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Ask Yourself These Questions Before Traveling for a Freelance Gig

Part of the draw to working as a freelancer is that you are your own boss and can decide when and where to work. The flexibility that comes…
Ask Yourself These Questions Before Traveling for a Freelance Gig

Part of the draw to working as a freelancer is that you are your own boss and can decide when and where to work. The flexibility that comes with this independence can make it enticing to follow a story or work opportunity when it leads you abroad. Being out there in the field is probably why you got into this career in the first place. However, there are some questions you should ask yourself before pursuing international or far-flung gigs.

1. Does the math add up?

This first question is the most important when considering whether to pursue work internationally because it typically involves higher expenses and unforeseen costs. Sure, you might have been planning to visit this country no matter what, but doing work for a loss is just bad business. Before applying to a gig overseas, find out how much the client will cover for expenses and what their expenses policies are. Iron that out ahead of time so that there are no surprises when you send them a receipt at the end of production. If you’re not making any money after accounting for travel costs, transporting or renting gear (which can be astronomically expensive in another country), filming permits, or hiring crews or fixers, then you probably shouldn’t take the job.

2. What’s your backup plan?

If you’re abroad and there’s an emergency (ie. your passport is stolen, you’re injured, you have to buy expensive plane tickets to get home ASAP), you better have some savings you can fall back on. And in those situations cash is always king. If you don’t have a healthy cushion to rely on when you’re abroad, you shouldn’t take the gig. Anything could happen and you don’t want to find yourself in a tight spot financially. Media companies tend to offer support when their freelancers get into trouble, but these policies vary greatly from company to company, so make sure to discuss worst case scenarios with your client just in case. Save your editor’s phone number in your phone. Tell your friends where you are going and when you will be back.

3. Will you have to take special measures in order to travel to the location?

If you’ll be required to apply for visas, special filming permits, get extra vaccines, or similar measures, you might want to reconsider taking the gig. Part of this comes back to whether you’ll be making money, but it’s also important to consider this in terms of how long official government processes can take and how urgent the job is. It might end up that you accept the gig, but can’t get into the country on time because your visa is delayed. Then not only would you have to cancel and waste money on the visa or plane tickets, but you’d be disappointing your client and potentially souring your relationship with them.

4. Will you have the knowledge required for the shoot or will you need to hire a fixer?

A lot of international shoots you might consider pursuing will actually require you to have an understanding of local language, culture, or geography. And if you haven’t been to the location before, you’re taking a chance on your own ability to deliver according to your client’s expectations. While you can hire a local fixer to help you, that will probably be coming from your own budget and brings you back to the question of whether you’re making money. And it also means figuring out ahead of time who you want to work with. If you need to hire a fixer for your next gig, send us an email and we might be able to help you.

5. Do you have the right training and gear?

Similar to the question above, you should ask yourself whether you are prepared for unfamiliar shooting conditions. Perhaps the shoot is in a desert, but you’ve never shot in extreme heat and aren’t prepared for it with the proper gear. Or if you’re pursuing a gig in a conflict zone for the first time, you should take a safety training course before your departure. No matter what, create redundancy and bring more gear than you think you need. The last thing you want is to travel extensively and at great cost only to show up with a broken lens.

6. What will you do if your client wants a reshoot but you’ve left the area?

It’s a serious possibility that if you’re taking an international gig that you won’t still be on location if the client wants a reshoot. And if you can’t easily help them with a pickup shoot, you could be damaging your relationship. If you do decide to take an international gig and won’t be staying around the area after you’ve finished shooting, you should definitely address this with your client before you take the job, so they fully understand what is and isn’t possible.

7. Will you have the time to see and enjoy the place you’re traveling to?

If you’re taking the gig because you think it’s a good opportunity to do some sightseeing somewhere new, then you may want to rethink it. Depending on how long you’re staying in the country and how intensive the shoot is, you may not actually have that much free time to travel and explore. If this is one of the main reasons you pursue international gigs, you should definitely include some extra sightseeing days when figuring out your budget.

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By D. Simone Kovacs, Storyhunter Editor