When you choose to be a freelancer, it is with a certain understanding of the pros and cons. You usually are sacrificing some form of stability or benefits for the freedom to come and go as you please among multiple places. You are able to make a more flexible schedule and can not feel tied down to one specific place, show, group of people or pay rate. When you are a staff member on a crew or production company, you have a contract and you abide by it. You get the security that is hard to find and hopefully a generous benefits package. It does take you out of the game somewhat as you are on a set schedule and cannot take extra or new work as easily.
It has been a fairly recent change, perhaps in the last 15 years, that a lot of people are actually opting to stay as freelance as opposed to going staff. The logic used to follow that if you were freelance, you weren’t good enough to be staff. Now, it’s the staff job isn’t good enough for the freelancer. The paradigm has shifted completely. No longer hired mercenaries and now more para-trooping specialists, called in to augment a given job, freelancers turn DOWN staff work when that used to be the holy grail of production.
There can sometimes be a lingering resentment that does build up between the freelancers and the staff on a crew. Staff people sometimes feel the freelancers are trying to show off to stay ahead of the game or that maybe, bum bum bum, they are trying to take their jobs from them. On the flip side, certain staff people can be seen as coasting in a position since they are not under the same threat of constantly having to prove themselves thanks to they the contract in hand. This is no hard rule though, as I know many lazy freelancers and some of the best production people I know are staff and are constantly getting better BECAUSE they have daily access to gear or a facility.
All of that being said, a brief word on how management treats freelancers: They usually suck at communication. Far too often, freelancers get left off of email chains, their payroll takes forever to get processed, they are forgotten when parking permits get issued, etc, etc, because well, they are not a fixture in a production and CAN change at a moments notice. It can be a very dicey situation if the worker is not pro-active about it. Granted, management should be thorough and make sure everyone is taken care of but let’s be realistic, that’s not always the case.
However, one thing that management owes their freelancers is NOTICE. Far too many productions find out they are getting the axe and keep it to themselves instead of letting their crew know things are changing. Or that the producer wants a brand new crew and all the freelancers are out. These decisions are rarely made on a whim though never communicated swiftly. They drop the bomb, usually on a Friday as the day is wrapping, so that come Monday the changes have been made…giving everyone a weekend to get their shit together. Cue sleepless nights, panic about rent, about feeding families, all night drinking at a bar, not a pretty picture. To use a recent example, most of the production people at David Letterman were told, not surprisingly, that they would be replaced when Stephen Colbert takes over. New host, new regime, with new people. That’s how it goes. They however, were given over a YEAR of notice to look for new work. On top of that, they were told that if they found a new job they could start right away without any fear of repercussion. That is a fair way of transitioning.
With some lead time about a job ending, you can position yourself to have a soft landing as opposed to waking up in a ditch. It is of course up to the management who stays and who goes. That is not the issue at hand. Things change, people change, that’s life. What matters is basic human decency. When you know that someone is working day to day and will probably want to know that they need to find new work, tell them ASAP not wait until the last minute. Maybe in some twisted way it softens the blow because they don’t have to keep working at a job that they know they’re losing but trust me, the longer you have to prepare, the better the outcome it is for everyone.
Maybe freelancers are on a need to know basis, but that time is always sooner than you think.
PHOTO CREDITS: http://digitalworlddesigns.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/10-steps-to-write-a-great-contract/, http://www.as-found.net/exhibitions/handshake-party/, http://www.5ibaotou.com/tag/communication/, http://mashable.com/2014/04/15/stephen-colbert-dropping-by-late-show-with-david-letterman-next-week/