Freelancers Beware: 5 Ways To Protect Yourself From Getting Burned

By | Published March 18th, 2020 | in Techniques, Video Production Services

Freelancers Beware: 5 Ways To Protect Yourself From Getting Burned

Being a freelancer is hard enough without having people always trying to screw you over. So what are some tips to make sure that never happens? 

Tell me if this has happened to you. 

You are really excited to work a new freelance job and when you show up things are not going the way you expected. 

Maybe you get asked to work overtime but not put it on your card. Or maybe you don’t think set is as safe as it should be. Worse than all that, maybe the checks are late and you fear they’ll never come. 

It’s hard for a freelancer out here! 

No matter what job you work next, you want to make sure no one takes advantage of you. But how will you know before it’s too late? 

We have five tips I want to go over to help you protect yourself and your friends. 

Let’s do it.

1. Get it in Writing!

The most important thing you can do in any job is to get your contract in writing. There’s nothing else you should worry about but this. Handshake deals are nice, but it turns into a war of words if it ever went to court. If someone refuses to sign a contract or doe not present one, they may not be worth your time or effort. Contacts in this industry define all the expectations of the employer to the employee. 

So no matter what, get it in writing. 

It’s the most important thing for any job. No exceptions! 

2. Call around 

What I love about the production world is how interconnected everyone is and how people like to dish. We are a gossipy bunch. And for good reason. There are a ton of shady practices out there. 

And we have each other’s backs. 

Got friends in the industry? Hit them up. 

One of the best ways to learn about a company or hiring entity is to talk to your friends. Visit Reddit forums and post names. Go on LinkedIn and see if people have worked with particular companies before.

If they’re all freelance, DM some people to see if they had a good experience. 

The point is, get the information straight from the source. 

3. Have a lawyer

Lawyers in entertainment usually charge 5% for directors, writers, and producers, and about the same for the other members of the production. If you’re a production assistant, network with the higher-ups and reach out to lawyers online, especially if it’s for missing checks. 

It’s not easy to just ‘get a lawyer’ but there are a ton who specialize in the contracts we use in production. Use Google liberally, and like the rest of these lessons, do your research. 

The best lawyers not only get you paid but know how to protect you before you sign a bad contract as well. 

4. No Free Work

Have you ever applied for a job as a writer, editor, or the link and had someone ask you to prove your worth? They usually do that by asking for some free work. It could be a spec article, a reel to cut together, or just making a thorough game plan for a commercial, or even a budget. 

Free work is one of the banes of freelancers existence. Sure, there are times where you have to ‘prove it’ but none of that should come at giving what you do away. 

And when you have the job, they need to pay overtime and for the work you actually did. No cutting corners and no miscalculating the numbers. If it’s not in the contract, you shouldn’t be doing it. And if they ask for more, they need to pay more. 

5. Plan your life

You’re going to lose a lot of battles, especially when you’re starting out. The only way to truly protect yourself is to save a lot of money. I know that sucks to hear, especially when you’re starting out, but you want to have a contingency fund to support yourself. 

Try to squirrel away some of every paycheck you get for a while. You’ll thank us later.

Summing up how freelancers protect themselves 

First and foremost, let’s say a giant ‘screw you’ to the productions and producers who try to hurt freelancer filmmakers. It’s so hard to get one job out there, hearing that that job completely messes with you is incredibly awful. 

We, as creators, need to have each others’ backs. That means participating in online forums, alerting the unions, and covering our bases. 

Together we can change the industry’s perception and treatment of freelancers. 

There are probably more than five out there, but this is what we came up with. 

Got ones to add? 

Leave them in the comments. 

Good luck out there.

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Ambient Skies is a full service entertainment production company focused on creative storytelling for commercials, documentaries, and narratives.

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About The Author:

Trenton Massey