Yep, we filmmakers all have to start somewhere, and for most of us that’s at home in our bedroom, loungeroom, or, if we’re really lucky, our home office. Here are a few Golden Rules on how to run your budding film empire from the comforts of your living space – from one who’s been there.
The Golden Rules of Working From Home
The following is a list of Dos and Don’ts when operating a film production company from home, taken from my time doing just that …
Ever admit that you run the office from your home. Actors and potential crew members will be thrilled at the thought they can catch you night or day – and although most have a bit of respect for your privacy – some are very persistent!
Fall into the habit of putting work off just because you don’t have to leave your house to go to the office. It is very easy to find a thousand other things to do (wash the car, weed the garden, play with the dogs, vaccum the lounge room, etc) rather than write that new scene or phone that distributor.
Stay indoors all day. I know that contradicts the previous “Don’t”, but all things in moderation. Exercise and fresh air will do more for you than another cup of coffee!
Have your office in a main room of the house. Believe me, trying to come to grips with the upmteenth script re-write/hold a meeting/take an important phone call while your brother/mother/husband/wife/girlfriend/whatever is watching television, on the phone to a friend or practicing their new ballroom dancing steps only a few feet away, is an impossible situation to be in – no-one’s concentration is that good!
Let members of the family answer the phone unless they treat it like a business line. Your younger brother answering with “Yo, brother! How’s it hanging?” will not go over well with an agent in the UK.
Work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Although in this industry there are occasions where we have to work crazy hours with no time off – in a less stressful period, give yourself a couple of days off a week. Just because you are working from home, doesn’t mean you should constantly be working.
Get yourself into a routine each working day, set around the times you best work. eg. if you work best at five in the morning – start your working day then, by maybe organizing lists of things to do, working on the script, schedule, legal documents, etc – then at nine o’clock you can begin to make contact with the outside world. Of course, sometimes, when working on projects that have international links, you need to be working at odd times to fit in with other time zones. Plan your day, day-to-day if you have to, but have a basic routine you stick to. This will make completing tasks easier and utilize your time more effectively.
Arrange meetings at other venues. If you have a meeting with, for example, your director to update them on what’s new on a project, arrange to meet them at their place of work, or maybe even a café (if the discussion isn’t going to be too sensitive!) I often used meet my co-producers and story consultants at a café in Melbourne in the early afternoon, to work on new suggestions for the current script – it’s informal, relaxed, and you don’t have to wash the coffee cups after they leave! Obviously some meetings will have to be had at your home, but it’s good to get out of the house and experience the outside world from time to time.
Eat proper meals and take coffee/herbal tea/fruit juice breaks. Unless you are still working without a computer (which means you won’t be reading this anyway!), you’ll need to take regular breaks to stretch and rest your eyes, as well. Too many hours sitting at a desk at the one time can result in back problems, leading to headaches, poor eyesight and circulation difficulties, which means you will work less effectively. The joy of working from home means that you can choose when and for how long these breaks will happen – just make sure they do. If you look after your health, you’ll look after your films.
Remember to socialise. I managed to go nearly two months in 1998 without seeing another human being, except my family, because I was intensely working on the sixth draft of my feature film. People were calling to organize social events and I kept putting them off. This is fine, as long as eventually you take the time off to see friends. Writing, especially, can be an isolating experience, and it is important to put your head up every now and again to see what’s happening in the rest of the world. “All work and no play … etc, etc.”
Keep your cool with the rest of your household. If you are sharing a house, don’t forget it’s also a living space for other people, as well as your business. I used to struggle with this rule from time to time, but compromise is the name of the game. If your sibling/parent/flatmate/spouse has organized to have friends over on their day off, and you are going to be disturbed by loud music, constant rings on the doorbell or (worst scenario) people constantly putting their head around the door to say hi and then sitting down to discuss their budding acting career, new script, or (worse still) wanting a copy of Robert Carlyle’s photo from your files for their sister, then arrange a meeting at another venue at that time, or decide to take the day off yourself (if you can). However, you may be one of those extremely tolerant people who copes with constant intrusion and noise – if you are, you’re a better person than me! (NB. I don’t mind discussing friends of housemates acting careers or scripts, but I don’t give out any actor’s photos from my files!)
These are just some basic rules that are handy to follow when in the fairly common situation of working from home in the film industry. They are in no way exhaustive, but are a general guide. With the age of the Internet, email and the good old telephone, more and more film and television people are taking this option. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, and sometimes you can get more done from your home office than the conventional office in a studio or office block. I hope this has helped, and if not, amused, you. If you have any other helpful hints on this subject, please get in touch, and I will include it in this list!
Originally published February 2004 © Sally McLean. All rights reserved.