Archive | June, 2013

Importance of “Free Work”

20 Jun

These days, I hear more and more from actors and photographers alike one very discouraging phrase: “I don’t do free work.”  Well, good for you. But just so you know, when I turn my head away after saying, “I get it, you’re past that point”, I am secretly thinking to myself: you have no idea what you’re missing. Secretly, I think you’re a fool.

After graduating modeling school and being halfway through college, I had said that myself for awhile, too. I turned down free projects and built myself up to be more than I was under the “fake it til you make it” slogan. I turned down a ton of work, not just because I didn’t like the idea but even if I thought it was a cool project, I said no just because it wasn’t paid and came back with the comment,  “This sounds great..let me know if this comes up with a budget.” Little did I know, I was kicking myself in the butt.

For the past 10 months I’ve lived in an apartment with friends here in Boston, I have watched my roommates with other professions paying their dues to their bosses and companies they aspire to work for by gaining attention doing “free work”. The more I watched it pay off, the more I thought to myself: what if I humbled myself a little and applied that concept to my own career? I began auditioning for non-paid or low pay roles, from music videos to company videos and student films. They would pay for my gas, offer me food and credit of the DVD. It seemed like I was getting nothing, and it was stressful trying to work a paying job and work my schedule around non-paid films that I’m driving all across New England for. It challenged my commitment to my career, and sometimes only half of the footage would come out good enough for my reel. At first, I thought I was making a mistake-but then, I noticed something as I scrolled through my inbox. That “something” was a network.

All of a sudden, I knew a ton of filmmakers that were recommending me to other people for other projects, some of them paid and some unpaid. I met crew that I’d seen on other sets that were willing to recommend me as an actress to filmmakers they knew-from school, work, etc. I met film students that knew other film students or graduates that were holding a casting call, and got me and audition. I met photographers that were willing to shoot free head shots for me that have a ton of talent, but didn’t know where to look for good models. I started running into the same people everywhere, and they were happy to see me every time and were willing to work with my schedule so I could make the money I needed to get by while helping their vision come to life. As you all well know in this industry-it’s all about who you know. I choose to know as many people as I can..everyone knows somebody that will pay you, or will offer you exposure that will get you paid work.

Unless you can survive on your craft now without working any other job, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It doesn’t matter how full your portfolio is, how great your reel is, or what agency you’re signed with. It doesn’t matter how many people you already know, because the industry constantly changes with people coming and going. At every stage of your career, you should be meeting new people and making a positive reputation for yourself. Sure, you can say “no” to that student filmmaker now because they won’t pay you, or to that actress that wants free head shots. But what if that filmmaker puts that film in a festival that is seen by award-winning other directors? You weren’t seen by that director, because you didn’t pay your dues and do free work. What if that actress some day makes it big? She won’t want to pay you when she has money if you turned her down when she didn’t.

Yes, we all want paid work. Yes, most of us have worked hard enough and are good enough to deserve it. But no, if you “don’t do free work”, you won’t connect with other aspiring creative professionals. After all, we all start somewhere-who knows where who you’re talking to will end up?