How To Choose A Survival Job As An Independent Filmmaker

chef survival job

You’re in the early stages of your filmmaking career, where you are not making enough money to go at it full time as an independent filmmaker, but still need to pay your bills. There is only one solution: you need a survival job.

While there are many different definitions floating around, for the purpose of this article, a survival job is any job you take up to pay the bills, whilst leaving you enough time to pursue your real goal of becoming a full time filmmaker.

When deciding which survival job to apply for, there are a number of points to consider:

Transferable Skills

It makes sense to apply for a survival job where you are improving your ability as an independent filmmaker, whilst being paid to do so.

Ideally, if you can gain some work in the film industry, this will teach you the most applicable skills to your own filmmaking career. Examples of jobs include cinematographer, camera operator, boom operator, runner etc.

However, careers in the film industry can be competitive and are often on a short term contract basis.

Even if you gain work in a separate industry altogether, you can still gain transferable skills. For example, working as a sales rep, you may still learn vital communication skills which you can apply when working when trying to sell your vision to your cast and crew.

christopher nolan survival job as corporate director before he was a filmmaker
Source: WikiMedia
Christopher Nolan used to work as a corporate video director as his survival job, whilst making his debut feature film ‘Following’


As a filmmaker, you have to be flexible. Especially if you are working on a low budget, you may have to work around the schedules of your cast and crew.

If you are working in a career where you expected to work incredibly long hours, it is unlikely that you will have much time to work on your passion projects.


Similarly, if you are working in a high stress job, the last thing you will want to do when you get home at night is to write a screenplay, storyboard or work on your passion project.

stress from your survival job

Stress curbs creativity. Of course there is a natural level of pressure with every job, but some industries are definitely more stressful than others.

Shift work

Many up and coming filmmakers work within the gig industry. This is often where you work flexible shifts based on the hours that suit you. Examples include Uber drivers, catering staff or contractors.

Gig work has the advantage of being able to choose the hours you work. Although there is the uncertainty of finding enough work to sustain your livelihood.

Alternatively, choosing a fixed working pattern, such as a 9 to 5 also has its advantages. For instance, you will know exactly when you are free which will make it easier to schedule shoots.

There is also less stress as your earnings will be more stable.


wolf of wall street Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) with money
The Wolf of Wall Street

Let’s be honest with ourselves, despite what employers think, we all go to work for one main reason: money. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have bills to pay.

Pay definitely needs to factor into your decision. It would be unwise to choose a job where you can’t meet your financial commitments at the end of each month.

It makes sense to work in a job where you can progress and achieve promotions. This way you can work harder and increase your pay.

More disposable income at the end of each month is good for two reasons:

  1. This money can be used towards your filmmaking endeavors. You can upgrade your equipment or increase the budget on your short/feature film.
  2. More savings mean you have an emergency fund, which is a safety blanket in case things don’t go to plan. Believe me, it helps to have an emergency fund!


A debate that often comes up is whether you should be passionate about what you do as a day job.

There are two separate schools of thought.

Firstly, there is the idea that your day job is simply there to sustain your true passion, being filmmaking in this example. Filmmaking should be the highlight of your life and where your focus lies, everything else is secondary. This view is a little idealistic in my opinion.

The other school of thought argues that you should aim to seek a fulfillment in each aspect of your life. This is because they are all interconnected and success in one area will flow to the others.


Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, as most of us spend the vast majority of our lives at work, we may as well enjoy it. Life is too short. You need to strike a balance between finding a survival job that allows you to fulfill your dream of being a filmmaker, but also one that you are happy with.

Want to be a filmmaker but not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we have you covered with our Complete Guide on Filmmaking when working with Zero-Budget.

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