Monday, May 07, 2007

Freelancer's Guide #4: "On Hold"

Shout out to my friend Dana Boadway's Animation Mentor class! I'm staying up to write this just for you guys. Well, and for anyone else who is reading ;)

The Hold System. No one knows how it came to be, or why it exists, but it is very much a common business practice in New York (and seemingly only New York) to hire freelancers. Usually you have to find out for yourself how to handle it, or hope you have a friend to tell you, but never fear! I will explain what I know thus far about it, to hopefully help anyone who is looking to freelance at studios in NYC. Once again, if anyone has any advice to add or correct, please add it to the comments--I am speaking of what I've found to be true in my limited experience, and what I've learned from others. There is always more for me to learn.

The Call:
As I explained in an earlier post, it goes like this: Studio ABC calls you up. They've seen your reel and like it, and ask if you're available for a certain time period. You say with hidden excitement, "Yes, I am!", and they say "Great, I'd like to put you on hold for May through June."

'On hold?' You think to yourself, 'They didn't mention anything about that in my classes. All they did was tell me not to bring up the subject of money in an interview! Is this the interview? What do I say?'

"Uh, sure, that sounds good!" you say. They say great, we'll be in touch. And you hang up the phone, not knowing if you have really gotten a job or not.

On Hold vs. Booked:
A hold, as I understand, is a verbal agreement. You've told a place you are available during a certain period of time, if they call you to work for that time you have agreed to come in and work for them. The problem with this system is that it doesn't guarantee you anything until the studio actually BOOKS you. If you are *booked*, that means you are guaranteed work for the dates that they have booked you for. This is THE difference between a hold and being booked. When you're booked, you have work and you are getting paid for the dates specified. When you're "on hold", you're not working, you're not getting paid--but you may later if they book you.

Now usually a place will tell you what they want you to work on when they call you--they'll tell you what's coming up. If you get the idea or have heard about work coming up at a certain studio you are talking to, chances are they are not just calling you without any intention of hiring you. When someone calls you to put you on hold, there is probably a reason.

Therefore, if possible, you do want to try to ask them for specific dates, and when you start working to specify how long you are actually BOOKED for. This way, both parties know how long the agreed employment is and there are no surprises down the road where you thought you were guaranteed work and it turns out you aren't (though this is rare in my experience). They may not know for sure at that time, because they may still be working out their staff requirements and schedule. So be understanding of that, but still keep in touch and try to get some dates. They will most likely be in touch with you anyway when they know, so don't bug them too much. Studios know how the system works, but be sure to show that you know how it works too. Some people work up their own contracts for their freelance business, which isn't a bad idea, though I do not know much about that yet.

Competition for Hiring Freelancers:
There is competition between studios when finding freelancers. All of these studios hire from the same pool of talent in New York, and it's not as big as in California. Some places do hand out "holds" quickly and easily to a lot of people to guarantee that they will have people to work for them for an upcoming project, they may put more artists on hold than they need so they can be sure they have enough people at hand. If you find that nearly every other animator you know in the city is on hold for the same place at the same time, the studio might not need all those people. Other places only contact the number of people they know they will need. It really just depends on how that producer likes to do it, and how much manpower they need.

If you're lucky, after you finish a gig at a place, they may ask you to stay on hold for them for a few weeks more. They may know of more work coming up, or there may be unexpected changes from the client that they may need to call you back for. This is a good thing. It means that they are happy working with you, and want to continue to do business with you. But again, it doesn't guarantee work. Competition is high for animators in New York, and they don't want people they like to be snatched up by another studio, when for all they know 2 weeks later they may need you. So keep your ears open. If you've been working at a place for a few weeks, chances are you will have an idea if there actually is more work coming to the company soon, or if it's going to be a slower period. If you don't hear of more work coming up, it's not a bad idea to keep your ears open for something else. But do not take anther gig unless the studio has released you from their hold. Which leads me to the next sub-topic...

The Challenge!
To me, this sounds like it originated like one of those playground rules that kids make up when they're losing a game of four-square..."No, if it bounces twice off my foot it doesn't count...yeah-huh it's a rule!" But regardless, it is very real, and what's more, it works.

The Challenge goes like this. You have a hold at Studio-A but are not booked for that time. Studio-B calls you up and asks if you are available to work for them for the same time period. You tell them you are interested in working with them, but you are already on hold for Studio-A. But Studio-B really wants to hire you, and can BOOK you for the dates. So they say they'd like to "challenge" that hold. So you call up Studio-A and say "B wants to challenge your hold and can book me for those dates." This means that if Studio-A cannot book you for any of the dates they have you on hold for, they must release you to the other company. They will probably ask you for a day or two to get back to you. Let them, and tell Studio B that you are waiting for a response from A. If A does not get back to you on the day they said you would, you may want to call them the next day. The Challenge has a way of being drawn out, for understandable reasons. After all, if you were Studio-A you really wouldn't want to lose a freelancer who you may need when a job comes in 2 days later! But they know how the challenge works, and they themselves have likely challenged other studio's holds. I have been told that the "official" rule is that Studio-A would have 24 hours to respond. I think it is more important to stay on good terms with both companies than to hold fast to this 24 hour rule. This will put your diplomacy skills to the test, because you do not want to offend either party--you will hopefully be working for both of them again sometime, you may even have friends at both already, but Studio-B wants an answer as soon as possible and Studio-A may be trying to delay an answer for as long as possible.

If Studio-A really doesn't have any work, they will eventually release you to B, and you will be working at B for the booked dates. If Studio-A ends up having work and can BOOK you, then they "win" the challenge. It actually can be a good thing--either way, you have work. Producers I have worked with have been understanding of that too. If they really don't have any work for you, they know you need to find work for yourself.

The MOST Important Thing:
As you are dealing with such gray areas as holds, remember to treat the people you are doing business with respectfully. Some may call me naive, but I truly believe in treating others as you would like to be treated yourself, or as someone once said as they appreciate being treated. Don't back out on your holds just because you want to, or you soon won't be finding yourself working anywhere. If you run into a complication with a hold, communicate it openly to the producer you talked to. Otherwise if you take another gig somewhere else and then that first producer calls you up, you are going to have some explaining to do and it won't be fun. But honestly, if you treat people respectfully and try to realize the position they are coming from, and let them know that you recognize their position, I think you have a much greater chance of maintaining a good relationship with that producer and that company. Be aware that they know how these things work, and it is true that sometimes you will have to look out for yourself. But the last thing you want to do is offend an employer and ruin your reputation. But for me it goes deeper than saving my reputation. It's about treating others properly and respectfully. If you realize this most important thing, I think you will enhance not only your professional life, but every aspect of your life.


Aja said...

Hey Kyle! Just wanted to say thanks for writing this, it's a huge help!

Nice use of the four-square metaphor too. :D

Ken said...

Great post Kyle. I just got put on a hold and this really cleared things up for me. By the way, do you know what a "first" hold is? Is it any different than a regular hold?

Kimotion said...

You need to write a How To book for Freelance Animators. Great stuff!