There is a constant debate within the industry if anybody should be working for free.
I, however, think that working for free can have some great results. That is if it’s done at the right time for the right reasons!
The argument is that as a skilled professional at whatever rung of the ladder you are currently at, you should not be taken advantage of and therefore shouldn’t work for free. Your time and expertise have value and you should be paid for them. Not only this, but it sets a bad precedent within the industry and devalues everyone’s work.
I get this argument and as a freelancer, of course I agree with it; If you have a skill or are skilled at your role in which you’ve been involved in for some time – don’t work for free! I have had many emails offering me work but stating there’s no budget for a videographer, drone operator, director!? I have simply thanked them for their interest but declined the work.
Bad Working for Free
A news story broke out highlighting something similar within X-factor. Despite the media factory we all know X-Factor to be, they were making their casual Runners pay for travel and accommodation which could negate any wage they received!
Asking their Runners to pay themselves for their travel and accommodation if they wanted to continue working, from one of the largest talent shows in the world, was completely wrong. The Runners that had worked on the show had proved themselves as members of the team who were well versed with how the show worked and would provide valuable assistance in the other counties. They had worth. But the X-factor team decided to try and squeeze the budget so much that they gave their runners the ultimatum – pay for yourself or don’t come. Obviously this was wrong and Thames have since changed their practice of this.
However, if you don’t have the skills or experience that is being requested, can you really expect to be hired above someone else who does? No, of course not…if you have no experience operating a sound mixer, or gaining location access or edit producing, why would you be hired for those roles?
Maybe once in a blue moon someone gets lucky. There will always be someone with a magical story who will declare they had no skills or experience but they got hired and paid for it so everyone should follow suit. This is a fairy tale that we’d all like to believe but it’s not a foreign idea for any industry professional to offer their services at a discounted or free rate, in order to gain new skills and contacts if it benefits themselves in the long run.
Good Working for Free
I have been working in this industry for over 7 years now, I no longer need to do work for free although occasionally an opportunity presents itself where I might. Nevertheless, getting up to this point, there were certain skills I wanted to learn, or people I wanted to work with or kit I wanted to gain experience on.
A few years ago when the Sony FS7 had just come out, I could see this camera was going to be an industry staple. Up to this point though I hadn’t had the chance to shoot with a high end camera like the FS7 before and therefore couldn’t get any shooting roles that required using this camera.
So…I offered to film a free promotional video for a local sculpture artist, and use the FS7 on the shoot to figure it out. The camera itself wasn’t even there for me to use! A friend and I split the cost and rented it out of our own pockets. We used his microphone, my old tripod and together scraped together the time in order to film and deliver a documentary style video. But that free gig…or rather the gig that ended up costing us money then meant we gained experience in using the FS7, it’s layout, functionality and allowed us to make mistakes with it but with no consequences. From then on, I felt confident in taking jobs on this beautiful camera and that first experience has paid dividends to this day.
Maid of Wax – Free video for FS7
Working for free doesn’t necessarily have to mean free – you just need to figure out what you can gain from it and if it’s worth it for you. If there’s nothing of personal gain then you should absolutely be paid for the job, or turn it down. But, if there is something of value to you in the free gig, then perhaps it’s worth thinking about.
Before I finish, let’s be clear! I am definitely not suggesting to anyone trying to get into this industry that if you’re offered a job, you shouldn’t be paid for it. New entrants to the industry especially will struggle with this. TV work is work, and hard work that you should be paid for. BUT, if you have an opportunity with friends to mess around and make something, or perhaps you have heard of a local charity in need of some material or maybe shadow a producer for a day whilst making them tea… then what do you have to lose in taking that opportunity, if it paves the way forward for you later?
Don’t be taken advantage of in this industry, don’t be afraid to say no, or yes but charging for your time… With skills and experience comes worth. But worth can be gained in many ways other than just through a pay cheque.