Category: Education

Money Saving Tips for Creative Freelancers

10 Money Saving Tips for Creative Freelancers

As a freelancer in the creative industries, I’m very aware of the financial pressures a lot of my colleagues have experienced over the last few months. When we get talking, I’m always surprised just how few people really have a good handle on money and how to make savings or find the best deals. It seems like they just aren’t aware of many of the websites, tools, tricks or loopholes you can use to help make the most of your money and make it go that much further. So, I decided it might be beneficial if I share some of my money-saving tips with you!

Cashback Websites

Most of my shopping these days is done online. For nearly every purchase I make, I usually save anywhere between 1-10% through using a cashback site. The two most popular in the UK are Quidco and TopCashback.

The way these sites work is simple. Once you know what you’d like to buy, head over to the cashback site. When you’re there, look for the name of the retailer you’d like to buy from, and click on their name. You’ll then be taken back to their site, but you’ll now receive cashback when you make your purchase.

Since I started using these sites, I have made a saving of around £4000! Some purchases may only give pennies, but if you make it a habit, it’s worth it in the long run.

When it comes to redeeming your cashback you can also increase this saving. If you move the cashback to your bank account you just receive the amount you ask to withdraw, however, if you redeem your cashback for a gift voucher at one of the partner stores you can receive a payout bonus of up to 25%. You can even earn cashback again when you spend your voucher!

CamelCamelCamel

I probably place over 100 orders a year through Amazon. A lot of these items aren’t urgent, so for things I know I’d like in the future but don’t want to buy right now, I use a really useful site called CamelCamelCamel. This is an Amazon price tracker that lets you monitor the price of an item over time and receive alerts when it drops to a price you’re happy to pay.

You can also view historical price data so you know the lowest price your item has ever been sold for. This is really useful, especially around Black Friday and during sale periods, so you can see if you’re really getting a good deal. There is a browser plugin for Chrome called “The Camelizer” which is a quick way to check this data directly from any Amazon product page.

HotUKDeals

HotUKDeals is a community in which members post links to great deals they’ve found, both online and in physical stores. Members vote “hot” or “cold” on each one, and the hottest deals are sent out each day in an email. This is an excellent way to spend money on things you didn’t even know you wanted!

The website also has the useful feature of keyword alerts, which means you can receive a notification as soon as a deal goes live relating to your keywords. This is really helpful when you’re waiting for a specific offer to appear, as often the deals end quickly and you need to get in fast!

BECTU

My most industry-specific tip is to join BECTU, the union for workers in the media and entertainment industries. Not only is being a member of a trade union a great way to keep up to date on industry practices but you also receive advice, support and most importantly, discounts!

As a freelancer, it’s essential to hold a public liability insurance policy, and often purchasing this is quite expensive. BECTU offers members the chance to join the group policy for just £40 per year, which is the cheapest I’ve ever found it.

There are absolutely loads of discounts available to BECTU members, but I wanted to mention two in particular. Firstly, by being a BECTU member, you are eligible for a completely legitimate Totum Pro card, which is essentially a student card. A three year card costs under £30, and I genuinely made this saving in about two weeks with 30% off a restaurant meal and a 20% discount in H&M. It also offers 10% off in Co-op so the savings soon add up!

Secondly, as a BECTU member, you’re able to purchase discounted gift cards from a number of retailers, including supermarkets Aldi, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. If one of these is where you do your regular shopping then it’s an easy saving of 2.5-3% every time you visit!

CVP

Here’s one for the technical freelancers. I realise that spending money on equipment isn’t necessarily money saving, but if you are going to buy gear then it makes sense to get the best price you can. I’ve always used CVP for my camera equipment and they provide excellent service as well as generally beating any competitor prices. Don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price too; it’s always worth a discussion to see if they can knock a bit extra off the quote!

Reward Schemes

I’m constantly amazed by how many people don’t take advantage of reward schemes offered by retailers. All it takes is swiping a barcode or card and you’ll earn points which can be exchanged for vouchers and free products, so there’s really no reason not to do it!

When it comes to redeeming the points, this is where you need to be a bit more savvy. While it might often be tempting to exchange them for a monetary discount, many providers like Tesco Clubcard offer a boost with their reward partners which effectively triples the value of the rewards. I always use my Subway points for hot drinks over the sandwiches as this makes them go further, and with the number of motorway services I visit, they get used a lot!

Fuelcard

This is one tip which may not work for everyone so you really need to do the maths, but this particular tip has saved me a substantial amount over the years. Websites such as Fuel Card Services offer a number of  cards for all the major brands which give savings over the fuel price at the pump.

I use an Esso fuel card which has an annual fee of about £12. Each week I receive an email with the fuel price for the next seven days, which is generally about 10p cheaper per litre than the pump price at my local garage.

However, it’s important to consider that brands like Esso aren’t necessarily the cheapest to begin with, so you may find supermarket garages are a similar price anyway. It just depends on your fuel buying habits, what garages you have nearby and the normal fuel prices in your area.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are a fantastic tool, providing you know how to use them and are disciplined. There are different cards available for different purposes, and it’s important to choose carefully to make sure you get the right card for you.

For everyday spending, you’ll want to look for a cashback or reward card, meaning that the provider issues an annual cashback payment based on the amount you spend each year. The best of these tends to be Amex which can be up to 1.25% depending on which of the cards you go for. With a credit card you use for everyday spending, the most important thing to remember is that you’re only saving money if you pay the balance off in full each month. As soon as you start incurring interest, you may as well not bother.

There are a number of specific credit cards which offer 0% on spending, currently for up to 20 months. That means that as long as you clear the balance before the promotional period ends you won’t be charged any interest. This can effectively work like an interest free loan for large purchases. I’ve recently bought a new camera using this method; rather than having to pay £9000 in one go, I used  a 0% card with 24 months to pay, and just set up a manageable monthly direct debit of £375.

Comparisons

One of the biggest hurdles to saving money is complacency. It’s very easy to auto-renew products like insurance on a yearly basis with the same supplier, or to stay with your utility providers month on month because it’s easier. Try to get into the habit of comparing prices of annual products before renewing them automatically, as many providers often offer introductory discounts to win new custom which expire after the first year. Obviously it’s important to make sure you’re making a true like-for-like comparison before switching, and occasionally you might have good reason for choosing to pay a premium, such as wanting to use a reputable brand or good customer service.

Tax Savings

As a freelancer using the self-assessment scheme, I’m responsible for making my own income tax payments. This means that at any given time I may have thousands of pounds waiting in an account which is due as a future income tax payment. Even though the current financial climate means interest rates are very low, it’s still worth putting this money to work for you in the meantime.

Make sure you know when your tax payments are due and how much you owe,  then put the money into a financial product that gives you the best return before these dates. You might choose something like a limited-access savings account or a regular monthly saver, and I’d recommend checking MoneySavingExpert.com for up to date information on the best savings products. If you have this money just sitting in your regular current account then chances are it’ll be earning zero interest and you might be more tempted to spend it too!

Hopefully these financial tips will help to save you some money, I know we’d all be glad of a little extra! I’d be really keen to hear if you have anything you’d like to share on this subject so please drop me an email or leave a comment below.

Should I go to university to become a camera operator?

Should I go to university to become a camera operator?

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked, but really, there’s no right or wrong answer. Perhaps a more appropriate question to ask yourself is, “What do I want out of university?”. If the answer is simply a job as a camera operator, then going to university is certainly not a necessity. In fact, I know many successful camera operators without a degree. Unlike some other industries, employers are often more interested in your portfolio and practical experience rather than your qualifications.

Why should I go to university?

University is particularly useful for anyone who knows that they want a career in the industry, but aren’t exactly sure of what it ought to be. One important question anyone considering going to university to achieve a career in film production should first ask themselves is how much they enjoy studying. Although a lot of your course is likely to be practical, there’s certainly a fair amount of exams and coursework. Most courses do achieve a nice balance, such as this Film and Video Production Technology BSc on offer at the University of Surrey, in which you’ll learn about the science and engineering of film production alongside more creative and analytical modules studying film theory and the creative arts. At some universities, you can even study screenwriting alongside the practicals of film production. Picking the right course will help you to graduate with a well-rounded understanding of the industry, and hopefully, some idea of your place within it.

Perhaps the main advantage of going to university to study film production, in my opinion, is that you’re able to work on creative projects which you can manage yourself from start to finish, using professional equipment. This is an opportunity that you simply will not have if you go straight to work in the industry, especially because you’ll likely be starting at the bottom. It also means you’ll have some impressive work in your portfolio to show potential clients when the time comes.

So let’s assume that, like me, you know you’ll be opting to work in the camera department – why should you go to university? Well, you’ll get to learn firsthand about all aspects of production and how the different departments work together during the filmmaking process. You’ll benefit greatly from lots of hands-on experience with equipment you could otherwise only dream of acquiring, and be given the opportunity to shoot regularly in an environment where you can experiment and make mistakes. There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than trying something new on the job when you’re under pressure from a client when their time and money is at risk.

As with any university course, you’ll also get to meet like-minded people who will probably end up some of your best friends for life. This is particularly important in the filmmaking industry, where who you know is at least as important as what you know.

Most university courses will also offer professional training placements, where you can gain experience by working for a year at a production company or film studio. This is another great opportunity to make useful contacts and hone your skills. Alternatively, your university might provide the equipment and funding for you to run your own company for a year. This is what I chose to do, and the experience really helped to prepare me for my own freelance career.

Because you have easy access to fantastic kit, you can also put it to good use outside of university by creating your own short films or music videos. One of my best university experiences was shooting a short over a few weeks during the summer break, and without the pressure of a grade riding on it we could really enjoy the process.

All in all, studying film production at university is a great experience which I would never discourage, so long as your expectations are clear going in. You won’t come out of university as a camera operator, but you’ll certainly come out with confidence, a good practical skill set, and experiences that will benefit you greatly as you begin your career.

 Isn’t it better to learn film production on the job?

As someone who chose not to take this route, this is a difficult question to answer. To a certain extent, it depends on what sort of work you see yourself doing. For instance, becoming a TV camera operator would likely require you to join a camera department and learn as you go along. However, corporate, commercial or events work generally calls for freelancers or small production companies, and naturally does not afford you the same luxury of figuring things out as you go. You’d also need your own kit, which depends on your resources and personal finances.

If you’re keen to shoot film and TV drama, the conventional route is to start at the bottom and work your way up. The entry-level role is camera trainee, 2nd AC, then 1st AC, followed by camera operator. However, even after leaving university with a film production degree, you would still need to start as a trainee and go through the same process. Therefore, you’d technically be in exactly the same situation had you not gone to university.

The film and TV industry is very much about earning your stripes in your role before “stepping up” to the next level. Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a camera trainee a number of times, whilst knowing full well that I have the skills to be a 2nd AC only without the credits to my name I need to earn that position. So, if you’re dead set on a camera department role in TV or film, then you might be better making a start as a camera trainee as early as you can.

If you can see yourself as a freelance camera operator like myself, then I do think this would be a lot harder to do straight after college. It’s not just a technical and creative role, but a large part of it is the business side – managing budgets, keeping track of accounts and chasing clients for money! This is where all the additional skills you pick up at university come in handy and allow you to be taken more seriously by clients.

Now that decent cameras are becoming more affordable, you might wish to jump straight in and see how you get on. There’s nothing wrong with taking this route, but the kind of clients you are likely to secure would be fairly low level whilst you’re still gaining experience and expanding your portfolio. If you’re young and still have the support of family, then this is a great way to learn your craft, but it might take some time to make a career out of it.

What other options do I have?

Another choice that is becoming increasingly common is taking on an apprenticeship. This might involve working for a production company in a full-time capacity for minimum pay, but the skills and experience you will gain could be really valuable, as your senior colleagues will be there to help you learn and develop your skills. You’ll get to see first-hand how a production company operates, how clients and projects are managed, and how videos go from concept to completion. An apprenticeship is unlikely to be specialised in camera, but if you see yourself shooting directly for end clients it is likely to give you a good understanding of the business elements you’ll need to master. There’s also always the chance that you’ll impress them so much that they’ll want you to come to work for them after your placement ends.

If you are based in one of the larger cities then you may have a local camera hire company nearby. Finding a job in a kit room is a great way to learn about a wide range of equipment and meet a lot of filmmakers and production companies in the process. Some hire companies also offer crew facilities, so if you play your cards right this could be one way to get bookings in the camera department and your foot in the door.

So, as we can see, the answer to the question, “Should I go to university to become a camera operator?” is yes, no and maybe. It all depends on where you see yourself within the industry, the kind of person you are, the resources you have available and the opportunities in your area.

I hope my perspective has been useful, and if you have any other questions or would just like some advice, I’m happy to help!

How I became a Freelance Camera Operator

I’ve been freelancing for over a decade now, and I often get emails from film and media students asking the following questions:

How do I become a freelance camera operator?
Do I need to go to university?
Which university courses should I take?
How much money can I earn?
What kind of equipment will I need to invest in?

I’m always happy to answer any specific questions and answer emails, but to begin with I think it would be helpful to provide a brief summary of my education and career so far. I’ll also be continuing my blog, tackling specific queries and giving advice, so if you have a question you’d like answered or you’d like to suggest a topic, you can email me at dan@danhuntcamera.com. Right, here we go!

The Early Years

I have been a huge film fan ever since I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen over 25 years ago. I was thrilled that something so incredible could be recreated in front of me in such amazing detail. I’d say this was the point I realised I wanted a career in film and visual story telling. I briefly considered CGI, but after quickly realising I didn’t have the patience for it, I started to think about production and camerawork. I would drive my family mad with my newfound passion, documenting our every family outing and holiday, before spending hours editing on my home PC. As irritating as this likely was for all concerned, it actually taught me a lot about how to tell a story through images.

Further Education

Because I was a pretty good student, I was always told that the academic route was the way to go: sensible A-levels, then a three-year course at a good university. Because of this, I went against my better judgement and studied subjects at college I had little to no interest in – accounting, statistics and business studies. Unsurprisingly, I hated it, and spend most of my time finding ways to avoid going to my classes. I don’t think I’m alone here – unfortunately, it often seems to be the case that well-meaning teachers and parents look down on creative and niche courses, mistakenly believing that they will limit job prospects. Despite this setback, I finished college with decent grades and a renewed determination to have the courage of my convictions and follow my passions. Hopefully there’s a lesson in there somewhere!

Higher Education

Dan Hunt Staffordshire University Canon XL2
Shooting on the Canon XL2 at university

Although I wouldn’t always recommend this to anyone wondering how to start a career as a camera operator, I decided to go to university. At the time I finished college in the summer of 2004 there was a disappointing lack of occupational film-related courses to choose from. Although Film Studies is a good fit for anyone wanting to explore the theory and artistic merits of visual storytelling, I knew I wanted to work behind the camera, and wasn’t too interested in theory and analysis. Although I’d hope the situation has now improved, at the time, only one course was available to me locally that fit the bill: BSc Film Production Technology at Staffordshire University. As it turned out I only needed three Cs in any A-level subjects to get on to the course so I found myself once more wishing I had taken courses I enjoyed at A-level without worrying about the academic merit.

One of the great things about the course was that it offered the opportunity to take a year out to complete a 12-month work placement. This could either be with an external company or you could join a scheme where you’d set up your own business with support from the university. I opted to start a company and I can honestly say I learned more in this one year than my entire time studying. The offer included free office space for the year as well as ongoing funding and business mentorship. I’d always liked the idea of being my own boss and this was a relatively risk-free way to give it a go. So, along with a couple of friends, I set up ‘Warped Noise’, a video production company making music videos and music-related projects.

Warped Noise

Dan Hunt Warped Noise EX3
Music video shoot for “Mike TV” using the EX3

The first step was to market ourselves and find work. We also had to manage clients and their expectations, as well as fully deliver projects on time and on budget. The support we had from the university was great, and I loved being in control of the work we were doing and improving my camera operator skills. The experience was not without its challenges, however, as we quickly learned that most bands and artists don’t have a great deal of money. We managed to survive by working with corporate clients too, though our meagre student lifestyle didn’t demand too much funding! We loved what we were doing, and we continued the business into our final year of university alongside our studies.

Finding my way in the world

I left university in 2008 with a first class degree and decided to move to Manchester with friends. One member of Warped Noise left the business, but the remaining member and I decided to continue. Nevertheless, this wasn’t enough to support us full-time, so I took a part-time job with Royal Mail as a postman. It was at this time that we decided it was make or break, so we decided to invest in some camera equipment with the Sony EX3. It was actually the perfect camera for us – versatile enough to use on corporate, creative and live projects. I still own it and use it on occasion 10 years later! Owning the camera ourselves and having to find the money to pay for it was a great driving force for us, as we could never become too complacent.

As enjoyable as the life of a part-time postman was, by mid-2009 I felt I was letting myself down by not putting my all into pursuing the career I wanted. Because I was also unhappy where I was living at the time, I decided the first thing I needed was an adventure and a fresh start. I had a friend who was living near LA, so I decided to head out to California for a few months to join him. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and exactly what I needed to reset and plan my next move.

Dan Hunt Camera Operator Sony EX3
One of my first post-university projects in 2009

I’d given up both my apartment and car to go to California, so when I returned I was technically homeless. As much as I love my parents, moving in with them felt like a step backwards. I stayed on friends’ sofas for a few weeks while I sorted myself out. At this point I should introduce Rosie. We met when I was 16 and were in a relationship for a couple of years before I started university. We remained close friends throughout, and had started to see each other again in the weeks before I went away. She had a job in Birmingham and was looking to move into her own flat. Well, suffice to say that it didn’t stay “her” flat for long, and she was kind enough to support me financially while I moved and settled back in the Midlands. I was very happy, and we have remained very much in love ever since.

Leaving Manchester made running Warped Noise very difficult, so we reluctantly decided to call it a day and go our separate ways. I bought the EX3 for my own use and started to pick up the odd camera gig and found some regular freelance editing jobs. One of my clients turned out to have so much work that within a year I was pretty much working for them full time and so they offered me a contract.

Wow! Stuff

Wow! Stuff is a toy company who use an in-house video production department for all their promo videos and commercial content. I decided to work for them on a part-time basis at the same time as continuing independent work on the side. When I started I was only the second member of the team and so my role was very broad and covered all aspects of production, including shooting a lot of their videos. I spent good couple of years with Wow! Stuff and got to shoot some fun content along the way, but in early 2013 I felt it was time to jump back in to the freelance world with both feet!

Being a freelance camera operator

Happily married!
Happily married!

Rosie and I got married in May 2013 and took our honeymoon in South Africa straight after. I decided I would stay with Wow! Stuff until the wedding and afterwards I’d start properly as a freelancer. We’d been able to buy our first house by this time and with the expense of the wedding behind us I could enjoy the change without too much pressure. I’d built up a few good clients while freelancing part-time which gave me a safety net and had also allowed me to buy a Canon 5D mark 3 kit. This was at the peak of the DSLR craze and the EX3 wasn’t as popular as it had been but the 5D was in high demand. I filmed a lot of Asian weddings in the early days, as well as business profile videos and event coverage. Over the past seven years I’ve worked across all areas of the industry in some capacity but now primarily shoot corporate, live events and branded content. I have great clients from across the UK and my work as a freelance camera operator has taken me around the world.