For most of the people reading this website, becoming a full-time filmmaker or working in film and television full time is the dream. Sure, you may have a few side hustles or a day job, but every time you finish that new spec or submit that new short, you dream of a time where you're employed to do that all the time.
No more TPS reports, business suits, and boring meetings. Heck, I write for this website, love it, and dream of the day I don't have to do it to pay my bills. It's natural.
Trust me, I get it. I wrote a post on how hard it is to be happy when you're working full-time in film and TV.
With every glimmer of success in Hollywood (or the equivalent) the temptation to drop the day job and just take a swing grows more and more. Trust me, I've been there. I sold a script in 2015, quit my day job, and lived off my creativity for a few years. But when the consistent paychecks dried up, I found myself in a real pickle. I had rent due, I was waiting on a small option check, and I had no idea how I would make it to the next month.
Turns out, I should not have quit that day job. Even though I was making money, my career wasn't in a place where it was going to sustain me. And I wasn't alone. So many people breaking in right before the pandemic quit jobs to pursue Hollywood, and then found themselves in an unpredictable situation where the town froze much hiring of low-level people to work on things while they waited out the consequences of a worldwide plague.
So what is this post about? I wanted to go over why you probably shouldn't quit your day job. And then talk about a few cases where maybe you should.
Let's dive in.
Don't Quit Your Day Job—When to Go Full Time as a Creative
If you want a basic rule of thumb, I would say you should not quit your day job until you have two full years of money in the bank.
That's money that should cover rent/mortgage and all basic living expenses. It should cover two years in a generous way, because realistically, even if you book something else, you're always waiting to see when the next check can come in. And two years buys you enough time to then find a day job if, after one year, you don't have any money coming in.
This is a business of ebbs and flows. If you break in with a family, that two years of bills is going to be a big amount. And even if your spouse works, it's no guarantee you can support yourself just on that.
If you want to get out of your day job, I would suggest you find at least a side hustle while you wait for the checks. Side hustles are part-time jobs you can do to make sure some money is coming in. For me, I took up gigs consulting, teaching, and copywriting. I was able to do a lot of work at night, when I normally would not be taking meetings, pitching, or writing myself.
Then AB5 hit and screwed me—but that's a column for a different day.
Can You Make It?
The hard truth is that filmmaking and writing might be the actual side hustle for a very long time. If you don't get into a union or get on a TV series that runs for a long time, you're going to deal with longer bouts without work. That's the hardest and most unspoken part of this industry. You can go from having a hot script or a big scale to never working again.
There are lots of statistics that say roughly two or three of all people who sell a big project never sell anything ever again. It is very hard out there to work consistently.
So you need to work smarter. That means not putting undue pressure on yourself by quitting the day job. In fact, if you sell something or find success while you have that job, you may have cracked the code. Use nights and weekends for your heart's work. Really work to save extra money. Maybe you can even take a "vacation" where you spend it working on your creative projects.
The point I am trying to get to is that there is no hard line when it comes to quitting your day job. The most I can say is to save enough money where you can be comfortable to take risks for a while because otherwise, you might be behind the eightball. I've written about how much of this job is failure before. It will take years, probably over a decade, to break in. Doing that with a steady income from elsewhere gives you peace of mind in case it never happens. And will only make you more well-rounded and successful when it does happen.
Let me know your thoughts and advice in the comments section.
We're rooting for you.