Can You Have a Life and Work In Film/Television?

Randi is a new production assistant, and wondering if there’s time to recuperate between gigs.

As I launch more full time into this career, I want to be prepared for the demand it will put on the rest of my life. I know that, while working, the hours are crazy and there is no time left for anything else, but my question is what do you do between gigs?

Do you go straight from production to production to production? Or do you make a conscious effort to take time off (and if so, how long) between gigs? Because I can deal with a month or two of 60-90hr work weeks, but will there be time afterward for family, friends, travel, recovery? What do you recommend? My ideal is that I can eventually work for 3 months, take a month off, work for a month, take a week off, work for 5 months, take 2 months off – that kinda of thing. Is this realistic?


The short answer: Yes, but it’s impossible to predict.

Wrestling with time has been the biggest challenge I’ve had with this career. One day, you’ll be “unemployed forever”, then the phone rings and you’ll be gainfully employed for 3-6 months with little room to breathe.

watching monitors and taking notes

My Struggle with a Television Career vs. Life and Travel

In the few remaining weeks of a project, I’ll put my ear to the ground to see if there are any prospective jobs on the horizon. If there isn’t, once my job wraps, I pack the car and make my rounds visiting my family, boyfriend, etc — or, I buy a plane ticket to Australia or Ukraine.

Generally, I have as little as 0-5 days off between gigs– or as much as two weeks to six weeks off.

In a perfect world, I’d be able to foresee exactly how much time I’ll have off and when, which would allow me to perfectly plan time to spend with family and travel — but that has rarely been the case. It’s usually been, “Well, I’m off now, let me take my chances and go.” I’ve lost work because of it. But to me, memories from travel are far richer than money — and there isn’t one job I wish I’d taken instead of exploring the world.

The amount of time off will probably depend on three things:

  • Where you live
  • The types of projects you work on
  • Your priorities

Do you live in Los Angeles or New York? You’ll work 24/7 unless you make a point to turn something down. There are so many projects in Los Angeles, once you get in the groove of working, getting out can be problematic. You may have a week off here or there, but good workers are always working. Also, the cost of living in these cities is fairly expensive and it may be harder to afford large chunks of time off while still covering your bills.

Do you want to work in television, films, miscellaneous? I was working a lot when my bread and butter came as a production assistant working on music video shoots, commercials, and movies, and it was impossible to make any plans — ever. Since getting a promotion and switching to docu-style and music television, I’ve had more flexibility. Projects have a timespan of 6 weeks or 4 months, and I can plan to see the family/travel afterwards or try to jump headfirst into something else. Also, if there’s an important date that I cannot miss — a wedding, or Mardi Gras, for example — I’ve been able to mold my work schedule around it. I’ve missed a lot of things for work, but television has provided more flexibility.

sunset at the sydney opera house

What are your priorities?

I’ve gotten advice from those that threw themselves headfirst into their career — they worked so much, they’ve ended up sacrificing marriages and having children. They are amazing at what they do and still love it, and they’ve found joy and fulfillment in other ways — but not without regrets. They’ve given me a word of caution: “Don’t sacrifice a good man for this.”

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing: you can still pursue this career with a relationship. In the beginning, I took every job I could and my loved ones knew I had to — but now, five and a half years later, I weigh the options. If it’s going to put me on the road for a solid six months with limited rewards, I’m not going to take it. But if it’s only two months and a good credit on the resume, I probably will.

Television has been my solution,  but others make it work in other areas. Some of my pals work on scripted television, and when filming wraps for they season, they jettison off for a few months until filming resumes. Some have families, some travel. Others work as much as they can and bounce around from city to city. Others work only on commercials and strive as close to a 9-5 as possible to spend time with their families. Others take jobs at networks, which are almost always 9-5.

If you have priorities beyond just work (and it sounds like you do), you’ll find the balance that works for you. It’s very doable. Be aware this is an addicting career, and it can be difficult to say “No”.

Author: Laryssa

Laryssa has spent 6+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. She writes about her experiences to help (and amuse) others. If she's not working, she's either traveling, reading or writing about travel, or planning travel. Follow , Twitter, or Facebook.

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