What is freelancing?

Those setting out in the screen industries say what they like best about working as freelancers.

Definition of a freelancer

A freelancer is someone who works on a series of discrete contracts each year. These contracts could be one after the other or they could be concurrently, depending on the role. The one thing that brings all freelancers together is their need to source their own work.

Unlike a permanent contract of employment, where it is the employer’s responsibility to provide work for their employees, freelancers are hired for a specific role for a defined period of time, and usually because of their specialist skills.

The differences between working freelance and being employed as staff

  • Length of work contract: freelancers are contracted for a specific amount of work or time; staff have permanent contracts
  • Pay: freelancers are paid by the job; staff have steady income
  • Tax: freelancers usually submit a tax return each year and pay taxes and National Insurance owing; staff have tax and National Insurance deducted at source
  • Pension: freelancers pay into a self-funded pension; staff can join a company pension scheme
  • Kit: freelancers use their own equipment; staff have their equipment provided by the employer
  • Sources of work: freelancers find their own work; staff do the work sourced by their employer

This means that, for a freelancer, there is extra work to do over and above your day job; you’ve got to manage your finances on an irregular income plus you’ve got to market and sell yourself to find work. It’s likely that you will have to complete a tax return to finalise your taxes.

You are also expected to have the equipment you need to do your work. In the same way as you’d expect a plumber to turn up with the tools they need to do the repairs at your house, you need to have the tools, or access to them, so that you can deliver your work.

That doesn’t mean you need to own a whole set of expensive kit, but it does mean you need to have access to the right equipment. A good relationship with a local hire company can provide just that. At the bare minimum you’ll need a smart phone with a decent battery life (or a juice pack) and a computer (ideally laptop) with basic office software.

Why freelancing is common in the screen industries

Some people are freelance by choice. Others freelance because that’s the only way they can work in the screen industries.

According to the Annual ScreenSkills Assessment 2018-19, self-employment is almost twice as high in the screen industries as it is in the wider UK economy. 

Freelancers make up 28% of the workforce in the screen industries, whereas across UK industries as a whole, the number of self-employed is only 15%. In production, the proportion of freelancers is as high as 50%. 

This is because screen industry work is primarily project-based. It has a start (pre-production) a middle (production) and an end (post-production and exhibition or transmission or publication). What this means is that most companies hire by the project rather than into permanent roles. This is particularly prevalent in film, TV and animation where you are taken on for a set period of time during the production. In the games sector, you are less likely to be freelance due to the iterative nature of games development where development teams need to continually iterate the game past its launch.

All in all, if you want to work in screen, there is a good chance you will be freelance at some point in your career.

For more information on the research:

Why be a freelancer?

Freelancing can be very rewarding – you get to work with a wide range of people on a variety of different projects. You may well also have much greater autonomy to define your own hours, schedule and workplace to make your work, work for you.


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