How To Stop The “Never-Ending-Gig-Work” And Get Paid To Make Your Own Projects

(Alex Le May) #1

I believe that web series creators who make their own stuff are the most interesting people anywhere. I think that the people who architect their lives and build their own futures are the ones making the most interesting content. So, in the end, for me, it’s about creating the films or web series content that I want to be known for rather than try to be all things to all people.

I myself have gotten caught too many times doing work solely to pay the bills. Any work, didn’t matter if it was a web spot for a gym or a video for a large Agriculture company about the benefits of phosphate. At one point, I found myself being yelled at for not writing fast enough copy about babies and puppies for a cable network whose name rhymes with Shmanimal Shmanet . I absolutely adore both puppies and babies but…

This practice of doing things just for the money is fine for a time, but when that turns into years it might be time to move on if you truly want to be known for your original work.

It was at that point when I had to ask myself, “is this the work I want to be known for and is this the right place for me to try to make that happen”? … and the answer was a resounding, “no”. It was frightening to realize that I was going to need to walk out of that place with no safety net. I lasted about two more weeks there and then I walked out the door with nothing but an empty parking lot in front of me.

When you get hired to make things, people start to get to know you for that kind of content. There are directors who make only car stuff and writers who only write about food and novelists who specialize in mysteries. The fact is, is that the successful ones specialize in the thing they want to be known for, thus, people know how to hire and collaborate with them.

The dilemma starts when you begin to make things that you’re good at, but that frankly, you don’t like to make, or that aren’t supporting the vision you’ve always had for your career. No one got into this saying, “I can’t wait to make that web spot for that personal injury lawyer”. That was true with me. I got hired to make a demo for a company that made sunglasses and the next thing I know, I’m the eyewear guy. Not in a million years as a young director would I have thought I would become the progressive lens king. The thing that happened to me was that I got good at eyewear, so they asked me to make a TON more of it and then…well, I started to resent it and that resentment turned into outright hatred. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I thought by then, I would be making original films/series. So, at that point, I had to completely tear down my notion of why I was doing this and decide whether I wanted to continue to commit to never-ending gig work. It was then that decisions had to be made in order to realign my career into the vision I’d always had for it.

3 things I did to be sure I got paid for the work I’d always seen myself making:

Became an expert: Knowing what niche I wanted to work in was paramount to getting hired and/or selling what I was best at. Once I figured that out, I learned everything there was to know about it and wasn’t afraid to share my opinion and insight into that subject, EVERY DAY. This lets people know how to ‘buy’ me (at first with their time and then with their money). I gave people context of what type of content I made and why my take on it was important and had value to them.

Only made content that looked like what I wanted to be known for: My niche then was unscripted travel and lifestyle docs so the only jobs I took were things that held that ethos. I had to completely commit to making that kind of work. Even when I found myself needing to do gig-work to pay the bills, then I would be sure I was taking work where I could flex that muscle. If I found myself making an “earnest” bank commercial, I was on the wrong set. The more work I took outside my expertise/niche, the longer it took me to become known for the kind work I’d always seen myself making.

Defined myself as a partner, not a job seeker: The people who end up succeeding at this game are people who become indispensable to either studios, production companies or agencies are people who know exactly what kind of work they do and why it has value to the person looking to work with them. They knock down the status quo and change what’s possible, they don’t come in looking for a paycheck. This is exactly what I try to do every day and it has been the surest way for me to become a partner to studios and production companies instead of just an employee. Being a partner is a much freer place to be. It means I actually have a voice instead of just being an idea slave.

The long and the short of it is, be sure that what you’re making is something that matches the vision you have for your filmmaking career, because if you’re good at something you hate, people will still ask you to make more of it…and making things you tolerate or outright resent is the surest way to get stuck shooting video packages about ANSI Z87.1 Standards for Oakley sunglasses high velocity impact results or LensCrafters nylon frame density. My eyeballs hurt just thinking about it.

The question is, what are you getting hired for that looks the work you want to be known for? Leave a comment or DM me. I’d love to hear how you’re shaping your career.

(Bri Castellini) #2

This so perfectly fits in with a system I outlined last week in one of my articles! I realized that I was all of the sudden doing work I was good at but hated and needed to take a step back and reevaluate what the point of that was.

(Alex Le May) #3

Thanks so much for sharing this. I think you should consolidate your epic achievement of 100 articles into the quintessential guidebook for how to navigate this crazy life we lead. I love your article. Must have mind-melded as we both wrote these. Congrats on 100!