Unpaid jobs

  • Abi Blears

    Actor

    Hi all,

    The past year I have been involved in quite a lot of low paid and unpaid work. I have spoken to actors who state that they don't do unpaid work and their cv's tend to remain quite sparse. I wondered what the general consensus was on doing unpaid work. Do you only stop it when the paid work takes over? Do people get stuck doing unpaid work and are looked down upon by casting directors and agents for having done it. I find that it can be quite frustrating but also rewarding and you do learn and grow in confidence. I am not an actor for the money but I do wish to be successful. I was thinking of only applying for paid jobs come the New Year but fear I may then rarely work at all as I have yet to secure myself a new agent. Any Thoughts would be welcome.

    • 16th Feb 2013
    • 14690
    • 75
  • Dave Frost

    Actor

    Hi Abi

    It really depends on what you want to achieve from the unpaid work.

    I am content to do the odd unpaid short film to keep me on my toes but I try to only work with the top film schools and industry professionals (who do often pay a small fee) with the hope that the finished project looks great so I can update my reel, and so I get to work with people who can pay me in the future.

    I can't imagine a casting director or agent looking down their nose, and it's unlikely that they'll know you weren't paid unless your CV is full of student films. Besides, it shows that you are pro-active and really keen.

    I know lots of actors who refuse to do unpaid work and I've stopped actively seeking it out myself, but it's great to see that more and more low budget jobs are appreciating the work we do and paying their actors at least a token fee now. What bothers me more are the castings for commericals and advertising paying atrocious fees, but that's another thread...

    At the end of the day, it's about the quality of what you work on - not the quantity of credits, so people with sparse CVs might have stunning reels.

    Good luck with finding an agent - and apologies for a rambling response. I'm a bit high on night nurse.

    Dave

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 1
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Hey Abi,

    I think there's quite a few threads on here with some good advice on this. Personally, I'm in the camp of "if it's acting work, it beats sitting at a desk/standing behind a bar and dreaming". As acting's a muscle that rapidly declines in strength if you don't keep working at it, I'll very tentatively state that all work is beneficial to you in some way, (even some of the dreadful student films we all get stuck with from time to time).

    For example, I've just finished the UK premiere of a brand new musical in a small fringe venue where we got seen by leading columnists and reviewers from The Stage, Whatsonstage etc not discounting agents, casting directors and directors that cast members invited. I had an amazing time but it was 3 weeks full time rehearsal (9-6) and then 4 weeks of shows tuesday-saturday. For no pay. Obviously I had to find some way to work during the show days to stay alive, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat because of the artistic rewards and satisfaction I got from the project, even if it meant budgetting extremely tightly elsewhere.

    I certainly don't think CD's will look down at you as as Dave said, they're not going to neccessarily know if you were paid or not. They will see however if the last thing an actor did was over a year ago because they decided to only apply for things that pay (sadly a very small quantity of jobs and in high demand).

    The fringe theatre scene in particular is a great training ground for young actors and those wishing to hone their craft (as I believe I read in one of the tabloids recently) and even if it doesn't fill your wallet, it certainly rewards you artistically.

    I'd say keep your mind open. Definitely still apply for paid work but I'd have strong reservations about writing off all unpaid work as not worthwhile.

    Good luck with agent hunting!

    Mark

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 2
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    Hi Abi,

    I decided last year that I wouldn't take on any unpaid work. The last unpaid job I did was a short film as a favour to a friend. When the film was finished the technical side of it was awful, bad sound, and the only scene where I had a decent amount of dialogue was so dark you couldn't see my face. It was simply a case of re-editing but the director threw a strop and refused to do anything with it. It is now on YouTube with my name on it and I really want to ask it to be taken down, but the director considers me a friend!

    Anyway, so 3 main reasons I don't do unpaid work.

    1. I can't afford it. If I'm not acting I need to be earning money someway or another.

    2. 99% of the short films I have done for showreel material have been really awful and unusable.

    3. Unpaid work is destroying the industry. People will work for free to get 'exposure' or 'credits' so many bigger companies are cutting down further on budgets. It is a vicious circle. Also many University's have been caught out proving they can afford to pay their actors in student productions.

    Those are just my thoughts. I have removed a lot of my unpaid credits now I have more paid work (usually because the end result has been appalling I don't think any casting director would note which credits were paid or not) and I hope my cv doesn't look sparse.

    As for showreel, I paid to get some extra scenes done. It wasn't cheap but it was way less than all of the days I've wasted on unpaid films that haven't materialised.

    Best of luck (excuse any mistakes, typing on someone's iPad and have fat finger syndrome!)

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 3
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Well, I've only been doing this for a short while, so I only do unpaid work at the moment in the hopes of building up some material for my showreel. I am also in the very fortunate position of being supported by someone else with a good job, which means I don't have to keep a day job while I do unpaid work.

    I feel that until I have the material to put a showreel together, I likely won't get paid work. I've applied for a couple of things, but haven't gotten auditions for them. I assume my lack of showreel plays a part in that. Unpaid work is a way for me to get experience working as an actor, material for a showreel, and to meet people in the industry who may not be in a position to pay me now but who very well might be in a year or two. I do pick and choose what I go for and I don't pursue projects that I would be embarrassed to be linked to.

    I think that if you have a great showreel and good credits in your CV, then it's okay to be pickier about your unpaid work and take less of it.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 4
  • John Eastman

    Actor

    Is it just me or am I right in deducing the quality/regularity of the PAID jobs on here is getting worse??

    Lots of mystery murder events//rare accent voiceovers//badly paid teaching work// and unless my eyes deceived me even a 'Jimmy Saville Lookalike' job.... who on this earth is going to want to put their hand up for that?

    I wouldnt be surprised if the CCP membership takes a dip through Christmas..

    Sorry its not exactly in line with the forum question, but not altogether unrelated either. And if as CS rightly points out, that unpaid work (or working for no £) is ruining the industry, what can we do about it?

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 5
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    @john Anyone who considers themselve professional needs to take a stand against unpaid work. If nobody takes these jobs that are no or low-paid they will have to up their game (and fees) if they want professionals. It's all about respect for yourself as a performer. A trained plumber doesn't work for free or below the legal wage so why should we!

    I certainly didn't expect drama school to be free. I'm going to go hide in the corner and wait to be told off for being too dramatic with my opinions ;)

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 6
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    @ Catherine Stobbs - I'm with you in your corner. Hear Hear x

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 7
  • John Eastman

    Actor

    Catherine..I am totally in agreement with you, but befuddled by how we can ever ever do anything about it... In such an over-subscribed industry, it appears as though there will always be someone who will want to 'do it for the experience'//cv credit...etc

    Maybe Drama Schools should have a unit on the morality (or otherwsie) of underselling yourself ? Can performers ever 'unite' over this issue?

    (I feel a post coming from Lee??)

    At the end of the day, I suppose you have to be firm about your own personal principles, and stick to them.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 8
  • Dave Frost

    Actor

    I find comparisons between plumbers and actors unhelpful. Yes we are trained and experienced, but we are also, for want of a much better word, artists. Next time you meet a plumber ask him about his passion for u-bends and how he dreams about rubber seals at night.

    My other job is in production and casting and I have worked for tea and lunch doing that too. I am a professional so why? To build up contacts and for the passion of the job. And I have got paid work as a result of it.

    Short films are nearly always collaborative efforts with limited budgets. Should that film earn money, then I would expect actors and crew to see some of that.

    I hate seeing producers taking advantage of actors and crew - I am adamant that professional work, intended to make money, should pay up front or in profit share. But being a professional doesn't just mean getting a wage in my eyes.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 9
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Professional work, by definition, IS paid work. Look it up. Other work is either collaborative, or for example work as an apprentice. Professional work is the difference between paid work and a hobby.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 10
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    I respect your opinion totally Dave and if you have been lucky enough to be involved with unpaid productions that have lead to paid work or footage that's great.

    The problem isn't really unpaid shorts its one person thinking actors will work for free and then it escalating. I've heard about castings for big players in TV hiring their actors for free because everyone wants a big break and people are so desperate for fame.

    I'm very passionate about my work but I am not willing to be exploited. The plumber reference was purely because it is a skilled trade.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 11
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Not only can we do something about it. I feel that everyone who is refusing unpaid work is already doing a lot about it. It´s not like it´s black and white and one day no one will get actors for free anymore. It´s a greyscale. And the more people refuse, the more productions will have to rethink (not all will). I still do the odd unpaid job but have now decided to up the criteria for applying and accepting since any down time from doing paid work is time I can focus on making my own production and take charge of my own career. I think unpaid jobs serve a great function for the new actor.. even though you´ve been trained as an actor you still need the real life practice.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 12
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    Sorry, me again!

    I've also found that many (not all by any means) student/short film producers/directors have no respect for actors who work for free. I saw a casting the other day that said NO FOOD PROVIDED within the initial casting, seriously who is applying for these jobs?

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 13
  • Jenna Sharpe

    Actor

    Completely agree with Catherine and at the risk of sounding like a total ***** I cannot believe what I am reading here and the lengths people will go to to justify why they are working for free.

    "if it's acting work, it beats sitting at a desk/standing behind a bar and dreaming". Really Mark? I love acting as much as the next person but it sounds like you don't think you are even worth paying.

    Yeah we have all done a student film when starting out but most people have moved on from that and once you have been paid for your work it is very hard to go back to working for free. I just won't do it and would rather have a sparse CV than one filled with vanity projects and extra work (but hey, at least they PAY extras).

    Part of being a professional actor is getting paid for your work. If you have been acting for a few years now and you still work for free, ask yourself why people don't feel you are worth paying, or better still, ask yourself!

    If you aren't bothered about earning a living from the business, do am dram. You may think your 4 weeks working for free may lead to something but how about suggesting to them that they abide by a little thing called NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE which applies to every other profession in this country but apparently not acting. Or at least agree on a deferred payment or share of sales and profits. By negotiating you show you value what you have to offer and people respect you the more for it.

    You have no idea how much the culture of working for free is damaging the business. Only the actors who are working and trying to earn a living see it and one day you will too. It has become a race to the bottom and it is about time people woke up to the fact that if you are working for free you are part of the problem.

    I turned down an advert for a popular mobile phone retailer last week because it was only paying £100 including buy out. Someone said yes though and that now says to that retailer that is all we need to offer next time, a retailer that must makes millions of pounds in profit!

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 14
  • Dave Frost

    Actor

    "being a professional doesn't just mean getting a wage"

    "Professional work, by definition, IS paid work. Look it up."

    ...it is. I don't need to look it up. But professional actors don't become amateurs when they work on an unpaid short film, and if Abi finds it rewarding and improves her skills working on collaborative projects then great stuff.

    Furthermore, any work that doesn't pay isn't professional anyway. It's not killing the industry as it has always been like this, and anyone making work of any worth realises you get what you pay for.

    Good actors can expect a good career and to make at least a living. Fame hungry wannabes and thankfully people who are willing to work for a pittance or less won't last long.

    I've been fortunate enough not to suffer any bad experiences on unpaid work, but I am picky about what I do anyway.

    So, Abi, as you can see (and there's plenty of threads to read through) there isn't really a general consensus. If you're thinking of not doing any more unpaid stuff in the new year that's great. See how it goes. You can always change your mind...

    d.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 15
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Jenna. Applause. Plenty of am dram out there if it's just because someone loves it so much. Could we term future unpaid work as vanity projects as Jenna suggests as a term. Highly intelligent and thought through.

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 16
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    It's not us being less professional it's employers/students expecting our services and skills but not treating us as professionals!

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 17
  • Catherine Stobbs

    Actor

    Jenna I missed your post! Brilliant, spot on!!

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 18
  • Abi Blears

    Actor

    Hi all,

    Thanks for all your responses. Many valid points have been made. For me, unpaid work has backed up my training/experience and helped me develop in confidence. It has also helped me get some acting credits on my cv (as opposed to musical theatre/dance). I completely agree that it does continue a vicious circle and have reached a stage where I want more and believe I am talented and experienced enough to deserve paying. I will cut down and possibly eliminate all unpaid work I do come January but have gained an awful lot from the work I have done so far and certainly don't regret any of it. I won't comment again but thank you for taking the time out to let me know your views. It's much appreciated xx

    • 26th Nov 2012
    • 19