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Silence is defined as the absence of any noise or sound; stillness. However, for a freelancer it is the most deafening (and terrifying) noise one can experience. The absence of your ringtone, text tone, or email notification tone going off for a lengthy period of time segues into the five stages of a grief-like state for a freelancer.
First, there is denial. Your phone must be broken.
Overnight, without you knowing, your home had a cement shell constructed around it, preventing you from getting a signal. You think you recall reading something somewhere (Facebook maybe?) about a bug in your model phone, causing it not to receive phone calls or texts.
Your Internet service provider has really dropped the ball this time. You seem to be unable to receive important emails from potential clients, yet somehow, emails about switching your car insurance keep trickling in (can it really save me 15% in just 15 minutes?) Whatever the technological shortcoming that has put a curse upon your household may be, it is making you quite…
Angry. Stage two.
Clearly, these people are idiots who do not realize how good you are and how much they need you. How dare they blow you off and treat you like this!
You feel like a lover scorned. Why won’t they return your call? You have been cheated on and you know it. They are seeing another creative. I bet they are younger, better looking, with a bigger....camera than you. All the beautiful work you have done together means nothing. They faked every firm handshake and smile. Perhaps you contemplate confronting them, publicly or on social media. Or maybe slash their dolly wheels and spray-paint 'HACK' across their slate, but no, that is not you. So what can you do to salvage the relationship? What can you do to get them to look at you with that same creative passion they used to?
Hello, bargaining. Stage three.
Maybe you are charging them too much, or delivering too little. Maybe if you showed up 30 minutes before call time instead of 15? You knew you should have gone with the 85mm lens instead of the 50mm, they said they wanted a choker, not a medium shot. How could you have been so foolish?
You can change, you promise. It will be different this time. If they just told you what they wanted, you would do it. Don't leave.
It is too late. The silence has set in and taken hold of you. There is nothing wrong with your phone or Internet. They are not 'cheating' on you. They have all left you.
You blew it. You are so.....
Depressed. Stage four.
Your parents were right; you are not Spielberg.
Your exes were right; you are delusional.
Your cat was right; the dead bird in your shoe was a thoughtful gift.
Whatever the scenario; you are wrong.
Whether you went to film school, design school, or the school of hard knocks, the phrase "would you like fries with that?" is spoken with the same tone of failure.
What were you thinking? You weren't. You were blinded by the mirage of success and financial freedom, by red carpets and black ties, by inklings of being self-made and self-sufficient. Whatever you were thinking; you were wrong.
There is nothing you can do now but...
Accept it. Stage five.
Accept the security of the nine to five. Accept the steady paychecks with their automatically deducted taxes and social security. Accept that you tried and failed. It is okay, you do not need the...
"Are you available for a project?"
You reply "yes" to the soundtrack of a church choir singing 'Hallelujah'.
You are back!
This was a good career choice. All is forgiven and all the sins of the client world have been absolved. You are in demand and wanted. The phone calls and emails start coming in. It feels so good.
Until the next time the mailbox is empty and the phone does not ring and the vicious cycle happens all over again and the rinse and repeat of disdain laps your ego. This is the world of freelance. This is all that you love and all that you hate in summation.
If that 'ding' were not a fix, you would not be an addict like the rest of us. For some artists, drugs are a creative lubricant. For us, the creation of art is a life lubricant. It helps us get through the hard times. Withdrawal from it makes us dissident and distant, sluggish and solemn. We do not need an intervention; we need inspiration.
So here we are, members of 'Freelancers Anonymous', seeking validation and compensation to create the art that we love. We meet every day in all corners of the world to be each other's sponsors, supporters and friends. We owe it to one another to drown out the silence of our grieving colleagues when it sets in. We do this by writing messages on each other’s walls, we tweet them, we 'like' what they do and say.
Some of us may have never met in the flesh, but we are bonded by this life choice, for better or worse. It is a union of hope, hope for others to succeed, hope for ourselves when we see others succeed and hope that our time doing what we love resembles more of a marathon than a sprint.
We will all experience the silence at one time or another. We will all have empty mailboxes and phones that do not ring. It is what we do for our fellow freelancer that helps them through the stages.
We need to be more of a collective than a competition, more of a fraternity than a fight club, which, according to the first and second rules, we do not talk about.
I write this from a place of first-hand knowledge. The wound of the silence and the five stages are still very fresh and open. More so, the wounds of the silence are many. Scars and war wounds collected over 14 years. It won’t just happen once, you need to understand and prepare yourself for that.
I myself contemplated throwing in the towel and accepting defeat during this most recent bout with the silence. Besides my biggest supporter and confidant, my wife Tiffani, it was my closest network of friends and colleagues, the set veterans who had been there and the young hopefuls who saw inspiration for themselves in my trials and tribulations, that helped get me through to that next 'ding', that next ring, that next gig.
Now I must be off, I’ve got moving images to create. Until next time, don’t be sad that it’s over or happy that it happened; be happy because it’s not over. Cheers!
About Shawn Schaffer
Shawn has been in the Film and Television Industry since 2002. Beginning as an actor and production assistant, he took the road less traveled, opting not to attend film school and head out on something of a prolonged apprenticeship to learn the ropes.
Over the next five years, he worked as a production assistant, working for a cold slice of pizza, shadowing the grips and learning techniques and tools of the trade in the field, then as a grip himself, shadowing the Key Grip and Gaffer, learning their responsibilities and the working relationship they have with one another on set as well as the working relationship they both have with the Director of Photography.
In 2007, he began working as a Camera Operator and Director of Photography when the opportunity arose, all while learning lighting techniques by doing, by trial and error, by observation of others and by observation of his favorite films. By this time, he was also able to sustain a living working solely in the industry and left his day job to pursue a full-time career working in an industry he loves and he is grateful to have been able to make his living from and support his family.
Since then, he has served as the Director of Photography on a number of feature films, most notably 'Fighting for Freedom', starring Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3, Bloodrayne) and Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Monster, Big Love) and 'Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor', featuring the talents of Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date), Lewis Black (Daily Show, Root of All Evil), BJ Novak (The Office), Bob Saget (Full House, Half Baked), and more. He has also served as the Director of Photography on over a hundred short films, commercials, corporate and industrial projects and television projects.
When approaching a project, he works closely with the creative forces involved in the project to make a harmonious collaboration. This is his preferred method of working, it ensures a singular, unified vision when production begins and an end product that is representative of all the creative collaborative at it’s best.
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