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The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the precarious nature of working in the Film and Television industry. Up to 96% of the workers have lost all of their income as a result of the pandemic. 

I was fortunate when the pandemic hit. As a qualified, part-time medical Doctor I was able to offer up my services where they were needed. However a lot of my friends and peers have not been in such a fortunate position, and continue to struggle. 

Now I am not suggesting that all filmmakers become doctors (although the NHS would welcome your services!). However, working out how to make a living in the industry to maintain your financial security does require thought, planning, time and effort. 

Therefore, I will go into the steps you can utilise, to make a living.

  1. Dreams are great, but be realistic
  2. The key is diversification
  3. It won’t work the first time (or even the 2nd, maybe 3rd etc)
  4. Treat others as you want to be treated
  5. It’s a marathon and not a sprint

1) Dreams are great, but be realistic

Most filmmaker’s dreams are to be paid to make films. Everyone would love to be Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg. However the reality is (and I’m sorry to burst this bubble) that the majority of us won’t. 

Financial security and being able to pay your bills isn’t sexy, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about; in fact it should be celebrated. 

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire industry was brought to a standstill. Those lucky enough to be in a job already were given two-weeks notice, and freelancers who weren’t currently in a job waited for months to find out what support they were entitled to, and many finding out none.

As I said, I am not suggesting you all become medical doctors, but having other sources of income that you can rely on is important. Therefore…

2) The key is diversification

While our parents likely had one job their entire life, it is now normal to have several jobs/careers running parallel. No one job is likely to pay all of your bills, but together, they can make a whole. 

Advantages:

  • Your income streams become more resilient to external forces out of your control. For example, I went back to full-time clinical front line medicine, when my Film work dried up. 
  • Your work is more varied and interesting. By having different jobs, you are less likely to become bored in a particular job.
  • Skills you learn in one job can assist another. For example, my corporate filming of medical education videos has made me a better producer. I have produced over 30-hours of online video content. As a result, I know how to organise a film set. I learnt a lot of technical aspects of filmmaking, post-production and the legal frameworks. Finally, I have learnt how to run a business, and make no mistake, a Film Producer is a Businessperson. If you want £1M to make your film, the investors want some guarantee you can deliver the goods (hoping your creative vision will be enough isn’t going to cut it). 
  • The people I have met from different professions have led to broader networks and more work opportunities.

The downsides include the fact that this ‘gig’ economy type of multiple income streams tends to be lower, with less security in each individual job. However, if you are looking for definite job security, Film and TV is probably not a good career choice anyway – NHS is always recruiting. 

It has taken me 7-years from when I started out (no contacts, no films to my name and no experience) to get to where I am today, and I have three jobs: Filmmaker, Medical Doctor and Businesswoman. 

The next question becomes, how?

3) It won’t work the first time (or even the 2nd, maybe 3rd etc)

How do you access these different income streams and work out the balance? Well the easy answer is by trying and failing, and trying again – you get the picture. 

I have been on the NHS Entrepreneur programme for 3-years, and the programme Director, Professor Tony Young does a ‘failure-off’ with friend and entrepreneur Paul Gaudin – they try to outdo each other on their failures. But every failure taught them valuable lessons that made the next project more likely to be successful – which they are. 

I have many failed ventures. But I have learnt from them and tried to not make the same mistakes the next time. 

So how do you access these streams? Well what do you enjoy doing? What are you good at? What did you study? I studied medicine – albeit unusual to have an intensive job as a second job, but I enjoy it. 

Try on different jobs and see how they fit . Also, don’t just focus on your local area. The internet means you can access paid income from trusted global websites, like Fiverr and Upwork. 

If you are a VFX artist, why can’t you take on a job from Australia? Covid-19 has proven remote working works. 

4) Treat others as you want to be treated

It may not be apparent how this is relevant, but stick with me. As a Doctor I have to adhere to medical ethics and law and ensure I behave professionally and with respect at all times.

This approach has automatically bled into my film work. I treat my colleagues in Film as I do my hospital colleagues. 

As such, I have developed a regular core crew. I can pick up the phone about a project and know that I’ll likely get a ‘yes’ in return. 

I have lost count the number of times I have been told that people enjoy working with me and my team. There are people who do not adhere to the same level of respect and communication. 

Which leads us to treating people as you want to be treated. 

I do not want to be shouted at, or have someone disrespect me (that’s not to say it hasn’t happened, of course it has, there are people who will try to take advantage). But I then don’t want to work with them again. I don’t recommend them to others for jobs and I won’t help them.

5) It’s a marathon and not a sprint

When starting out in the industry, I networked like mad. I knew no one in the industry and a camera was an alien artefact. 

I found that there is a lot of aggressive networking. Everyone wants to get their projects off the ground, get made. 

However, think about this: if someone came up to you, a complete stranger and within 5-minutes, asked you to give them money, would you? Likely not. 

You would ask questions, do a bit of research and want to meet them some more. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint. No one gets money or support from a single interaction. Relationships take years to develop. 

So be a bit less aggressive and just get to know people. If there’s mutual respect, you’re professional, prove you’re trustworthy and have the skills needed, then you are more likely to be successful and get them on board. 

In summary…

It won’t happen overnight and you’ll fail, a lot. But learn from those mistakes as well as the successes. Don’t think non-film specific work is not-valid – there are lots of crossover skills. And finally, if none of the above works for you, come to the NHS. 

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About 

Dr Nidhi Gupta is a multi-award winning filmmaker, and is currently in development of a Covid-19 based thought-provoking documentary  Start. Stop. Repeat., where scholars, activists and politicians analyse the history of pandemics to find a positive future through Covid-19