One of the most important things to remember about the freelance community is that we’re never alone. Although we may work for ourselves, pay our own taxes and spending a hell of a lot of time at our solitary desks, there are so many diverse and supportive freelancers out there just ready to share their stories and advice.
This week, I’m talking to Will J Carman, a freelance filmmaker and video editor from Nottingham. Having worked as a freelancer throughout his professional life, he’s created some incredible pieces for some big name businesses and it was great getting to know more about his journey and his work.
Tell us about you, your work and how you got started.
Firstly, thank you very much for having me on here, Nikki, it’s a real pleasure. This should be quite fun. I guess my umbrella title is freelance filmmaker, but if you were to break it down into specific roles I’m a cameraman, video editor and colourist, so I mostly work on video and film productions, either as a one man band doing everything or as part of a crew, working on one of those individual roles. I shoot mostly a lot of corporate films, and branded content, and I’ve been involved in projects for Center Parks, Les Mills, Wattbike, Capital One and I even did a short project with BBC Three a couple of years back. So that’s my bread and butter, but outside of that I shoot quite a few music videos and short films as well.
I got started in film making back in 2007, I discovered a thing called parkour, also known as free funning. A friend of mine got me into it, and I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing I’ve ever come across. He showed me a couple of videos and by today’s standards they’re completely basic and amateur, but to me it was completely mind blowing that people could do these things like jumping over these walls or balancing on these railings and stuff like that, I just thought it was incredible. So I instantly wanted to go out and try it for myself, so me and him went out together and we eventually met up with a bigger group of people who did it as well. From day one of going out, I took a little point and shoot camera with me, I started taking pictures and making little videos and started to develop a little passion for taking videos.
When I left school, I decided I wanted to go and study Film and TV Production. I studied at a place called Confetti in Nottingham, as a Btech National Diploma. Through that I developed my skill set to make documentaries, short films, music videos. Then I stayed at Confetti for another two years and did a foundation degree in film as well. A year after graduating, I got my foot in the door and got a job as a full time editor in a production company.
What inspired you to work for yourself?
That’s an interesting one because I was actually pushed into becoming a freelancer. I was working full time at a production company as a cameraman for just under two years, and one day I got made redundant. They realised they didnt need full time cameramen on their books, and they’d decided to go down the freelance route instead and work that way. It was obviously a shock, going to work in the morning and going home in the afternoon with no job, but it kind of made sense – I knew where they were coming from. A part of me even suspected they would go down that route, because there would be days or weeks where there were no shoots and I’d be in the office just twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do.
So after getting over the initial panic of ‘my life is over!’, the next logical step for me was to go freelance. I did go freelance a couple of years earlier, just after I left uni, but it really didn’t work out well. You know the old saying of being freelance is basically being unemployed, and that was definitely true for me. I would get say one job per month, and it wouldn’t even be enough to cover one month’s rent. So I didn’t really enjoy that period of time, which is why I chose to pursue full time work. But after losing this full time job, it didn’t really feel like there was anywhere else for me to go. There definitely weren’t any jobs available around that time, so it seemed the most logical step was to go freelance and after having worked full time for the past few years, I had more experience and more skills going freelance this time around.
So initially it was quite a scary thought, especially as I was renting quite an expensive flat at the time but after some encouragement and some talks with my parents, I decided to give myself six months to try and make it work. Obviously if it didn’t work after six months I would just go and get myself a normal job, whatever pays the bills really. For me as well, I had to make a pretty big upfront investment, I had to spend quite a few thousand pounds to buy the equipment to get myself set up and good to go. I had some of my own equipment at the time, so a few of my own cameras, but I felt like if I wanted to be taken seriously as a professional freelancer, I would need to invest in some expensive equipment. So I had to spend quite a bit of my savings to get that, it was quite scary because obviously at the time, I didn’t know if it was going to work out, whether I’d earn the money back. Luckily, in the end it did pay off.
How you handle working from home without distractions?
I’m not sure I do to be honest. I’m lucky, as most of my work requires me to go out and spend a bit of time on shoots. But when I am at home, editing or colour grading, I’m usually pretty good at being self-disciplined or motivated by deadlines, or just realising that the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can move on and go and do the fun things I want to do.
Do you ever miss working full time?
No, not at all really. Considering I was kind of pushed into this whole freelancing thing, I wouldn’t want to go back into full time work at all. I love not having to go into an office every day and being more flexible with my schedule, and my life. Even though I would confess that I’m a bit of a workaholic and I do struggle to give myself time off, I really love it and I wouldn’t want to change it at all really.
What are some of your business goals?
I guess the ultimate goal for me is to work on bigger projects. I see myself as an aspiring director of photography, so I’d like to get a point where I can do that instead of the one-man-band stuff I do at the moment. So I’d like to work on productions such as narrative films and commercials, and be able to work with a crew more often as that does make things a lot easier, rahter than having to do everything myself.
I’m also looking into diversifying my income a little, and finding other ways to make money. Since going freelance I’ve always had an interest in finding ways to make a passive income, and one of the ways I’d like to do that is by selling digital products such as luts, which are essentially colour grading presets for video. So I’ve been working on making those, as well as selling photography prints and even some stock footage, and because I’ve had more time available recently I’ve be able to explore those avenues and plant a few seeds which I’m quite excited for. They might never pay off, but really I think they’re worth exploring. I think it’s worthwhile for any freelance person to look into diversifying their income in some way, because it can really help you out in the long run.
What advice would you give to someone else thinking of becoming a freelancer?
Just do it really. If you have an itch, scratch it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to full time employment.
There’s not really much to lose. It’s one of those things where when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to thinking ‘oh I’m really glad I didn’t take that risk and become my own boss.’
So you might as well try, you’ll never know otherwise. You don’t need to quit your job and jump head first into it, you can start it off as a casual side job, grow it to being part time and eventually full time. Take small steps and build your way up. You also learn if being a full time freelancer is for you, because you might think it’s a good idea but once you get into it, you might find it’s just not actually for you.
A useful thing to do is set yourself a date – a friend of mine attended an event where the speaker asked him when he was planning to go freelance. He just said something like ‘oh in a couple of years, when im ready…’ and the speaker said ‘well you’re never going to do it then. ‘ If you don’t set yourself a deadline, then you’ll keep pushing it back and never actually do it.
So my friend gave himself a year to get set up as a freelancer and he did it. He’s now a full time freelancer and running his own business.
If you’re interested in chatting to Will about your next project, I’ve included all of his links below.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe.