There are many times when people in creative professions might have to work for free. It is most likely to be at the start of their careers when they are still establishing themselves. But there can also be other reasons, such as wanting to help another creative person to establish their own career – knowing that they can’t yet offer pay. There may be many opportunities to work for free or times when you wish that you could, but it is important to be realistic.
Working for free can be just as gruelling and tiring as working for pay. It is important to recognise that the job may not be easier. It can still involve travel, long hours, and lots of energy. Before agreeing to work for free, whether professionally or just for a friend, consider the following points.
Working without pay can mean different things for different productions. Be sure that you clarify this before accepting the role. For example, working without pay may mean that you do not receive a wage but your travel expenses and food will be reimbursed. It may mean that you receive an allowance for these things or that the set will be catered. For others, working for free means that there is no budget available to you at all. Your travel, food, and accommodation will all be your responsibility. If this is the case, you must think carefully whether the role is within your means.
Try to think carefully about whether this project would be rewarding. You may not get pay, but does this project offer experience that would be hard to get elsewhere? Will it be a wonderful addition to a CV or will another similar project quickly come along? Some projects with no pay also offer cast and crew members shares in final sales or profits. These can be an added bonus if you already like the project.
Think about whether you feel the project or crew has potential too. Some directors have won awards for short films but this is their first feature, for example. They may have experience and talent but still be short on funds. Consider how the project might benefit your career before making a decision. Never be afraid to ask questions or to express your concerns. Good directors will be happy to help.
The length of a project with no pay can be important. This is especially true if you have to meet your own expenses without support. Before considering the project, have a clear idea as to the start and completion date. This will help you to budget accurately.