best thought of as a collaborative, team-based process - growing a circle of contacts will not only introduce you to people who will teach you about your trade and filmmaking in general, but these are the people who will also help find you work.

I won’t put one of these things before the other since you really do need both to start getting places, and they often develop in tandem with each other. If you have some school training or have a hobbyist interest and experience making films, you might already have a decent handle on the fundamentals. For most parts of the industry (say, cinematography) the best way to learn how sets work and to grow your network will probably be to look for local productions you can participate in, potentially in an assistant position. This will allow you to acclimate to a professional environment without immediately having all the responsibility and weight of a leadership position on your shoulders. The options will vary depending on where you live, but online job boards and local broadcast/production companies are usually good places to start.

The process of developing your fundamental skills and network are what I would call the “beginning phase,” and it can sometimes be a rough stretch. Gigs may not be paid (or if they are, probably pretty poorly-compensated), but beyond growing yourself as a filmmaker, you’ll want to find and stay in touch with people who are as passionate as you are - find people who “really” want to make it, and have enough good sense and practical vision to achieve it. A lot of passionate people will talk big, but beware promises that sound too good to be true - they always are. This is basically a bit of your own intuition, but success attracts more success, and you want to be around others who will help elevate you and grow with you.

Since this process can take time (expect to be thinking in years, not months), I would highly recommend having some other sort of income, ideally from a more stable part-time job with flexible hours (so you can take film jobs as they become available), or similar equivalent. If you have family you can live with for free who are down to support you while you try to get your career going, absolutely take advantage of that option!

There’s a certain amount of self-evaluation involved when it comes to “leveling up” your career from this beginning phase once you start finding some work. At the core of it, you’ll develop a sense of your own objective “value” as a filmmaker, and it’s important to know when to turn down the last free gig because it’s no longer an appropriate career choice, but without getting over-confident and thinking you’re the next [insert legendary filmmaker name here]. In my experience the stepping stones from “I’ll take any gig” to “I’ll take it if it pays” to “I’ll take it if it pays, and is also decent” to “this is my career and I’m in charge” can come rapidly, or there can be long stretches in between. It’s not really clean-cut, but as you start turning to filmmaking as your source (at least one of your sources) of income, I would recommend having an asking rate in mind before looking for jobs, so you can negotiate if necessary, or can turn something down if it’s not the best place for your efforts.

These are a few general thoughts, and I know they might be a bit vague and nebulous, but let’s use that as a starting place to continue and focus the discussion!

@zacboring, the one thing I’ll say about YouTube is that if you intend to do it for a living (as in, primary source of income), it’s best to be aware that that’s significantly more difficult than making a living wage working elsewhere in the broader sphere of the film industry. If you run your own channel, you’re either self-sustaining on ad income (which is peanuts at best), or you’re operating off of sponsorships, merchandise, etc. but that requires a pretty solid level of Internet celebrity to become viable options. YouTube as a primary income source for stand-alone creators has unfortunately become extremely difficult, partially due to the incredibly low barrier-of-entry - the market is really, really over-saturated. That being said, I happily have my own YouTube channel that I’m passionate about, but I do it on the side while working elsewhere in the film industry.


That’s why you’re the most popular person on this forum)
Thanks for the such detailed answer!


Guys, it’s nothing to say more I think…When I had a regular job, I’ve been learning motion-design as a hobby. Than I realized that my skills grows and I took this steps(not all of tham…yet):

I work as motion-design freelancer now and learning filmmaking as a hobby…and I think I know what will happen next :slight_smile:
So just keep making stuff that you like, that’s the recipe.


This totally applies to any freelance industry. Or any industry at all to be honest. “I’ll take unpaid internships,” “I’ll take paid internships,” “I’ll take an entry level wage anywhere,” “I’m totally qualified for intermediate positions and they had better be sort of okay at least,” and “Pay me so many dollars fool I’m the best” – very similar.

Once you hit this point, again in any industry, you’ve been handed a contract or 12 for work before. Learn what’s in them generally, and what you want to be in them, so that if you’re ever given a wishy-washy “yeah dude I’ll totally pay you,” you can offer something to make it binding. (Or just turn down wishy-washy jobs. Either way).

Also, and I hate to be the bringer of awful things like taxes, but – self-employment taxes are a thing (at least in the US, which is all I can speak for). They’re a thing as soon as you pass the threshold of $400 net income earned. Keep track of all your earnings and expenses, because at some point in your journey to the top you will need to start paying taxes on your freelance work.


@Kevin_Senzaki THANK YOU! I like how that post is practical but still encouraging at the same time. Having a good “flexible” job is a great idea, as well. And I know YouTube is hard so I don’t think I’ll base my career on it (but for now, my movies go on the channel page, and I’ll considering giving it more attention if more people like my stuff).

How would I find local gigs in my area? I know my older sister, a musician, does some (usually for free), but where would be good places to look? The newspaper? Websites? The RJ forums? Craig’s List? (shudder).


This is definitely true. Get agreements in writing (even email) for everything you can, and establish an advance “payment due by” date if possible. Some people will promise specific amounts of money that in the end they won’t be able to or will refuse to pay, and the one thing you should never “let slide” because you’re “friends” is payment - your work is your livelihood, and if someone has agreed to pay you, they need to pay you. Having clear documentation of the agreement can save you if you (unfortunately) need to sue someone in small claims court.

Freelance taxes can be tricky, especially if you’ve not done your own taxes before (I opted to pay to have them done for me). I keep an Excel file with the dates, check information, amounts, and any pre-withheld tax information for all my freelance jobs - and a handwritten backup copy in case all my computer-business dies on me for unforseen reasons.

Also, when freelance, you can (at least in the US) keep track of your driving milage to and from freelance jobs for a deduction, and you can write off business expenses (like purchases, food tabs from meeting at restaurants, etc).

@knifebladepresents, all of the above. Anything with a bit of a personal introduction or more information is of course preferred over gambling off a general-purpose online job board, but even so, I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out - you can usually tell from the way the post is written if it’s legitimate or not.


BRO SAME. Honestly, I kind of enjoy doing my own taxes?? Which is confusing even to me. I didn’t ever think I was that much of a nerd. :information_desk_person:


Er, also, one comment on this. While making stuff you like is definitely always the goal, you might need to take some jobs that you aren’t totally into or dislike, for the sake of resume building or because they offer good pay or because you thought they were cool until you actually started working on them. And that’s okay too! There’s going to be less-than-ideal gigs, and you’ll muscle through them and learn from them and level up to the point that you only ever have to do things you’re passionate about.


I never take jobs, that I dislike just because if I do, result will be ****. To make at least not bad video, I need to fell the project…and if I’m not…I rather will wait till next job.It’s important to have another money income(Even small), so you can do like that.
Yeah, I totally agree with you…every new client is like schrodinger’s cat…you will never know until you worked with them…but it’s a part of any freelance job. Good clients will provide you with job&good payment. Bad — with new experience of people that you shouldn’t work with in future.

Same here, it’s really helps to track your expenses and plan your budget.

Also guys, it’s important for freelancer to have an amount of money like backup for few month. So if you don’t have a job for a while(or you sick, or computer blew up, etc.)you don’t need to take a dept.


Thanks man! And yeah, I understand YouTube is becoming a difficult platform to be monetarily successful in. But hey, It’s all I’ve wanted since the 8th grade, so I gotta give it a shot! I’m just choosing to believe everything will work out somehow.


So I’ve started to make the transition that @Kevin_Senzaki was talking about from “I’ll take any job” to the point where people are starting to offer me money to do sound for their films (it’s still a little unbelievable that this is happening) but a problem I’m encountering is that they’re asking me about what rate I charge and I have no idea how to respond. what’s a fair rate to charge working as a boom operator/production sound mixer? I have my own equipment but it’s not quite in the professional range a bit closer to the “pro-sumer” side of things so I know that should factor into my price but I just have no idea where to start


First off congratulations. Second, do you want to work by the hour, or by the project. When i first started out, i got $50 a project because i was young and stupid, so in my opinion it’s better to gauge your employer on what you think they’ll pay you.
But i’m no expert on the topic.


I working on longer projects so it would probably be by the day assuming that the shoot would be a 12 hour day


This is one of the trickiest points you have to contend with as a freelancer! I started by using my previous paid jobs as reference points for about how much people were willing to offer (which often translated to, “if it pays better than that last gig, that’s an improvement, let’s take it”), but I’d guesstimate in Los Angeles (rates may vary elsewhere), a solo operator with a “pro-sumer” kit could reasonably ask $100~250 per day for a micro to small-sized shoot. I know that’s a pretty broad number, but a two-man crew shooting interviews for a company website may not have the budget a more conventional small narrative or commercial production may have.

Another thing you can consider is a “kit fee,” which is basically requesting a little extra on top of your personal price to help cover equipment costs, including maintenance. For a small personal kit, I feel like $25~50 is reasonable in most cases.

I typically will ask upfront what the available budget is (i.e., what they’re willing to pay), so you can get an initial perspective on what they’re willing to offer, and from there you can either accept the rate as-is, or try to negotiate a more favorable one.

A part of discretion that comes with moving up to paid gigs is considering the quality of the project itself - and your level of passion for it. Ideally, I like to be able to be a bit flexible on rates for projects that I really have enthusiasm for, but for projects that I’m more doing “for the money,” I may be less willing to take a low rate.


Sean, how are you finding life a couple of years later?

Hopefully you’re getting say $500/day + $300 kit by now? :slight_smile:


That is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too low! Insulting low. I’d very strongly recommend that no one ever does corporate shoots at rates that low. As even with just a small semi pro kit (say a F4 + mics + Tentacles + a few wireless etc) with experience then you’re worth way more than that.

As those figures for sound professionals are not just “a little” off, they’re many multiple times off wrong.