In 2010 the VFX studio I worked at for seven years abruptly went out of business. As an artist, you need to be prepared for the worst to happen at any moment. It’s not unheard of for studios to close, shows to be pulled or that rumoured bid doesn’t come through. For those of you who regularly bounce from studio to studio, contract to contract, you might be used to this. Some of you reading this might have ‘permanent’ full time jobs, while others have been ‘permalancing’ (contract being consistently renewed) for years at the same studio. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
Is your demo reel up to date?
Working at the same studio for a long period of time can lull you into a false sense of security. You should try to constantly update your Demo Reel, remove old or lesser pieces of work and replace it with updated, better examples of your skills. Even if you have years of experience, anyone who doesn’t know you (and even some people who do) will want to see what you can do when you apply for your next job.
Have you been keeping in touch with friends at other studios?
If you’ve been at a studio for a long time, you’ve seen a lot of people come and go. You should be making friends with the contract artists that you meet, and not to stick with your clique of friends. First off, it’s just a nice thing to do. Second, once those people leave they might be the ones to recommend you at a new studio. Your network is your best chance of hearing about jobs at studios before they’re posted to the public.
How much money do you have saved up in case of an emergency?
I know this sounds like a difficult task, but you should have some sort of emergency fund. The ideal fund would be six months of expenses where you can easily get to it (not locked away in a mutual fund or something). Lines of credit and credit cards don’t count, you just have to pay that back in the future with interest. Living paycheque to paycheque is very stressful and you’ll find yourself in a bad situation if your job gets cut.
Do you know how to start the process of collecting employment insurance?
If your unemployment goes from days to weeks to months and you don’t have any solid leads for your next job, you should research Employment Insurance. Know what forms you have to fill out. Be prepared.
Are your skills up to date?
Does your studio use some software that no one else uses? You should ask your friends at other studios what they use at work. It doesn’t mean that you have to always be learning new things, or that you have to work on things when you get home after a long day. It does mean that you shouldn’t stick your head in the sand and be oblivious about what’s going on in your industry. If your studio doesn’t use the standard pieces of software, you might want to download learning editions and have a play with it. Maybe watch a tutorial here or there if you’re killing time on YouTube. You never know when you may have to use it.
The point of this post is that you should try to be prepared for the worst and then hope it never comes. There’s been several times in the past where I’ve found myself unexpectedly out of a job, and it always sucks. What I’ve listed here are things that I wished I would have done. Doing this would have made my life much easier when things got rough. I know it’s very easy to be lulled into complacency when you’ve been working steady for a few years.
If you have any tips? Anything I've forgotten? Have a story to tell? Please share in the comment box below.