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Should You Agree to Work for Free?

This is a question many people in the creative sector will be asking themselves throughout their careers, and unfortunately, the “offers” to work for free don’t end the older you become or, the more experience you have.

When I left film school, it was believed that you needed to work for at least two years for free to break into the industry before receiving paid job offers.

I graduated from film school in 2004, and as of this writing, I do not accept job offers, which are for free. Having said that I am always more than happy to work on friends’ projects for free and help the people who helped me out. But these are people I knew and worked with; these people are not random individuals I found online and decided to approach expecting to work on my projects for many hours, and many days and weeks for free.

I get lots of offers to work for free with a vague promise of a payment sometime in the very indefinite future. I find those offers and emails disrespectful. Why would I want to spend my free time working on strangers’ projects, if I can keep developing mine?

I believe in respecting yourself, your work, and the time you invested and re-invest in your education. I do have different rates for returning clients, projects that are non-funded and I’m more than happy to exchange skills and services, but it cannot be a just one-way road. I also know that learning to say “no” to people can be scary at first but the more you grow and work on your creative skills, the easier it will become.

When you start out, you may end up working for free on a few projects, or you may charge some small flat fee such as £100 or swap favours with other filmmakers.  The more you progress in your career though, the more selective you will become over the projects you are willing to do for free or for a discounted rate.

Just keep in mind that working on funded projects or corporate projects for free or for a discounted rate is not going to help anyone in the industry, neither it will help you. It’ll only make our rates go down, and we’ll all be expected to put our fees down or work for free. And believe me, you will find an abundance of people who are more than happy to take advantage of your talent without rewarding you.

Every project requires much energy and commitment so if you are choosing to donate your work for free to a project, make sure you are choosing a project you would want to put your name on, and your work is going to be appreciated one way or another. So that you as a creative will benefit from being involved in that project.

PS. In all honesty, I did ask people to work on my feature film Anna & Modern Day Slavery (that was the only project in my professional career I wasn’t paying people for) for free, and everyone who signed up knew that nobody was going to get paid. However, they were all reimbursed for any expenses and were obviously accommodated and fed throughout. ‘Anna and Modern Day Slavery’ is a cause-driven film, and we all hoped and believed we could make the general public more aware of sex and human trafficking. If the cast and crew weren’t willing to work for free on that film, I’m afraid the film would have never happened. So I am eternally grateful for that.

While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.

Filed under: filmmakers, filmmaking

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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