The last half of 2014 was excruciatingly slow for me as work was not coming in like I had hoped. I couldn’t understand why. I’m not one to sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Even though I often self produce my own films, I’m like everyone else who relies on actual paying work to get the bills paid so I can have the freedom to create my own films. So I know I had to take advantage of this downtime in order to be better prepared and ready to take on some new challenges.
Although the start of 2015 rang in some new opportunities for me and I’ve begun to slowly get some of those phone calls I was hoping for the year before, I learned some things that could possibly help you should you find yourself in the predicament I was in. So here are some ways to improve you work when you’re not working.
1. Get or Update Your Website
You may not know but my path to film and video was actually through building and designing websites. Coming out of the music industry I saw the need and the creative ways websites could communicate to a mass audience for people and entities. Although I haven’t created a website for clients in many years I still build my own as well as for the entities I am a part of.
Building websites have come so far in just the last few years, there’s not reason you should not have a website. I get many compliments from my website bobbymarko.com and many would be surprised to learn it’s just a WordPress framework with a remade template in which I’ve gone in and have done a few tweaks to, nothing much more than that. If you wish to communicate to current and future clients, having a website is crucial. It’s one place where people can learn who you are, see your work and find ways they can contact you. If you’re finding yourself with some time on your hands, nows the time to get your own website.
If you currently have a website and have some free time, now is the time to update it. Have you added your latest work? Maybe an updated profile image is in order? Also take a look at your bio and see if there are ways to update and make it more appealing to the clients you are wanting to work with.
Whether you are starting from scratch or updating, tending to your web needs is a great place to start when work has slowed down. Here are some resources to help you get started:
2. Reach out to Previous Clients
I know, this is kind of a no brainer. However, reaching out to old clients doesn’t dawn on me right away either when the phone hasn’t been ringing. Partly is because of pride. “Why aren’t they calling me, didn’t I do a good job the last time?” These types of questions are often beside the point. Previous clients may not be calling you, not because they are looking for someone else, but most often they haven’t thought of calling you or were not even aware you were needing work. This has happened to me more than once and making that phone call to a previous client, in many ways, gave me some added income. Go through your list, even back a few years and reach out to them. Ask them if they were satisfied with your work to please consider you again in the future. Ask if they know of anyone else needing video production and could they pout you in conatct with them. Many benefits could be made by reaching out to previous clients.
3. Reach out to Colleagues
I, like you, have filled many roles over the years so I’ve worked with other producers, directors, cinematographers, gaffers, etc. And those people in turn have worked with other people in the same roles. So the networking reach can grown exponentially by just connecting with other colleagues letting them know you’re looking for new opportunities. In fact, just a few weeks ago a colleague had suggested I reach out to a few producers here in the Nashville area in which I never knew existed. Nashville is a pretty large industry for film and video but I thought I had at least heard of most of the producers and content creators in the area… I was wrong. It also stands to reason that if I didn’t know them, they don’t know me. So I quickly rectified that problem.
Also seek out some local film and video groups that may be in your area. I lead the Nashville Filmmakers Guild and we have over 550 members so far and we meet once a month to learn, educate and inspire our members. It’s a great networking opportunity and members are able to use our Facebook group page to post just about anything concerning their work or even lack of work to let other members know they are available. Side note: if you’re in the middle Tennessee area, I would encourage you to join, click this link.
4. Revisit Your Annual Goals
If you read my post on starting your project in 2015 you will know I’m a huge proponent of setting goals every year. One of the things to do in creating and setting your goals is to write them down, via digitally or on paper. Any way in which you can reference back to them during the year. When work is slow this is a perfect time to look back and see what benchmarks you can work on in order to get closer your set goals.
You may find that you wanted to get organized or start a blog, maybe you wanted to work on a side skill like still photography… this slow period may be a perfect opportunity to begin working those items.
5. Pick Up or Revive a Hobby
In recent years I’ve been hooked by the recent “reclaimed” wood projects that have been taken by storm with the DIY and crafts community. I’ve been able to get my hands on some reclaimed wood, pallets and whatever would work for some projects. Over the years I’ve built my own desks, shelves, headboard, coat racks and I’m about to begin working on a new dining room table as soon as time allows. But I find woodworking takes me out of production just a little bit and allows me to refocus on my creativity. I find when I put time into my hobbies it rejuvenates me and gives me new perspectives both creatively and fundamentally that I would not have discovered had I not taken myself away from film and video.
Whatever hobby(s) you have, begin taking those up or start a new one as things slow down. You will find yourself not worrying about the lack of work you have and may refuel your perspective and give you ideas on how to move forward in the lull periods.
6. Set Up New Systems
A good way to use your slow down periods are to re-think your processes and systems in which you use when you are busy. I’ve found that during my busiest seasons I often find better processes and better ways of implementing my workflow. However I do not have the time to change course so I put off making those changes. And sometimes so much time goes by I forget about those new ideas.
If you’re in the same situation, write those ideas down and then revisit them when work has backed off some. Maybe it’s using a new billing software or maybe you’d like to implement a new data aquisition workflow. Whatever it may be use the time to begin practicing and implementing those new workflows and processes. When work picks back up, you will have those new systems in place and can begin using them right away and be much more efficient in your productions. Your new work and clients will benefit from your efficiency.
7. Create and Explore
Of course it goes without saying that using some free time to create and explore new ideas is a perfect time to take advantage of such opportunities. I keep an Evernote folder full of ideas for films and all kinds of genres in an effort to 1. keep those ideas from leaving my memory and 2. to revisit when things are slow and I can begin putting those ideas and concepts into practice.
A recent example of this was I wanted to begin exploring aerial cinematography and how I can use that style of imagery in my productions. I’ve had those types of shots already in some of my films but I wanted to explore it more. That meant me getting a little UAV setup and practicing. So last fall when things had slowed down I used that opportunity to purchase a DJI Phantom 2 set up with the new GoPro Hero4 and begin practicing flying and shooting. I was able to take it to Florida, the Smokey Mountains and to Guatemala and capture some beautiful imagery. Thanks to my friends Jason Cole and Dave Altizer, they helped me get to a place where I could explore, capture and test some ideas that if I had not utilized the time, never would have achieved. Because of the time and work I’ve been putting towards aerial cinematography, I’ve been asked on a few occasions to implement that type of footage into my productions so it has begun to pay off already.
Using the time where work is scarce to work on some ideas, practice some techniques and explore some possibilities will allow you to not only give you some new skill sets but will also allow you take advantage of those skills when work picks back up.
If you haven’t noticed, some of these points reference things that need to written down. I’ve found that if you’re not keeping track of things by writing them down you’re shooting yourself in the foot. There’s no reason in this day of advanced technology that you should not be writing ideas and thoughts down. Yes, it may take a few seconds each time but those seconds will be worth more later on. Evernote is one app that I use but there are many others. As long as you use it and it works for you, you need to be doing this simple task. Start today if you haven’t already!
I know slow down periods can suck the life out of you. It may even make you question whether you’re on the right path. Just know, it happens to all creatives at one point or another. I know world renown photographers who have periods of no work and they are the best at what they do. It’s just the nature of being freelance. If you do not have this problem, great! Enjoy the blessing because it doesn’t happen often. But should you be one who is starring at an empty inbox, know that you’re not alone. Doing at least these several steps will get you closer to thriving and working again.
Bobby Marko is an award winning filmmaker based in Nashville, TN. A retired professional musician turned filmmaker, Bobby has covered the world of film and video, from live production and chroma key capture to short films and feature length documentaries. He’s had published articles at Cannes Film Festival and has been a featured presenter at IBC in Amsterdam. Bobby’s passion is to capture the heart of a story through moving imagery and share his experience along the way. You can catch his podcast show on iTunes and Soundcloud, the Authentic Filmmaking Podcast.