New Year, New Job: How to find work as a freelance video producer

JamesBraithwaite tells MCV about the challenges of working as a freelance video producer for games developers, and which skills budding video creators should put at their top of their CV

What exactly does your role entail?

That depends on the client, but I do a variety of tasks. I design idents (logo animations for the game or for the dev), development and progress videos, and even game trailers according to whatever brief I’m given. I also give advice to game developers concerning the length and content of the videos that they (or I) produce.

What are your main responsibilities?

Alongside basic editing and some graphic design work, I’m usually required to meet a deadline. If no deadline is set then I ask for one. I’m required to download the footage the devs have captured, consolidate it into a short video – usually two to five minutes from 15 to 20 minutes of raw video – and then upload a low resolution draft. If the draft is good then I upload a full resolution version; if not then I make any necessary changes and upload a new draft. Rinse, repeat.

How did you get your job?

I asked for it. I started freelancing about a year ago, doing talking head videos for charities – mostly unpaid work. At university I did a lot of editing and effects work, so that made up the brunt of my showreel. With a good showreel and the experience from my charity work on my CV I was good to go. I simply asked some game developers if they needed any video work done. Most of them didn’t respond. Most of the ones that did respond didn’t require my services. One or two, however, were interested. A few emails later and I had a new client.

What special skills or qualifications did you need?

Obviously being able to use something like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere is pretty vital, but beyond that everything else is extra. I’m pretty handy with Adobe After Effects and I can do a spot of animation, which has come in very handy. When applying for a competitive position a while back, my ability to use After Effects was certainly the biggest factor that led to me getting the job. Having a degree in Film and TV Production has helped, but your showreel and your experience is really what counts.

Describe a normal day. What do you do?

I don’t always have work. There are sometimes long dry spells where I’m unable to find any work, or I know that I’m about to receive a lot of work so I wait. I’ll often send emails out to old clients or look for work from new ones. If I have work then I’ll focus on it, checking with my client every now and then if some detail isn’t clear, or if X Y or Z is a good idea – the sorts of things that might get slammed in the first draft.

What are the best and worst parts of your role?

I love video games. Being able to work closely with game devs is incredible. I get to see how the game develops over time, I get insight into how games are designed and I make a couple of friends along the way. I occasionally even get offered the full game for free, once it’s released. I’m fortunate in that I’m yet to meet a bad egg, but that’s not to say that frustrations never come through. Being lost in translation is stressful. I sometimes receive conflicting requests, so I’ll have a 50/50 chance of receiving unfettered praise or the wrath of a dev who wanted dark white, not light black. Communication is key, however. Misunderstandings, while stressful, can easily be cleared up.

What tips would you give to someone applying for a similar position?

A good showreel is important. It’s something that every video editor knows, but it can be easy to forget. I’ve gotten work based on my showreel alone. If you don’t have a showreel, work on some personal projects or ask charities if they need any video work done. Work your way up until you have something good.

What tips would you offer someone applying to work in the same field?

It’s good to have a mix of skills. Knowing how to use Photoshop or Flash is a boon to your existing skills, and you’ll find that being able to use a range of software comes in pretty handy.

What are your long-term career plans?

Freelance is an excellent way to gain experience and earn a little bit of cash, but – at my level at least – it’s not a living wage. The work I do now facilitates getting a full-time role in the future. It is fun, though, and I think it’s something I’ll continue to do when I’m working full-time.

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