In the early days of my career, I used to work as a videographer/editor in San Diego. My day job was in local news, but I had a lot of side gigs doing anything from documentaries to sizzles to corporate videos, you name it. One of those gigs was an anniversary video for a local community college where Oscar-winning writer/director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) had been a student while growing up in the area. He agreed to appear in the video and I was sent to Sony Studios in Culver City in September 2009 to shoot an interview with him.
I was really excited to meet Cameron Crowe not only because he wrote and directed some great films, but because of his ties to my favorite band of all time, Pearl Jam. I just wanted to talk to him about Singles and the music video he had recently directed for the band (the next day I went to see Pearl Jam live at the Gibson Amphitheater).
As someone who wanted to be a filmmaker and had no idea how to break into Hollywood, I asked him if he had any tips for me. He offered a piece of advice that ultimately changed my life and career:
“When you stop making it about the money, that’s when things will start happening.”
I have to admit that his advice didn’t quite sink in at that moment in 2009. I wasn’t in the right head space, still not self-aware and open to fully take advantage of that piece of information. More on that in a future blog post 😃 But it did get me thinking.
Cut to (hehe!) March 2017. I’m still trying to figure out how work on Hollywood films & scripted TV shows. At this point in my life, though, I know I want to focus on being an editor. That’s when I met Oscar-nominated editor, Joi McMillon (If Beale Street Could Talk, Girls), at a local post-production meet-up where she and co-editor Nat Sanders were part of a Q&A panel for editing Best Picture winner, Moonlight.
After the panel, I went up to Joi to introduce myself and tell her how much I had enjoyed reading her interviews prior to the Oscars because she talked a lot about her journey that got her to edit the Best Picture of 2017. I asked her if she had any advice for someone who was trying to edit feature films or scripted TV shows. Right away she gave me the same answer as Cameron Crowe did. She said that once I stopped thinking about money, that’s when I would start seeing results. This time I was in a different point of my life and that bit of information struck a huge chord, one that eventually got me to work on Hollywood feature films and scripted TV shows (months later I got to assist one of Joi’s friends on a Union feature film).
So what did Mr. Crowe and Mrs. McMillon mean when they said to “not make it about the money?”
This meant to stop taking jobs just because they pay a good rate and look for jobs that will provide better value, like experience and connections, even if the pay sucks. So I did just that. I started looking for assistant editor jobs on indie films to get into the narrative world and start making connections. I was able to get on a Tier 0, Union feature film that paid so little that I couldn’t pay my bills at the end of the month. But I was working on a legit feature and I formed a relationship with an editor, director, and a producer. That then led me to do several fill-in gigs on other films and scripted TV shows. I would only work for 2-3 weeks on a project, but I was making connections at several production companies. I stopped thinking about how much money I could make on a job that was not going to take me down the right career path and started thinking about getting ‘paid’ with the right experience and connections. It’s safe to say that a lot of us are not working right now, so here are some tips to help you have better control of your money even through a pandemic:
1. Crunch the numbers
Look at your monthly expenses and make a budget list on Excel or Google Sheets. Once I was furloughed almost two months ago, I created a document that lists all my expenses for the month and how much I expected to spend on each line item. I make it a goal to spend less than the amount I projected. If I spent less, I highlight the amount green…red if I went over. That way I can clearly see where I need to make an adjustment. I also use a mobile app called Checkbook to keep track of my daily expenses. I give myself a weekly budget and use this app to make sure I don’t go over that amount.
2. Save as much as you can
I can’t emphasize how important it is to save money and build a cushion, specially as a freelancer. Even with so many of us being unemployed right now due to COVID-19, we can actually put some money aside with the unemployment stimulus. I feel like a lot of people think (including myself at some point) they are not able to save money, but in reality most of us can by not spending our hard-earned cash on stuff we don’t really need. Trust me, not too long ago I was that person. I have a sneaker addiction. But do I really need another pair? You have to think about your goals and doing everything you possibly can to get there.
3. Learn to make sacrifices
I remember asking my editor friend how he gets to work on amazing, big budget projects. He said he kept his living expenses down so he could afford to only work on films or TV shows that he really liked. So he wasn’t living in the posh apartment or driving the fanciest car. It was a choice he made so he never felt he had to just take any job. I’m sure he’ll get to a point where he can do both. But when you are starting out, it’s important to develop the discipline to keep your spending in check.
Things are different now in 2020, but these tips still apply. In fact, I’d say they’re even more important now since the majority of us are living off unemployment. But we are going to go back to work eventually, so it’s a good time to work on developing these habits. What are some of the things you do to save money? How do you manage your expenses? I think we don’t talk about money enough and I think it’s important we do. I’ll for sure get back to this topic in future blog posts.