Thursday, 18 July 2013

Money For Nothing part II: No Expense Spared

Some of the tension over working for free comes from the fact that the movie industry has always been exploitative, and often horribly so – the era of the casting couch was not so long ago, for example. It’s true that a free worker may well be taken for granted or even mistreated – I would argue this can also happen with paid workers, and in either case the defence is to get smart and choose your work, and your friends, carefully.

All this being said, I am a filmmaker who has worked for free for others, and who has benefitted from the generosity of others willing to do the same. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Making a good movie is hard work. Everyone involved in a movie should be getting something out of it in return for the time and effort they are putting in. Value yourself! If you are in it for experience then make sure this is what you are getting – will the project actually contribute to your CV or showreel? Will it give you the kind of experience you are looking for? If you are doing it for fun, make sure you are actually having fun.

2. Filmmakers need to think seriously and make sure the experience of being onboard is enjoyable and stress-free. Good planning, reasonable expectations, friendly attitudes, breaks, and decent food may all go a long way.

3. “Expenses only” is NOT synonymous with “zero.” If you accept an expenses only gig, think about what your expenses are, and agree what would be reasonable to claim. Reasonable expenses should be agreed in advance and in writing – you should be on some kind of contract even if you are working for free.

4. Yes! It’s unfair if some people on set are paid a lot, some are paid a little and some are unpaid. Of course it is – just as it is in other industries or walks of life too. As a free worker you do have a choice whether to take on a particular project or not, and I am suggesting you should make this decision based on what you will personally gain from doing so, not from what may or may not be happening to the rest of the crew.

5. On the other hand, you may well find that the director/producer is working for free too. It’s not unusual to find people who are driven to make a particular film whether they can afford it or not.

6. Free or paid work are not the only choices. In this brave new world of kickstartification some people may wish to work for profit share or on a deferred payment basis, and other financial models will spring up too. They won’t suit everyone or every project but in some cases they may prove to be a better alternative.

7. Before agreeing to a project it doesn’t hurt to get to know who you will be working with.

8. Apply common sense - unless the director is Ed Wood, a three-week feature shoot in which actors are working thirteen hour days, giving intense character-driven performances, doing their own stunts and their own love scenes, and shooting underwater in cold weather, is probably going to be a paid job.

In summary, there are many perfectly good reasons why you may be willing to work for free – but you should never work for nothing.


Maurice Mitchell said...

There's always a cost Gene. Even if it's just the cost of gas driving back and forth every day. Sometimes the benefit go beyond money though. It's a tricky balance.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Yes, exactly - benefits and for that matter costs don't always come in terms of money.