Freelancing 101: Understanding Holds

In this first installment of Freelancing 101, David Schwarz of Brooklyn-based Hush (Motionographer posts) explains how “holds” work:

A “hold” means an employer has the right to book you first, before you take a job anywhere else. if you get “challenged” by another company to book you for the same time, you have to go to the company who is “holding” you and ask them to make a decision.

They have 24 hours to decide if they want to turn their “hold” into an official “booking” (which basically means they are obligated to hire/pay you). If they can’t book you, they’ll “release” you and you’ll become “booked” at the other company.

None of this, of course, has any legal obligations anywhere but there is some serious political correctness and responsibility you need to have when being a freelancer. Of course, studios should give you the same amount of clarity and respect.

My advice: have “holds” at multiple places, because these things fall through rather quickly.

As David points out, holds aren’t regulated by law or contract. But they are an established part of doing business in major markets, and it’s a really bad move to break these unwritten rules. Honor the system and it will honor you.

Thanks to Fred Kim for hooking this up!


About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



more of this please!


Here’s a tip- give your first hold to yourself. All other companies get a second hold. That way, you are free to “book yourself” if something important comes before work. Also, if you have several holds, and a really cool job comes up, you are not obligated to get a release from anyone but yourself.


… can ya really do that?… just sounds like… it breaks the system a bit haha


nvm… i guess ya can haha… kinda silly imo but… a good idea :P

nope! not giving you my name!

It’s actually really important that you give yourself first hold. People put you on hold months in advance, things change and you want the flexibility to say no. I just learned this one this spring, actually. I gave first hold to a client after a troubled job. After I stepped back I realized that I really didn’t want to go back to them unless I had nothing else going on, but they had first hold and booked me for two weeks out of the two months that they had requested. I had to leave one of my favorite clients midway through a really cool project. After a few days on the new gig, our upstream client pulled the plug. Luckily my favorite client was able to take me back — it was a relief for both of us — but if I’d considered myself to have first hold, I never would have been in that situation. I would have lost out on money and work if my favorite client didn’t have more for me to do.

It’s also important for you professionally. You may prefer to work on some fabulous big big job that’s just perfect for you, but if someone called you months and months before and put you on hold for some measly little gig, you’ll be obligated to take what they have, no matter what it is.


I agree with Matt. Never give a first hold to a studio. All of the smart freelancers do this. The reason for this, unfortunately, is that many producers abuse the hold system.

Here’s a very common example. Producer X hears about job Y that “may” be coming in. “May” in most cases, can be anywhere from a 1-99% chance of actually happening.

Producer X proceeds to call every freelancer in town and put them on first hold for the next three months. Even though the job may only last for six weeks. If they even get it.

Then, producer X waits 23 hours and 59 minutes to reply to any hold challenges, during which time the freelancer usually loses out on the other job.

That’s why most of us never give the “first” – in other words, an exclusive hold. The hold system is an honor system, and too many producers abuse it.

I personally only give a first hold out to a studio that gives me a lot – and I mean a lot – of work, and I know for a fact won’t jerk me around.

And I don’t make a big deal of it on the phone, either. I just say “I’d be happy to give you a second hold. Give me a call when you’re ready to book. I look forward to working with you.”


I completely agree comments above.

I just experienced this 23 hours and 59 minute scenario for the last time and will no longer be offering one of my favorite post houses, or any other facilities for that matter a first hold hold on my time.

This specific house has given me a lot of work, but they have become pretty lax with getting back to me when I ‘ve had a challenge for my time.

It’s just bad business practice to give a single facility or producer so much control over your schedule.

It’s important to be accommodating and helpful as a freelancer, but you must always remember that as a freelancer you are running a business.

The comment you make about not making a big deal about it is great advice as well. Keeping it relaxed and casual until you have a firm booking is the best way to approach it.

The difference between a first hold and a booking is that a booking comes with a financial commitment for your time:)

Simon Bronson

While I’ve been freelancing in London I am more comfortable being booked through an agent who not only gets the ‘best’ rate but also can ensures I don’t lose out on work too.
The same rules apply and they can capatilize if you’ve possible bookings at a number of places by stating that if the ‘pencil’ (london jargon for hold) isn’t firmed that I’ll be working elsewhere. Sure, I’m foregoing 10% of pay but It also frees me to pick and chose more and the agent can play ‘bad guy’, not me.


This all seems a bit presumptuous… I suppose its great to know what a hold is and how it works but how about how to get one! Do producers have lists of free lancers they call on..? And how does one get on such a list?


Yes they do. Send reels and resumes out to companies. Network with other artists- many jobs are awarded based on relationships and personal recommendations.


Wow, that’s gratitude for you. :-)

Brian J. Hong

Great post! Thanks for this!

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