PREMIUM – Ask Adam Anything #2: First Jobs and Freelance Advice

This week, Adam answers a question about how he approached his first gigs as a prop maker and freelancer. Adam gives advice about how to bid for projects and think about the value of your time and work. If you have a question or something you want to share with Adam, post in the comments below! We’ll be back next week with another question answered!

Comments (59)

59 thoughts on “PREMIUM – Ask Adam Anything #2: First Jobs and Freelance Advice

  1. Great advice. This is a question that has always haunted me. I build items on the side for fun and found that no-one I build for would actually be willing to pay what the material is worth after you combine cost and man hours. So depending on the job and the person I am building for I usually try to make double my material cost. This obviously wouldn’t work if it is my day job but for a little bit of side work and for anything that allows me to try something new it works well. I have also offered to donate the odd piece if it allows me to try something I have been thinking about doing for myself but not quite sure how the end result will be exactly what I want for myself. They always turn out well (sometimes they take way longer than expected) but it is always nice to have a place for something to go and have the opportunity to work out some kinks along the way.

  2. Thanks Adam! I loved the
    info about your bid structure. I’ll be applying some of this in my home theater

  3. I was referring to the size of the iPad Pro 🙂 it looks like Adam and the table are at 3/4 scale :p

    And yes, a wonderful video!

  4. I had a slightly different approach to the 10% overbid. I would offer a 10% discount if the client gave me the final payment upon delivery. It can be really difficult on some jobs to get the final payment in a timely manner but usually a producer on a job has been hired by a production company and doesn’t want to explain to their boss why they wasted an extra 10% by not having a check available when the item was delivered. Just be sure to put the 10% discount option in writing in the production agreement.

  5. I am thinking of moving to San Fransisco but I have lived in the same town for the past 26 years, I am really nervous about the whole process do you have any tips on moving to a new city especially one as expensive as San Fransisco?

  6. Hello Adam and Test Crew,

    I’ve noticed you do a lot of free hand air brush and spray painting with seemingly little care taken to prevent over-spray. Any time I spray paint something, the paint travels X+2 inches, where X is the size of the masking I put down to catch said over-spray.

    My question is, do you have any specific techniques to prevent paint from getting everywhere or have you just adopted a zen philosophy to it? Thank you!

  7. I think this was the best video yet. Very informative. This may have been covered before, but what was the most complicated and challenging build you have ever done? What made it challenging for you?

  8. Who said alone? If they had lunch to check up on what projects they were up to, it would make sense to have lunch either at M5 or at Adam’s shop or ILM, where presumably they wouldn’t necessarily be alone. 🙂

  9. Here is my question: How do you get over the fear of failure. For instance, I find sometimes that I don’t start certain projects because I’m not confident that I can complete them in a satisfactory way.

  10. Off topic what is the story with the broken mirror on the back wall?

    I was looking at it during this video and wondered the same thing!

  11. Can I ask why you guys got rid of Buster without any indication as to why and proceeded to insult us saying anything made of plastic is him?

    I may sound bitter because I am, you made us love an inanimate dummy and made a big fuss about the original Buster. I remember Adam getting rather upset that Jamie didn’t want to keep the original Buster’s face.

    You made us love him and it just seems rather awful that you try to pass of any dummy you find in a department store dumpster as Buster, it’s not him, it never will be him and he has been gone for years now.

    I have no emotional attachment to any of the oversized action figures you guys try to pass off as Buster. We deserve an explanation and a true admission that this is the case. That Buster has been gone for a long time and you knowingly sacked him.

    Whatever the reason you have for getting rid of him, however valid it may be does not excuse trying to pull the wool over our eyes and not just being transparent and leveling with us.

  12. Very useful advice there, I always struggle to work out what to charge people for my time. I have a habit of undercharging for interesting jobs and overpricing the less interesting ones.

  13. What are your suggestions for time management when you have multiple deadlines? Do you go for the low hanging fruit to make progress or do the difficult tasks first? I’ve been trying to suggest this as a Still Untitled topic for a while now… Thanks!

  14. Sometimes you just have to have the “you don’t know unless you try” mentality. Give it a try, take your time and work through it. There are always resources you can find to help as well as whatever knowledge you have gained along the way. It may take you way longer than you would like but that is how you learn. Just bite the bullet and give it a go. This would be one of those times where trying to get your material cost covered for the first one would be the way to go.

  15. Arts Excellent approach. Getting payed in a timely fashion and completely is a major problem particularly as you have to keep track of all the outstanding payments.

  16. Question: what are your five most valuable tools? This can mean price or worth (usefulness). In fact, let’s make it two lists. One for each.

  17. My advice is simply just do it. Do it enough times and it takes the sting away. Then you learn how to recover from mistakes/failures, or get it right the next time.

    At least that is my approach in software development is which a constant stream of errors and failures.

  18. It was mainly the way he said it ” Jamie and I got together for lunch about once a year to talk over projects” that implies two people having lunch together. It goes back to Adam saying that they have never had a meal alone together ever. I could be wrong.

  19. Another great video , brilliant insight into the bidding process,
    At the moment I’m trying to gain confidence in new materials , and retraining my airbrushing skills, but I am having trouble trying to cleanly mask of areas , especially curved areas and also getting that final paint finish that looks slick, I’m currently painting a 1:5 scale helmet for my son , and having trouble getting the finish right.

    I also second the question raised earlier about when your modelling book is coming out , although I suspect this year of builds is to help you clarify and get your methods clear enough in your head that you can write it efficiently.
    May I suggest you consider creating a DVD of your modelling methods ……here’s why
    Many of your one day builds I have watched multiple times, and the reason is like a repeat watch movie , your team have created vids that are both instructional and also very casual like we’re literally there with you and you engage with viewer……they never feel like a staged sequence ( this is why your still untitled podcasts are great because I feel like I’m sitting at that table with three friends shooting the breeze)
    For the record ,
    My favourite repeat viewings are
    Cosmonaut model build
    Beaver box
    Shining Maze
    Weathering t800 , boxes

  20. Great Post!.

    Do you have any great stories about working on Bicentennial Man? It’s my favorite movie of all time and would love to hear anything you have to say about it.

  21. I got that, I just crossreferenced the “me and Jamie would have lunch together once a year” and the “me and Jamie have never had a meal together alone” and arrived at them having lunch together, with other people present. Obviously that scenario has been a common occurrence, given that they have filmed a tv show together for 12 years, frequently on the road 🙂

  22. I got that, I just crossreferenced the “me and Jamie would have lunch together once a year” and the “me and Jamie have never had a meal together alone” and arrived at them having lunch together, with other people present. Obviously that scenario has been a common occurrence, given that they have filmed a tv show together for 12 years, frequently on the road 🙂

    Good point kim_a, But when I heard that I thought the same as johndeere97 🙂

  23. Thanks for answering my question Adam! Very cool.

    Incidentally I actually used the “I’ll do it for free if you pay for materials” technique on this job:

    Design and fabrication of 13 award statues for last year’s Melbourne Web Fest.

    13 identical statuettes made from CNC machined acrylic…about $600 in raw materials and a few weekends of work.

    But the excuse for practicing my CNC routing, assembly, laser engraving & finishing techniques of acrylic (..such an unforgiving material) = worthwhile time spent!

  24. Adam,

    How do you find motivation to work on personal projects? I know this is something I struggle with being in Art School and working on projects 6 or 7 days a week for other people.

    Also, Do you have any tips for networking with creative professionals that you have never met and want to?


    Jesse (3rd Year Industrial Design Major)

  25. Off topic what is the story with the broken mirror on the back wall?

    I was looking at it during this video and wondered the same thing!

    It’s been in Adam’s shop for a while, and I’ve often wondered about it too. I’ve always made a loose assumption that it’s replica of the mirror in the photo that Deckard scours for clues in Blade Runner.

    I have a couple of questions for Adam. As a keen cyclist, and being mechanically minded, have you ever built your own wheels. I’m just about to start lacing a wheelset together for the first time, and reading up on the subject made me think that it’d be the kind of process that you would enjoy.

    My second question relates to a comment you made in a previous podcast about designing the perfect socket set carrier. I’m just wondering if that has come to fruition?

    A big thanks to the whole Tested crew for this video series, as well as all of the content you guys put out. You make the internet a better place 🙂

  26. Question: How do you balance your great multitude of interests (prop making, sketching, photography, collecting, reading, etc.)? Do you like to find projects that incorporate as many interests as possible, or do you like to bounce between them? I often find myself getting so enthralled with one thing that other interests fall by the wayside…

  27. Hey Adam,

    What’s the greatest thing that you haven’t done or built, but would like to. On that note, what skills would you like to improve or develop. I’ve found that the best way to keep from getting stale is to always pursue new thing.

    Part 2.

    If there were another tested inventern style project, would a group project bringing all sorts of skills be something that you would like to challenge.

  28. When I was growing up we didn’t have much money so Dad was always figuring out which contractors he could delay paying the longest. Then he would get upset because it would take so long for those same people to get back to him when he would call about job. As an adult I have the luxury of having a decent income but I never forgot the lesson my Dad didn’t really intend to teach me, If you want someone to do work for you on a timely basis you’d better be paying them likewise.

  29. One of the things I have told clients ( I am a performance consultant) is be think about a project in stages, story board out what you will do in each stage. Then pick one of those drawings in the middle of the project and make a 3 d mock up (cardboard, clay, paper,whatever) of that stage. Not only will that give you a real experience of what the object will look like in your hand, but it will allow you to build confidence in your own mind of what you would have done to get to that point, and what you will do in the following stages to get to completion. It is a very effective tool to dissolve fear of failure because fear is nothing more than an emotion. A feeling, the same thing as coldness on your skin in winter… you put on a jacket, no more coldness… because that feeling is temporary and isolated to a certain location. Your fear only exists in your mind, therefore your mind can be changed quickly. If you or others, need deeper help with that you can text me 8055518784

  30. Adam– all this is well and good. Idea: invite your worst former co-worker/employee in to hear the opposite side of the coin. OR, maybe the “third” one down the list– no need for it to be a blood bath. But I am curious! Being a freelancer usually means there is no way to redress a problem. You have to be “up” even when you’re getting screwed in a crowded room. Otherwise you’re out.

  31. I agree with Danomite with one caveat.

    Don’t take a job you are not pretty sure you can do and totally sure you can get finished with help if need be.

    Instead, find the time to do the job(s) you want to know how to do. Then do them. Then you will know what you can do for certain, what you can probably do, and what you can have done in a pinch.

    People like Adam have a skill bag – and they know what is in it. It’s OK doing something you have never done before if you skill bag can cover it. And one of your skills that get developed along the way is an understanding of how far you can push or pickup skills. The more you do “stuff” the better filled that skill bag becomes.

    And it’s fun!

    Just my 2 pennies – for what little it’s worth.

  32. Off topic what is the story with the broken mirror on the back wall?

    What freaks me out is sometimes the shots from one side of the workshop to the other there is another mirror , same size not broken , I think we see both and think was that just broken, that drove me nuts over vids as one week it’s broken then later on its whole again …….was it on purpose though ?

  33. Hey, great videos. My question is: Should a beginner try to learn to use
    as many materials as he can, or learn a few and be more used to them? This
    is about any materials, glues, casting molds, woods, paints…

  34. Hey Adam, this has less to do with Tested and more to do with your now old team at Mythbusters. What are they all doing now? I know that you have Tested now and you’ll get to continue being an inspiration to us makers and explorers, but where can we find the rest of the team?

  35. Ah-ha! J’accuse! You said you had lunch with Jamie once a year. But before you’ve said that you’d never sit down and have a meal together. Conspiracy!

  36. Thanks Adam! This video was extremely helpful as I am just getting in to the freelance film business myself. Terrific Video!

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