Embarking on a career as a freelance filmmaker is an exciting decision, and if you’re reading this, you’ve likely already started the adventure. Chicago happens to be a midwest oasis for freelancers, with tons of creative opportunities and so many awesome people! We’ve got some advice for those of you starting out:

1. Make The Right Connections Here In Chicago 🌇

You’ll do your best work with artists that share your creative and business values and it’s important to start building a network of connections to pave the way for future work opportunities. It’s not always simple finding gigs and many times the best opportunities will come from the people you know.

2. Learn Advanced Equipment & Techniques 🎥

Like most careers in art, an investment in yourself is an investment in what you create. Being able to wield higher tier equipment or more advanced techniques will be an ongoing aspect to your journey and will increase your value as a freelancer providing a service. Make sure to spend time educating yourself and get comfortable with advanced gear.

3. Stay in a Creative Process during Downtime 🧠

When you aren’t working on paid gigs, don’t stop shooting! You’ll gather experience quickly, discover your style, and keep up creative momentum by working on things you enjoy such as your own projects. Your reel can also benefit from working on your own projects outside of paid gigs - you might do some of your best work without commercial or narrative guidelines coming from a client.

4. Strategically Develop Your Personal Brand 💻

You’ve heard the saying “dress for the job you want” - as a freelancer you need to develop your own branding. Show people what kind of work you do great and what you enjoy doing through your website and reel. Even a reel with mostly narrative content can win over a commercial gig that is going for that direction, and if talking heads is what you want to perfect then make a reel to show that!

5. Master the Paperwork & Business Practices 📋

Not only are you your own brand, but you function as your own business. It’s super important to lock down paperwork skills and understand how to do your taxes as a filmmaker. There’s some great guides for taxes such as Kitsplit’s or BlackandBlue’s that we recommend reading.

Forms You’ll Run Into:

  • Invoices: Invoices will need to be sent to request payment for any work you’ll do. There are many invoice templates out there free for download such as these.

  • Form W-9: This form should be delivered to companies hiring you in order to give them the necessary tax information from paying you for when they file their taxes. Download one here.

  • Form 1099: You’ll be sent a Form 1099 from each employer every year that you will use to file your taxes and report the income you were paid.

You’ll often hear that the freelancing life isn’t for all filmmakers, and it’s true that everyone’s different, but if you’ve decided that this is the lifestyle you want then you can certainly make it happen through hard work and long term learning.