A random walk through work
IF I'M AN expert on anything, "it's me", broadcaster, radio presenter, journalist and scriptwriter Andrew Collins told the February London Freelance Branch meeting. We'd asked him to give tips on how he re-invented himself in a previous recession, so he got to talk about him.
"My experience snakes all the way through the media". Asked to do careers talks in schools, he has to say "I don't know what I want to do when I grow up" - after 20 years as a freelance scriptwriter or journalist or author, that after seven years on the staff of NME, Select and Q.
The great thing about being freelance "is that one thing genuinely can lead on to another. You don't have to resign to move on to the next thing." Andrew reached into his props bag and pulled out his first payslip: £49.08 for a week sticking things down with cancer-in-a-tin solvent-based glue as assistant to NME's art editor: "a lot of money in those days, and I would have paid them to work at the NME".
So how did he get from there to here? "If I have a skill, it is asking for work." At the other end of the floor from the glue wielders were the cool people with the typewriters: "when I was showing them pages I'd ask, 'can I review an album?' 'Yes, maybe, one day...' they'd answer. I had no shame." No-one should be arrogant enough to assume the world will come to them. Eventually, there was a film screening, and there were sandwiches, and there was a review.
Back in the prop bag, we find a letter from the NME art editor rejecting Andrew's teenage cartoons: "We're not using this kind of caricature: if it's just money you want, try Record Mirror".
Rather later, a proudest moment was this phone-call: "Hello Tanya, please can I be on Newsnight Review?" There were really good sandwiches in the green room "and I enjoyed it and never got asked again. It is my destiny to be on things once."
To celebrate his 20 years' freelancing, Andrew has earned much less money than before - partly because of a contractual dispute over the sitcom he writes for. In its third year there was a possibility of it being sold to the States - so it was time to sort the contracts at last. Which meant missing seven of eight episodes and still not getting the right contract.
"Last week I barely earned any money. I don't get depressed, I just book another meeting and put my foot in another door."
In the meantime he's been doing lots of things for free - such as a podcast with comedian Richard Herring, going out on iTunes. Some number of thousand people download it. After they'd done 35 hours of stuff a listener sent a cheque for £5 and they spent it on coffee and biscuits. That's as much as anyone knows about making money from new media. "I look forward to doing it: I've not been able to ascertain whether it's got me any work, but radio and TV producers do mention listening to it."
Equally, if you go to a formal pitch meeting at the BBC, you take something you've written up - on your own time. "If there are sandwiches around, always try to get some, because usually you won't get anything else."
A member asked whether Andrew used an agent. Yes, to deal with contracts: "she's invaluable because when people come to me and it gets to the subject of money, I can say 'talk to my agent'." And how does he pay the bills? Oddly enough: by journalism. Writing.