When To Stop Working For Free
This topic is something I feel very strongly about and unfortunately, there is no one right answer. If you subscribe to any casting website, it comes as no surprise to you that most job listings are NO PAY jobs. Or my personal favorite … “meal and credit.” For the most part these jobs are student films/projects, independent films, or somebody who is trying to build up a reel. When you work a job that is unpaid, you run the risk of being taken advantage of and likely the resulting footage is going to look unprofessional. And that’s if the project gets completed at all which, sadly, is a rarity. In fact, of all the non-paying on-camera jobs I’ve done, only 1 of them has ever been completely edited and made into what you could call a short film.
So when DO you stop working for free?
Even though I’m completely nay-saying working for free, there are a few benefits to working no-pay jobs:
- The competition is limited. Professional actors aren’t auditioning for these jobs so the amount of highly talented individuals auditioning for these roles is way less than a professional audition, increasing the likelihood you’ll book it.
- It bulks up your resume. When I was interviewed by my agency to be represented, they asked me if I had any on-camera experience. I had booked 4 student films just that summer so I was able to rattle off the 3 most recent. It gave me some credit and made me appear bookable.
- Work begets work. I’ve said this 100,000 times. In fact if I ever write an autobiography, pretty sure this will be the title. If you’re feeling stuck or in a rut, sometimes going to an audition, booking the role and spending a few days on set can help kick yourself out of it.
Now here are some negatives about working for free:
- You are setting a standard for actors & models everywhere when you accept a rate for a gig, including accepting $0. You have a skill and should be paid for your time, even if it’s a lower rate.
- Like I mentioned earlier, out of the 4 student films I’ve done, only 1 of them has been edited and turned into an actual short film. So not only did I spend my time and money driving to sets, buying my own food, and spending 12 hours/day filming, the films weren’t even finished and I couldn’t use it for a reel.
- Have you ever heard the saying dress for the job you want, not the job you have? If all you do is unpaid, unprofessional work, you look unprofessional. Do the job that represents the type of actor you want to be.
We all have different preferences as far as our favorite type of work. For some of us, it’s on-camera work. For others, it’s print work. And for some of us, and I include myself in this group, we prefer theatre. My personal rule is that I will never do on-camera, print, or voiceover work for free unless I believe in the script and know the team is professional (or if it’s for a charitable cause). However when it comes to theatre work, I will always do it for free because it feeds my soul.
Look inside yourself and truly discover what it is that makes you tick, what fulfills you. But also ask yourself if this is what you want to do for a living, because if it is, you should be paid for your talents and efforts accordingly.