Key Differences, Pros and Cons About Studio vs. Freelance Production
Posted on: Jan 18, 2024
Are you considering making the jump from freelance work to studio production? Are you working for a studio, but longing to be on-set? Are you wondering which might be the right place to start? If so, read on for an overview of the differences between freelance and studio production to help you make the best decision for your career.
Working studio side generally means a bit more stability and potentially benefits, but comes with the lack of freedom to choose (or not choose) projects at your discretion. However, the connections and ability to move up might be worth it for some.
Here’s some key things to consider about studio production:
Since studio production jobs are full-time staff positions, one of the perks is a consistent title and paycheck. Many studio personnel go on to have decades-long careers for their employer. It should be noted, however, that no job is completely “safe.” Many studio positions are still subject to layoffs, corporate restructuring and/or buyouts.
People often choose studio over freelance when hoping to achieve a better work-life balance. Since the hours tend to be more reliable and most positions offer some paid time off, studio employees often have more flexibility while working on major productions.
However, it’s still production, so late nights and urgent projects are common. Certain seasons may be slower, and others more demanding. In some positions, you may still be expected to be available after hours. In general, studio employees are typically logging shorter days than the consistent long hours on-set for freelancers.
While you will only be working for one studio and in one department, you will likely be working on a variety of projects. At any given time, you may be overseeing multiple shows or features at once. New shows will have you working remotely with new crew (who you may never meet in person), but it’s likely your studio coworkers will stay consistent.
Connections & Perspective
At a studio you will have access to some very powerful connections. Department heads and executives have years of experience and an incredible number of contacts, so these are amazing people to work with or get to know.
In most studio positions, you’ll be able to see your projects from start to finish. While it’s unlikely you’ll be spending much, if any, time on-set, this provides a useful broad perspective of the entire production process. You’ll also be privy to high-level conversations taking place at the studio, allowing you to better understand why certain decisions are made in production.
In general, studios will expect employees to maintain a certain amount of professionalism in their office culture. This depends on who is in charge, but business casual attire and corporate lingo seem to be the norm. There will be plenty of rules to both abide by at work and enforce on your shows.
Promotions & Lateral Movement
Potential for upward mobility will depend greatly on the structure of your department, so this is an important question to ask when interviewing. Many studios do reward loyalty and there is the possibility of moving up once you’ve paid your dues and proven you are ready.
There is also the possibility of lateral movement within the studio. For example, if you decide the department you are working in is not the right fit, you may have a slight advantage over outside applicants in obtaining another role at the studio, thanks to any connections you have made and your knowledge of studio policies and processes.
Benefits & Perks
Benefits will vary depending on the studio and position, but the included benefits is a common draw to studio production. Particularly for American employees, these benefits may include health insurance, dental, vision, paid holidays, parental leave and retirement accounts. There are also some fun perks to working for a studio, such as lavish holiday parties, employee discounts, access to early premieres and screenings, and more.
A freelancer working in the entertainment industry has the freedom to choose which shows, events or movies they work on. They accept work on an as-wanted or as-needed basis. While a freelancer does indirectly work for a studio, network or production company, they are essentially a contractor employed on a temporary basis. They are hired for a specific project with a start and end date.
Key things to consider about freelance production:
Freedom & Instability
A freelancer can choose which show, movie or event to work on. They can turn down a project they aren’t as excited about in lieu of one that sparks their interest. They have the freedom to accept work as often as they want, and to work with crews they enjoy.
However, with freelance, there is no guarantee of work. Depending on your timing, connections and external factors like strikes or slower production years, you could find yourself out of work for longer than desired.
Due to the nature of working in a hands-on environment with long hours, freelance production work tends to be both extremely physically and mentally demanding. Work-life balance in this case depends on your ability to take time off between projects, which can be unpredictable. While working on a show that is actively shooting, work will always come first. It is truly a labor of love.
Because you’re constantly bouncing from project to project, things will rarely be boring. You’ll consistently work in different locations, with different crew members and on new types of projects. Each day on-set provides you with a variety of challenges and experiences.
Connections & Hands-On Experience
Working on a variety of projects will allow you to meet hundreds of crew members on each set. Networking in this environment allows you to make very personal connections, since you will be spending plenty of time together.
In the entertainment industry, the best way to achieve hands-on experience on a set, stage, editing room or other creative environment is in a freelance position. When working with the crew members who are operating cameras, building sets or directing background actors, you’ll see exactly how the show or project comes together—in person.
This depends greatly on the type of project you are working on, but typically the environment on most shows or events is more informal. Dressing appropriately to be able to move and operate equipment takes precedence over business attire, and set lingo is a language of its own.
Finding Your Niche & Moving Up
Because there are so many roles for freelancers in production, you will have the opportunity to see a variety of positions in action and hone in on the area that best fits your skill set. This is also where you can find those surprisingly specific jobs, like snake wranglers or special effects makeup artists!
There is often plenty of room for upward mobility in the freelance world, although it can take time. Moving from project to project frequently may present more opportunities for a promotion, but these promotions may also require joining unions, obtaining safety certifications and/or logging a certain number of working hours.
Rates & Unions
While some studios may leave you with little room to negotiate your rate as a freelancer, you do have the power to set your rate and choose to only accept work that meets your minimum. Since you will be moving from show to show, you can increase your rate accordingly as you gain experience and compare with your colleagues.
Joining a union is certainly not required for freelancers, but it does provide some much-needed protections in the often-grueling freelance world. Unions can help to set a standard pay rate, provide benefits, negotiate legal working hours and more.
It is largely a matter of personal preference and awareness of your own priorities that will help determine which is the best fit for you. If you still aren’t sure, there’s nothing wrong with trying a bit of both!
Kealey McGray studied Creative Writing and Film & Television at the University of Michigan. She has worked in almost every part of the entertainment industry for the past 14 years including live TV, unscripted TV, and scripted TV, as well as independent films, commercials, events/concerts, and for a major Hollywood studio.
Browse thousands of jobs and find your next gig! Sign up or log in to Staff Me Up and get on set today!
You may also like: