Costly Freelancing

Last night I attended a small meeting of freelance film and TV folks in the Loop.  The purpose of the meeting was to share insights into the world of film/TV freelancing, so four panelists answered a series of questions from a moderator.  They navigated the world of freelancing by telling how they got started, the journey since then, and where they currently stand in “the business”.

The panelists shared several gems of good information, but I had heard almost all of it during the countless hours of lectures and seminars I attended during film school.  But hearing this all over again was not what made me angry.  While I sat there taking notes and listening intently, I slowing began to understand the reality of what I was hearing.  Each panelist contributed to what became a large description of the ideal worker – the person who will always get hired or asked back or recommended later on.  These were some of the requirements.

“There are no sick days for a freelancer,” they said.  “You cannot get sick!  You won’t be attending any wedding six months from now!  Don’t attempt to plan any sort of vacation!  There’s no consistency in this business; plan to work a month or more without a day off!   I hope you can do your own taxes perfectly!  The IRS will find all your mistakes!  The divorce rate is high in this business; you might not want to get married!”

Eventually I stopped taking notes because I realized they had described a superhuman.  Their ideal worker is a person who actually does not exist outside of comic books and fantasy movies, and striving to meet the expectations they laid out will surely lead to some kind of disaster.

They even articulated this point.  One panelist told the story of a former Green Beret who became an audio technician in the film/TV industry.  He couldn’t keep up with his taxes.  Eventually the IRS froze his accounts and seized all of his belongings.  The man killed himself.  The story was obviously labeled a tragedy, but it didn’t faze the panelists.  It was like they’d heard it before and very nearly expected it to happen every once in awhile.

I’m coming to the end of Tim Keller’s helpful book Counterfeit Gods and, as providence would have it, I had just read his chapter on career idolatry right before the meeting.  The chapter is titled “The Seduction of Success” and in it Keller points out:

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance.  To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you.  You are supreme.  […]  One sign that you have made success an idol is the false sense of security it brings.  (p. 75)

Compounded, all the advice these panelists gave us was idolatrous.  What they expressed was a series of stringent requirements we must fulfill and, in the fulfilling of them, we can rest assured in our performance.  The money and work is never guaranteed, but as long as we perform, there’s some hope.

But idolatry doesn’t end with hope.  It ends with disaster.  It merely disguises itself as hope.  Sacrificing relationships and integrity on the altar of Almighty Career is a disaster, not a triumph.  Elsewhere in Counterfeit Gods, Keller recounts the downfall of several public figures like New York governor Eliot Spitzer, saying:

They had sacrificed everything to the god of success, but it wasn’t enough.  In ancient times, the deities were blood thirsty and hard to appease.  They still are.  (p. xiii)

So here’s what I actually learned at that meeting.  I learned that measuring up is one of the most alluring tasks in career building.  The simple act of proving oneself, left unchecked, is an act that will take us further and further inward, looking to ourselves for worth and wisdom and hope.  But our hope comes from the Lord, who gives us our power, the strength of our hands, and the ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8:18).  No, we must look outward.  We must look to God, who beckons us to measure up to him through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly measured up for us.  We must look to God because in the gospel, he shows us how thoroughly we fall short.  In the gospel, we see that our performance is not the means to fulfilling all the requirements; our performance is the result of Jesus fulfilling all the requirements for us.

If I find, in 50 years, that I have given up my friends and family, all my time and attention and attained great wealth and approval in film and TV, I will very quickly find that I gave it away for nothing.

*Note: Freelance film/TV is only a partial reality for me currently.  I have very little expertise on the subject itself.

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About Collin Damon Welch
Collin worked in the film/TV industry for a while. Now he's pursuing ministry. He and his incomparably beautiful wife Nicole live in Chicago.

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