Live Creatively: Design Your Creative Career

  • Tue 22nd Nov 2016

We speak to Kirsty Stark from Epic Films , an industry pro of 10 years, about what it really means to get the career you want without losing sight of the big picture. This is a must read for all industry pros regardless of their experience.


Photograph // Heidi H

Designing Your Creative Career

I’ve been working in the film industry for almost ten years now, first in camera department as a freelancer, and now running my own production company, Epic Films. As a freelancer or business owner, it’s easy to take a reactive approach to making money – saying yes to whatever jobs will pay the bills, and looking back to realize you haven’t put any focus on the bigger picture.

I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve started taking a more active approach to my career, and a few tools to help you figure out your own way forward.

Knowing where your money’s coming from gives you freedom
The priority in business or freelancing should always be on figuring out where tomorrow’s money is going to come from. If you don’t have enough to live on, you won’t be in the right mental space to make active career choices in your creative life.

Earning enough to pay the rent might mean working a regular job a few days a week or setting aside specific blocks of time to work on uninspiring client projects, but it will free up your mental energy to build on your creative work.  And once you have that space for strategic decision-making, you can put processes in place so that eventually, your creative work is what earns you a consistent income.

A couple of money tools that really helped me are:

YNAB – Budgeting software that made a huge difference to my life, because its focus is on budgeting the money you actually have, rather a set amount per month that you think you’re going to make. It takes a bit of a shift in thinking, but for me it was the difference between living invoice to invoice and now having significant savings!
Click here

Freelance Calculator – Helps you figure out how much money you should be charging your clients, taking into account the amount of days a year you want to work and how much you need to earn to cover your business costs, as well as your own salary.
Click here

You get to decide the kind of career you want to have

One of the awesome things about being a freelancer or business owner is the ability to choose how you want to operate. It’s important to customize your own life, rather than looking at other businesses and doing what you think you’re supposed to do. Yes, it’s great to look at others for inspiration, but at the end of the day, you need to do what works for you.

Start by questioning every aspect of your life and business model. I’ve always had general plans – like “I want to work on a feature film” or “I want to work full time in the film industry,” but I started achieving so much more once I took the time to ask myself strategic questions, and turning the answers into specific goals.

The questions below are good ones to consider, but I tend just to sit down every few months to think about what is and isn’t working in my life, and whether I’m heading in the direction I want to be.

What would my ideal workday look like?
What kind of work do I want to be known for?
Who are my ideal clients? What kind of clients don’t I want?
If I could achieve just one thing today (or in the next month / six months / a year), and had to put everything else aside, what would make the biggest difference to my life?
What are the things that are really working in my life that I want to continue?
What’s not working that I need to solve or eliminate?

The key is not to stop at the answers, but to then figure out the specific tasks, conversations or habits that will make them happen, and to add those tasks to your calendar or to do list.

Whether that means putting a portfolio together to take to bigger clients, writing a page of a novel a day, creating a film that will get you noticed in the industry, running a crowdfunding campaign that will allow you to create art full time for a couple of months, or volunteering with an inspirational mentor, allocate your free time towards the goals you hope to achieve long-term.

Do you need to approach five potential clients next week? Is it important to you to set aside an hour every morning to go to the gym?  The way you spend your time will eventually become the way you spend your life. As well as creating a general plan for what I want to achieve every six months, I usually write an outline for each week ahead, and a to do list for each day, to make sure I use my time as productively as possible.

One tool that really helped in managing my to do list and daily goals is Todoist –  It’s a To Do list that can be divided up by project, priority level and date, with the ability to add recurring tasks. The game-changer though, is that there’s a plug-in to connect it to Gmail, meaning I can allocate emails I don’t have time for to a different day, leaving me with a clear inbox when I go home every night.

Photograph // Cassandra A

How can you add value?

Finally, I wanted to share the question that has helped me shape my career in many different ways: “What’s in it for them?” It’s something I think about every time I need support from someone else – whether asking for mentors’ time, funding through grant applications, cast or crew to work on projects, or audiences to watch our final projects.

Sometimes this means working on other people’s projects before asking them to help on yours. Sometimes it’s not about the work itself, but the things surrounding the work that make their life easier – like always being on time, or bringing them a coffee when you head to a meeting. Sometimes it’s about meeting all of the application criteria so that it’s easy for a funding body to check all of the boxes required in their own reports and prove you were a good choice. And sometimes, it’s as simple as acknowledging what someone’s done for you by letting them know you followed their advice and how it impacted your life.

Best of luck in your journey!

If you’re looking to design your own career path and want more advice, questions and tools like the ones above, I’ll be running an online course from January 2017 that focuses on building a career in the film industry. If you want me to let you know when it starts, click here.

Words // Kirsty Stark


  • Tue 22nd Nov 2016