Thursday, March 9, 2017

Going Pro: Doomsday

Day 1 (December 24th, Christmas Eve):

The decision:  become a filmmaker in 180 days.  I didn’t reach this decision lightly—wait, did I say 180 days? 

 I did.  

A New World in 180 Days

Initially, I planned to do this in just six months-- though in truth my goal was to land my first truly professional job... something that paid close to a living wage.  The gulf between one gig and sustained income is enormous. however, I wrestled with the wisdom and practicality of making this career change at my stage in life. I didn’t reach it of my own volition—I was driven to it. 

My wife was ten days pregnant when my boss sat me down and explained that my job would be ending.  I was grant-funded, and the opportunities had dried up. They could keep me on at 30% time for the next ten months, or 60% time for six months.  After that was a mystery. 

Currently, I was a 70% time employee, filling the rest of my work-week with either theatre production (which I had done part-time and for peanuts for decades) or photography.  I had done a smattering of video work on top of my new part-time career of photography… just enough to wet my interest and make it clear that I did not have the skills to create video at a professional, competitive level.  My videos were muddy, ungraded, with mediocre sound, and choppy edits.  Luckily, they had been created for an organization with even lower standards (and a greater sense of pleasant surprise) than I, so at least the customer was happy.  But they wouldn’t have passed any reasonable critique from even a film student, let alone professional.  I was fifty-one years old, a ridiculous age to start a new career.  I had a mortgage and a child on the way.  I was also tired of getting close to the work and security I wanted from my job only to have it shaken up by outside forces.  

"Showing irritation is rarely 

to your advantage."

Sitting across the table from my boss, I sighed inwardly.  We'd faced lean times before.  I believe that showing irritation or unhappiness is rarely to your advantage.  I knew the real difference between ten months at 30% and six months at 60% was insurance.  At 60% I would have health insurance.  For a new family that would be $800 a month on the open market.  But I also knew that in my particular field—environmental health education-- ten months had the possibility of stretching longer; we were constantly searching for new opportunities.  

I told him six months at 60%.  One hundred and eighty days of guaranteed employment, and then….

And then.  Before the clock ran out I needed to develop not just a plan for my new company, but book enough production jobs to accumulate the working capital needed to support a mortgage and a child.  In (what later became) 40 weeks, I needed to almost double my monthly income so that I could not only walk away from the day job but have the resources to sustain a new business.  And last week I did just that—walked away.

This is precisely how I did it.

Next post: picking your poison-- the art of the super-niche.

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