In this series which appears in In Focus Magazine from The Guild of Television Camera Professionals, Jo Hodges and Liz Bell, co-founders of Fusion Film and TV answer questions from readers and fellow camera operators on industry issues and give advice where needed.

In addition to camera operating and running their production company, Jo and Liz are both qualified transformative life coaches who work specifically with those in the media. You can read more about their work here.

Q: “I have been a camera assistant for 3 years and feel I am ready to make the move up to Camera Operator but I can’t seem to get the chance. What can I do to progress my career?”

Assistants can often find it tough moving into operating whilst still actively assisting. Some find the only way out is to start turning down assistant work and stating they are now operating only. This works as long as you are comfortable taking the risk that you might go without any work initially. If  that is your plan then you can take some steps to prepare for it by mentioning to people that you are going to start operating and also putting aside some money to help you through any lean crossover period. 

Finding a mentor that you already work with who you can talk to and ask for advice is also a good idea. You need someone in your corner who will cheer and vouch for you and will perhaps let you have as much time as possible on camera – maybe in downtime when you are assisting or if there is a camera that doesn’t require much operating wise – just to get as much red light experience as possible. 

Your self belief is also key here, believe that you have the capability to step into operating and show that belief. People are much more likely to take a chance on someone who believes they can do the job than someone who doubts themselves and shows it. Skill levels can be taught and increased but enthusiasm and self belief are both something that are inherent and only you can show, so make sure that those you work with see it. I’m sure you will do well if you apply these strategies and good luck, it’s a very exciting step you are taking.
– Jo

Q “I’ve worked in television for a long time and some would say I’m at the top of my game.  Recently though I’ve been feeling old and undervalued as I’m now considered expensive and I just don’t have the energy to sell myself continuously and defend my rate. Shouldn’t I reach a point in my career where I don’t have to constantly explain myself? It’s really getting me down and I feel like I’m not even sure I still want to do the job. Do you have any advice to help me?”

This is such a difficult emotion to deal with; feeling like you are at a stage where you should be respected and in demand but unfortunately the reality of being self employed in a highly competitive industry is that your experience can often be overlooked when it comes to budgets and even personnel. Productions having less money (although that’s not always the case) and the influx of new blood from the overwhelming amount of TV and production courses means it’s even more competitive than ever so I can understand your frustration with rates as it’s an ongoing struggle throughout most TV freelancers’ careers.

It sounds like you are feeling quite jaded with the situation overall and my first piece of advice is to stop analysing it and making it seem personal. I realise to you that it is, but stepping away and seeing that it’s not actually personal will help you get some perspective. Secondly, looking at the industry as a whole – can you still say you enjoy what you do, and do you feel you have enough work at a reasonable rate? If your answer is No’ to either part of that then you have some tough decisions to make.  But if your answers are ‘Yes’ then you need to stop torturing yourself and look at your actual reality – not one our brains sometimes make up through worry. The great ‘what I should be earning’ myth is just that, a myth and sadly not real!  Now, I’m not saying you should work for less than you are worth but I am asking ‘Are you earning the same as other colleagues in the same job?’ I do believe in fighting for rates to be reasonably progressive and I also advocate rewarding experience but if you feel that you aren’t being treated well then try to find other clients even if it feels outside of your comfort zone – maybe that’s what you need to shake things up a little. They are out there and have faith that you have the right experience and background to find them and trust they will respect you at the level (and rate) you are comfortable with.
– Liz

Q: “Help! IR35 really confuses me and my accountant seems as confused as I am.  Do you have any tips about how to approach companies that are asking if I am compliant? Anything to do with tax and finance is just an added worry at the moment.”

While I don’t profess to be an expert in employment law or IR35 it is a common worry that we’re hearing more and more, and I’m afraid, I’m a firm believer in Knowledge is Power! 
My advice is to first take some time out to research IR35 and your own business situation asap.  Don’t shy away from it and hope it goes away because as a business owner the buck ultimately stops with you.  If you are reading this then you already have access to a wealth of useful information and a great IR35 workshop on The Guild’s website. 

Next, a call to your accountant will determine whether they think you are in or out of the IR35 remit and when your clients make their decision (as it’s up to them to do) you can agree or disagree based on what you have learnt. No matter what the outcome though please remember it’s not something to get stressed about. Like most situations that appear daunting to start with, most are able to be resolved with a little thought and knowledge. The most stressful thing to do would be to ignore it or pretend it will go away and not deal with it!  Rather than worrying about something you don’t know and waste energy making things up in your head, take control, learn a little and get advice because you will prove to yourself that it’s not as scary as it once seemed.