How to become a freelance filmmaker

From short online videos to full-length movies, find out how to become a freelance filmmaker or videographer and share your talent with the world. Not only is self-employment common and widely accepted in the screen industry, but it’s now possible to create and edit studio-quality footage using just your phone.

Even when you start investing in professional-grade equipment, the costs of digital SLR and cinema cameras have dropped dramatically over recent years. And there’s a wide choice of open source and free film editing software to turn your laptop into your personal movie production suite.

Add free distribution of your work via video sharing sites including YouTube and Vimeo and filmmaking is more accessible than ever before. This allows you to follow your passion around a full-time job, or a freelance career in other areas until you build up a portfolio and client list allowing you to make a permanent switch.

Why become a freelance filmmaker?

Self-employment is common in the screen industries, with industry organisation Screenskills reporting around 28% of people working for themselves across the sector, and a higher proportion in some areas of filmmaking. And an accelerated acceptance of remote working following the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, you’re unlikely to face barriers purely because you’ve chosen to become a freelance filmmaker, and demand for video content has massively increased over recent years.

Freelancing allows you to choose the work and projects you take on, and how that fits with time devoted to personal projects, or around family and other commitments. It also means you can potentially focus on the subjects you enjoy the most, or be able to travel the world facing new challenges every day.

As with any freelance profession, you’ll need to combine talent, hard work, and a little good fortune to become really successful. But there’s a strong tradition of directors and filmmakers moving from producing commercials or music videos to being hired to produce Hollywood films for major studios, so you could go from corporate clients to working with movie stars every day.

What types of work exist for freelance filmmakers and videographers?

The growth of online platforms and ultrafast broadband has led to a big surge in demand and consumption for online audio-visual content, with Ofcom reporting total viewing increased to 5 hours and 40 minutes per person each day in the UK in 2020. And it’s not just children devoting their time to YouTube and TikTok, but a significant percentage of adults as well.

Businesses are embracing video as an essential way to reach customers, creating more opportunities for client and corporate film production alongside the demand from streaming services. And global audiences open up the potential for niche content to reach a significant number of people.

Areas freelance filmmakers could work in might include;

  • Wedding and event videos
  • Internal corporate instruction and information films (e.g., health and safety advice)
  • Education videos for customers (for example, demonstrating why and how to use specific software)
  • Interview videos (including clients, their customers, or industry figures)
  • Documentaries
  • Working for Youtubers or social media celebrities, or managing video platforms for clients
  • Advertising
  • Music videos
  • Support for larger film crews
  • Video game cinematics (creating films within game engines)
  • Creating your own original work, from vlogging to films.

There are a wide range of examples of freelance filmmakers starting out by working for clients, and being chosen to work on big film projects, or pivoting to creating their own self-employed businesses distributing their own creative videos, or educating others on skills and techniques.

It’s even possible to become a filmmaker without even using a camera or requiring actors, with your options ranging from digital animation to machinima, which uses video games to create footage.

How to become a freelance filmmaker

What skills, qualifications or experience do you need?

There are no formal qualifications required to become a freelance filmmaker or videographer. But a degree in film production, or a related subject, can help to reassure clients that you have the required knowledge and skills to deliver what they need. Especially if your projects also require support from other organisations such as public funding bodies, broadcasters or film distributors.

If you’re looking at taking any training or certification, make sure you check whether it will be useful to your career. And also, whether it’s offered or recognised by respected industry organisation, such as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) or Screenskills.

You can also find a wealth of advice available for free through resources such as the YouTube Creators site.

The most important assets to secure client projects will be relevant experience, and a strong portfolio of work. Training and certification in technical areas, and secondary supporting skills will also help. But typically, a client will be most likely to hire you for a project if they’re impressed with something similar that you’ve previously created and shared.

Building a successful freelance business as a filmmaker requires creativity, but you’ll also need other skills to attract and retain clients, including;

  • Enthusiasm and motivation
  • Flexibility
  • Good interpersonal skills to work with clients and understand what they want to achieve
  • Leadership and the ability to collaborate effectively, whether working with actors, interview subjects or colleagues
  • Project and time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem solving, and the ability to work within tight budgets, or other constraints
  • Good networking skills
  • A working knowledge of the law related to filming (actors, locations, using drones etc)
  • A passion for constantly learning

Any self-employed career will have ups and downs, so it’s important that you can stay motivated and work towards your goals – even when facing significant challenges. And you don’t have to be excellent in every area to get started, as many freelancers find they improve their communication, people skills and industry networks over time.

How much can freelance filmmakers earn?

In any freelance career, your income can vary between busy periods and times when projects are harder to secure. The rates you can charge will also depend on your skills, experience and the negotiations you have with clients.

Any figures are provided as estimates for guidance, but the average freelance videographer salary is reported at £42,293 (Glassdoor), compared to £31,555 for a filmmaker. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu) offers suggested ratecards for film and independent productions which can help you determine your day rate for various roles, along with the Advertising Producers Association (APA) crew terms for those working on adverts.

As a freelance filmmaker, you may be able to secure client work on retainer, allowing you to plan around a monthly amount for the duration of the contract. This can allow you to plan for the future more easily.

With any self-employed income, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve budgeted for all of your planned expenses, and ideally set aside some money for unexpected costs or a period with less work available.

It’s a good idea to invest in insurance for your equipment, and you may also want professional indemnity and public liability cover. You can find comprehensive guides to Insurance and Financial Wellbeing for the self-employed via the IPSA website. Membership can also include other support, including illness and injury cover if you’re unable to work for a time.

How to become a freelance filmmaker

What equipment do freelance filmmakers need?

It’s possible to become a freelance filmmaker of videography just using your phone. Or without any camera, if you decide to work with video game footage. But investing in quality equipment can help you produce more professional results, as well as appealing to anyone who loves experimenting with new gadgets and technology.

When you’re starting out, it’s worth remembering that equipment rental is an option if something is required for a specific project. Or you may be able to borrow or loan kit from other people in your network.

Costs and recommendations will vary wildly depending on how much you want to invest, and the types of work you specialise in. But as a general guide, the agreed essentials include:

  • Cameras
  • Lenses
  • Batteries, including spares and a charger
  • Memory cards and hard drives
  • Good quality microphones
  • Lighting
  • Tripods and gimbals to stabilise your camera.
  • Headphones for editing
  • Laptop or desktop computer both for editing, and marketing your business
  • Drones

Most professional filmmakers will grow their kit over time, discovering their preferences for particular brands or equipment through experience. You can find a huge number of reviews and recommendations for where to invest your budget online, but building your experience and skills with whatever you have immediately available will be more beneficial for your career than waiting until you can afford a lighting rig or taking on significant debt for an expensive camera

Film editing software for filmmakers and videographers

Your choice of film editing software will typically depend on whether you want to spend money on a paid option, or want to use one of the free choices available.

If you’re investing in professional video editing software, Adobe Premiere Pro is the most recommended choice and is essentially an industry standard, alongside the cheaper and simplified Adobe Premiere Elements. But alternatives exist including DaVinci Resolve, or Final Cut Pro for Apple Mac users.

Many companies offer free, simplified and professional versions of the same software, with more functionality available if you pay more. For example, Lightworks offer a free, Create and Pro version of their video editing solution.

Alternatively, you can stick with free and open-source software to create your videos and films. Options include Kdenlive, Openshot, or Shotcut, among many others. Development and availability are changing all the time, so it’s worth doing some research before devoting time to learning how a particular program operates.

And it’s worth remembering that many of the video sharing platforms do including some editing functionality, whether that’s Youtube Studio, or TikTok’s CapCut. So, it’s always worth exploring what’s possible within those apps.

The constraints of more limited editing can help you to focus on capturing the best footage, and achieving as much as possible in the filming process. And if you’re stuck on a particular problem, you can always ask for help and support in a variety of online communities, ranging from our own Creative Freelancers UK Facebook group to the Raindance Film Festival.

More support and resources to become a freelance filmmaker or videographer

Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.