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

Q1. Just before lockdown I invested in a lot of camera equipment and although I took out a bounce-back loan and work has been hectic this year it’s mainly with my existing clients without my kit. How can I branch out without upsetting existing clients as it is the direction I want to head in?

My answer is one I suspect you already know. For you to get to where you want to be, something will have to give unless, of course, you want to take on extra ops to help you out. I know lockdown has made us all scared to dip our toes further than is comfortable but it should hopefully have helped us understand the importance of work-life balance coupled with being happy with what we do. Is that possible I hear you ask? Well, why not! 

I’m not saying to give up everything you already do and suddenly launch yourself into new territories but try and introduce some new clients for your single camera work that includes your own kit and accept sometimes you will either have to say no to existing clients or cover it with crew in your name. It sounds like this was your intention pre-lockdown so maybe go back to that mindset and devise a plan to get a few new clients and do it bit by bit. 

Lastly, I know we all want a certain amount of safety but not so much that it stifles us from moving forward and being scared to change. So trust your original plan and be realistic on how to approach it one job at a time. – Liz

Q2  I am sick of jobs being cancelled at the last second. It’s happened 3 times on the trot now and the last time I’d already turned down other work – should I start charging a cancellation fee?

This is a difficult one because unfortunately being pencilled for a job is standard practice. When used properly it works well in giving you a heads up that a job is coming and then a confirmation when they know it’s definitely happening. But it does seem quite often that it’s used as a tool to put names in boxes for safety, only to have everything change when directors or producers get involved! This is the same for everyone freelance though and I’m sure most of us have experienced it at one point or another. I’m not sure you would help yourself by charging a cancellation fee unless you stipulated it when originally being booked and there’s a good chance they won’t book you on that basis! Another solution (and this is what I would do), is to talk to the person booking you and ask them to give you a confirmation as soon as they get it. If you are asked about another job in the meantime, again talk to the first booker and explain the situation. If they can’t confirm you ask to be released from the pencil and do the other job (providing of course that one is confirmed). This way you don’t lose out but also don’t come across as aggressive and can continue to maintain a good relationship with whoever is booking you. I would always approach this kind of issue with communication and openness to ensure everyone understands things from your side. – Jo

Q3 I’m so tired of having to compete with my colleagues and being made to feel inferior because I’m not in one of the cliques. I work hard and I’m good at what I do but I am also shy so I find it hard to fit in with the more popular and vocal crew members. I’m reaching a point where I don’t want to work here anymore. What can I do?

That’s a shame particularly if you like your job, which you don’t actually say the nature of in your question but for this purpose, I’m going to assume you are a camera operator.  No one should feel they have to compete with their colleagues and it can be draining to do so. In reality, it’s actually a waste of potential when we feel we have to change to fit in, as it’s our subtle differences that help add to the creative melting pot. 

Perhaps the best way to tackle this is to change your perspective as that’s the bit you have control of. Say to yourself that you bring something unique to the table and attempt to change the narrative in your head to see if they respond to you differently. Although I’m sure your feelings are genuine, we do tend to add to the problem ourselves by deciding how others feel without true confirmation. 

So maybe see this from another perspective and stop trying so hard to fit in and just be you. Go to work with a different attitude and see if their responses to you change – hopefully, they will. I know this sounds like a small step but it can make such a difference when we approach our day differently. If you still feel you are being left out then see if you can find a superior who is trustworthy to talk to as these things can go unchallenged or unnoticed –  communication is always a good option rather than feeling totally on your own. The main thing is to try to make these changes before walking away because you may be surprised by the response from other people. Of course, every company is different but these days bullying and mental health are both high on HR’s radar so don’t feel you have to cope alone. Building strength and confidence can help us all to deal with these situations and there are many resources on the GTCP and our Fusion website to guide you. – Liz