Unpaid jobs

  • Abi Blears


    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
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  • Jenna Sharpe


    Stuart, this is just a debate and I have nothing against Mark or anyone else here but this is an issue I and many others feel very strongly about. And frankly I am tired of all the weak and illogical justifications people come out with for why they work for free. And it is nearly always coming from starry eyed graduates who have not worked with or conversed with working actors before. If it was just them they were affecting I wouldn't really mind but it has become everyone's problem in the industry and it is also, in most cases, a blatant flouting of the law. A couple of people have PMd or Facebooked me saying they agree with what I have said but I can perfectly understand why some won't do.

    I took the time to state why I disagreed with the points Mark made and made some generalized statements about training and the state of the industry. All you have done is copy and paste all the things you didn't like about my post, some points I don't see why you find at all controversial but some were kind of meant to be.

    "You clearly see yourself as a business which is completely rational but to demean other people and their experience by your very narrow point of view is both ignorant and insulting." I think you will find my point of view is well informed and shared by many. Including Equity. And I could say you are demeaning me by your narrow point of view too, that is kind of inevitable if you disagree with someone's actions and have strong opinions on things. So don't try and take the moral high ground about how tactless I am and in the same sentence accuse me of talking ****. Luckily I don't really mind that much but I am just pointing out the fact it is a tad hypocritical and makes it difficult to take anything you say seriously.

    I have not said I am **** hot at anything. My resume is not full of world class credits but the majority of it is professional, paid work. Yes I do see myself as a business, why shouldn't I? Proportionally much of our time is not spent actually acting but on networking, marketing, training, learning new skills etc. If I can use my brain and my business mind to help my career then I will.

    "And to question some peoples self worth! What planet are you on ?" All I did was make the connection between confidence and self worth. How is that "nasty"? A lot of people are not asking to be paid because they don't feel confident enough to say I deserve to be paid. Many perhaps do not feel they are worth paying even after spending years and thousands of pounds training. Confidence is a pretty damn important part of this career and one many of us struggle with but if years of training did not help you feel more confident about your ability, confident enough to turn down unpaid work, then yes, I would question how useful that training was both qualitatively and quantitatively. My message to everyone is if you have talent, YOU ARE worth paying.

    "Some people believe acting is a craft that doesn't have to fit within your goal of validation which you seem to have constructed for yourself, based on money." Seriously Stuart? You think this is a validation I have constructed? You give me too much credit. It's pretty much the definition of being a professional…getting paid money for your services. Paid work is what gets you into Spotlight and Equity. Not quite sure what planet you are living on where you can work for free and still call yourself a professional actor when you are doing nothing different to the thousands of people doing amateur dramatics. Sorry but you can't have it both ways. And I've never said I do it just for the money, if money was so important to me I sure as hell wouldn't have chosen acting as a career.

    "I don't feel that I need to fit into your view and other's of what I should and shouldn't go for as jobs." Well your resume is designed so people can form an opinion as to what jobs you did. If you want agents to represent you or casting directors to cast you then you may well need to fit in with other people's views as to what is or isn't deemed to be a professional credit.

    Incidentally I'd love to hear from people who have undertaken paid work and then decided to go back to working for free. Once you have reached that stage where you know you are good enough to be paid, you won't ever go back to working for free unless you have a really good reason to (e.g. for charity, deferred payment etc.). What causes someone to suddenly decide to stop working for free? You could say it was luck and that a great job came along that happened to be paid but I think most actors will get to a point where they feel they have had enough. Something changes internally and I think it is confidence.

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Mark Kempner



    Hi Stuart, nice to hear from you on this "debate".

    Apart from your clear focus on mostly Jenna, but also myself, as well as anybody else who (aside of collaboration and or amateur "no pay" work) feels strongly about getting paid for what we do - I did not understand your post really. Might you be able to elaborate?

    You see the problem I have, as much as I would love not to have to worry about paying my bills, whilst you are perfecting your creative artistry for which you don't feel the need to get paid for?

    I am not sure where you live, but where I live, even the likes of the cheap supermarkets insist on money exchanging hands when I buy my food to live on. Rotten capitalist bastards eh?!!

    I did try and explain to the shops that I was a creative artiste, and I was perfecting my skills, and therefore it was jolly unfair of these Supermarkets to expect me to part with my money.

    Do you know....one or two of them had the cheek to say: I was talking *****

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Stephen Moriaty


    I came to the professional ranks only recently. I had been persuaded by my parents to get a "proper job" when I was younger. By the time I realised that this is what i should really be doing I had a family, mortgage and life generally got in the way. So I did am/dram to fulfil the need.I had a great time but always wanted more and there came a time 5 years ago where with my children grown up and the family a little more financially stable I was able to pursue my dream and became a student again on an intensive 12 month course.

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Stephen Moriaty


    I came to the profession only 4 years ago. I had been persuaded by my parents to get a "proper job" and it was not until I was married with children and a mortgage that I understood how great was my need to act. So I continued with local am/dram which was great fun but limiting. Then, when my chidren were grown and we were a little more secure financially I took the plunge and enrolled on a 12 months acting course. One of the main empthases was "professionalism". I understand this to be not only being a good actor but respecting everyone you work with (whether they irritate you or not), turning up on time for rehearsals and generally being responsible. We had a few lessons about the business side. I wish we could have had more but I did realise that to succeed I also have to be responsible to myself.

    What has this to do with unpaid work? Yes I have done the odd student film for expenses and DVD for camera experience. These have only taken a day out of my schedule and therefore do not impact greatly on my finances. I still have to work (I am a freelance criminal lawyer) and if I am doing unpaid acting then I am not available for my other work. A double whammy.

    Profit share on a collaborative project can be different and we all have to make a decision as to whether the pros out weigh the cons. However I am concerned that some projects that are high profile come into this category. I believe that there was an award winning production of La Boheme that would have cost a small fortune to be in.

    I told my wife that I was auditioning for a profit share production. Knowing that this meant that I would be lucky to cover my expenses her response was "how is that different from doing a play at..( local highly respected am/dram group). "Oh it is dear, it will be more professional and we can get casting directors to come and see it" Hmm...

    I live in Essex but can get into London as quickly as many living in London but it costs more. So if there is a profit share show I have to consider very carefully what it will cost. Depending on the venue, possibility of season tickets etc a 6 week run of rehearsals and performances is likely to cost me between £500 and £700. Even living in London I would expect some quite considerable travel costs. How do I justify the cost to myself or my family?

    When I was working in an office as a solicitor I took a call from a man who started asking me legal questions. I tried to make an appointment for him and his response was "I only want a bit of advice". Exactly, that is all I have to sell. That is why I studied and trained to be able to advise people for money. The same is true with acting. If people want to use my services, take up my time, prevent me from earning money elswhere, then pay me. I don't ask for much just some recognition that my time and my talents are worth paying for.

    One thing that producers and film makers tend to forget and that we as actors should remember is that without the actors there would be an empty stage or film of just scenery. At the end of the day the audience go to see the actors. We need everyone else involved to perform but with out us there is no play/musical or film.

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Mark Kempner


    I totally agree with you Stephen.

    …and if Stuart does re-read MY posts, he will see I always recognise an actors need and the desire to take a few freebies or collaborations if its worth while and everyone of us is a passenger on the same ship after all. However, I object when actors are taking the "illegal jobs" and or undercutting me on corporate work coz they wish to and or can work for free, in the name of experience reel footage or anything else…..it's all avoiding the bigger and more realistic financial picture I feel.

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Leila Kotori


    I have done quite a few unpaid short and feature films and to be honest all of them have been great stories and look good. I am very picky over what I do that is unpaid, I at least get expenses. I have done this to build up my CV and now I have more auditions for paid work. I realize that some people take the piss with unpaid work and I do think there should be some pay, but there are alot of genuine film makers out there who are trying to make a good film and simply dont have the funds to pay. I think it is simply a case of picking what you think are good films to work on with no pay.

    I would also rather be acting than working in a dead end job. Most of the unpaid stuff I have done is literally a day here or half day, two days tops at a time so I can pick up extra work to compensate.

    Just my view on it.


    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • David Vaughan Knight


    This debate often asks the question, whose fault is it that we are willing to work for no pay.

    Is it the actors or is it the producers?

    The answer can't be pinpointed. It's the chicken or the egg scenario.

    The state of the industry is what it is.

    We as actors have never had so much access to potential work.

    Producers have never had so much access to potential workers.

    The giant book of black and white photos that was the producer's Holy Grail, has become the actors Lost Ark.

    I don't believe it is only us in the industry that have seen a drop in earnings.

    I believe this question will be answered by the law.

    It's just a case of when these cases come to court, and how and why and who the parties are that will argue that case.

    That verdict will end the debate for all involved... for a while.

    As for working for nothing, for me personally, I will. With due consideration. It's never been an easy financial choice, but if I see the potential for me and for the market, I will apply.

    But I know from my experience that the Boom, Stage Manager, Lighting Engineer, Makeup Artist, Sound Designer, Producer, Director, Assistants thereof, Fight Director, Choreographer, the Person with the big reels of tape, the Bloke that bought the sausage rolls, the DOP, the Writer and let's not forget the limited Investors, are also are all working for what they believe in with hope and belief.

    I hate to break it to those that are in this for the cost cutting, pure profit, and fame, but you're in the wrong game.

    What goes around, comes around.

    • 29th Nov 2012
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  • Alan Pelz-Sharpe


    Well I am probably just echoing others - but when I see a listing that says "no pay" then it say's "prepare an audition piece" and gives a date and time for auditions my blood pressure rises. Many of these "no pay" films budget thousands for equipment and crew and zero for cast. A showreel or clips should be quite sufficient to cast a free actor..... don't even get me started on getting showreel clips in a timely manner, expenses, and sticking to shoot schedule. I could go on.....

    • 5th Dec 2012
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  • Ffion Evans


    For me personally, I find doing unpaid work sometimes the most fun because you're doing the project because you WANT to, not because its going to earn you a few quid. I think a lot of actors get bogged down in not-so-great roles or no roles at all simply because they want the money and not because they'd really like to do it. I worry people get too high and mighty about this sometimes when at the end of the day very few of us will actually earn a decent living doing this.

    I started out dong mostly unpaid work because I haven't gone to drama school (nor do I have any intention) and so the only way to gain experience and prove myself a good performer was to do this. I find that so long as nobody is getting paid, then there's no real harm in doing a project which ultimately will benefit you in experience if nothing else in the end.

    I'm actually earning a decent amount now but as I'm still at uni I'm limited to how much I can take on, so unpaid work has admittedly become less appealing. But I think it's a healthy thing to do from time to time as it exercises those acting muscles and lets you experience roles and mediums you perhaps won't get in a paid environment.

    • 5th Dec 2012
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  • Judy Clifton


    A professional actor warrants payment for his / her professional acting work. Period. There is no valid argument against that premise.

    Oxford Dictionary definitions:

    Profession: an occupation, especially one that involves knowledge and training in a branch of advanced learning.

    Professional: doing a certain kind of work to make a living.

    Amateur: a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.

    '...to make a living' is the key phrase here. Professional actors must be paid for their work. 'Expenses only' and 'No pay' are nothing short of outrageous.

    When you find yourself wondering whether you ought to take a stand on this issue and apply solely for properly paid work, think of the L'Oreal line - 'Because I'm worth it.'

    (Oh, and there are those humdrum and minor irritations of bills to pay, food to buy, rent / mortgages to meet... Dreary, I know, when you want to lark about for no pay, having a lovely time, but there it is.)

    • 6th Dec 2012
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  • Catherine Stobbs


    I have to disagree. I have great fun doing paid jobs as that was the whole point of becoming a professional actor, so I could make a living out of what I love doing!

    Also knowing I have only worked for pay means I don't have to waste as much time doing jobs I hate just to cover the time I took out to work for free!

    Perfect business sense as far as I can see.

    • 6th Dec 2012
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  • Stephanie Lodge


    Theatre is rarely a profit making business, which is why in the West End, tickets prices are so high. The NT, Royal Court, Donmar,can charge slightly less because of donations.

    If all actors refused to work for free, then fringe theatre would most likely be no more. Fringe venues would close as there would be not enough companies to hire the venues. Yes some fringe productions are paid, but that is because they have secured funding.

    Some might say, a theatre company shouldn't produce a show unless they have funding in place to pay everyone involved. Maybe, but the sad truth is there is not enough funding to go around to help every theatre company to produce their work.

    Yes there are crooks out there, but there are also genuine companies who have a passion for theatre and want to provide opportunities for others.

    I run a new writing night, it is a collaborative event, no one (including us) gets paid as the night does not make enough to cover this cost. We would need over a £1000 per event to pay everyone involved the Equity minimum, and whilst we would love to find a sponsor or regular funding to help us do this, short of charging around £50 per ticket, we currently do not make the money. So is the suggestion that we stop what we are doing....??

    The unpaid debate is not simple. Actors need to be knowledgeable and aware of what they agree to take on. Even in paid work there are people in the industry who take advantage. I don't believe there is a simple solution, there is definitely a big difference when it comes to unpaid tv/film work and to fringe theatre which doesn't (and never will) bring in the same kind of money.

    I totally understand if people take the stand to no longer do unpaid work, but we need to find a way of establishing when a non-pay/profit share project is justified, as opposed to tarnishing eveyone with the same brush. Until I started running a theatre company, I didn't actually understand how much it costs to stage a production or to run an event. Maybe people need to consider this, as it is only going to get harder as more and more arts funding is cut.

    • 7th Dec 2012
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  • Rory Mccallum


    What's the problem here!

    If you don't want to work for nothinh don't.

    I have been acting for 30 years.

    If I can make a £1000 for a mornings work and I do then I personally have no problems doing the occasional fringe production.

    There are some fantastic companies out there who invest fortunes of their own money and often do not recoup it, but give actors fantastic work and put on extraordinary shows, and present to audiences audiences great theatre.

    Oh and by the way please do not try and compare amateur with professional fringe work just go and see an amateur production in Brighton - won't mention the name but you'll want your money back.I don't think Van Gough was paid for his work but he was quite a professional don't you think!

    • 11th Dec 2012
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  • Farah Sardar


    1. Unpaid work can be a spring board providing credits & show reel material.

    2. If you see any signs you are dealing with time wasters don't get involved.

    3. Otherwise, do whatever suits.

    4. No harm in trying something for a while (if you want to stop unpaid shoots) & see how it goes.


    • 11th Dec 2012
    • 53
  • Mark Kempner


    Stephanie...points well put. I am not against fringe....nor do I want to see it stopped of course, though personally I do not believe it will stop!! There are Fringe theatres (I refer to the many little rooms/spaces above pubs) charging several hundred and or more hire fees a week as well as enjoying the healthy bar takings as well. They will do everything they can to protect that!!! Maybe the venues should stop charging quite such high hire fees…and accept that the actors and crew need to earn "something" too? After all do their bar staff all work for nothing? Its certainly a messy and complicated subject. I have no problem with the genuine collaborations be it theatre or indie film. Our problem is, that the defining line between genuine collaboration and taking the piss has become ever so clouded!!

    Roy: Nobody is disagreeing with you either....but not all actors are as experienced enough or able to make those sorts of decisions it seems. Too many actors quickly assume or feel they simply must take unpaid work at all costs....even the jobs which are being well underpaid.....that has to be bad for them, you and me and the industry as a whole? I think it's too simplistic to simply say….if you don't want to do unpaid work …don't do it! That might work for you and me….but it certainly isn't working across the board.

    • 12th Dec 2012
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  • Graham Cheadle


    I can see merits in people saying they wont do unpaid work. However for me as I'm retired and acting is my passion I am happy to do paid and unpaid work. I think its important to remember some of the studet films are very professional and you never know you may find yourself in a few years time going for a big role and low and behold that top director could have been the student who was grateful for your professional time you gave for free. In the end each to his or her own with regards paid/unpaid work

    • 13th Dec 2012
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  • Adam Diggle


    I'm with Mark, I have no issue with fringe theatre, there are thousands of fledgling writers, directors etc out there who, like us struggling actors are looking to make a name for themselves and simply do not have the funds to pay their casts once theatre hire, marketing, set/prop costs have all taken their toll. The same goes for small independent film makers. However when I see a breakdown looking for lead actors for a music video for a well known artist and they're only offering expenses, it makes my blood boil! It's those kind of jobs that we should be saying no to, likewise a TV ad for a well known fast food company paying a couple of hundred pounds including usage, it's criminal.

    • 13th Dec 2012
    • 56
  • Dan Gregory


    I should like to point out to Graham that many actors are of pensionable age and we have been following our passion for years.As actors! Somebody who works without being paid is taking food off our table! Also you would know from experience that it is wishful experience that those students who didn't pay you will "return the favour". They will go along with their producers and hire the best person for the job.

    Maybe I should retire from acting and start teaching, for example, and do that for free. Do you think teachers would accept that?

    • 13th Dec 2012
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  • Jenna Sharpe


    I think any FEATURE film, independent or otherwise, should pay actors. A feature requires a huge time commitment and while you are shooting that you can't take on any other work.

    Student films and shorts are another matter as you can often do one of these in a day and pick ones that are local to you and usually get your expenses covered. I would never do any student film or short unless I at least got my expenses covered as I am not in business to lose money and subsidize the film industry with my hard earned cash. It's not much to ask.

    But I see actors accepting leads in features for free and I think...WTF. Sorry, but I do because you can bet that they are paying for other aspects of their shoot e.g. location hire, props, equipment, food, marketing etc.

    Dan is right, you are taking food off the table. People may find that hard to accept or understand but one day you will because it will be your food and your table. Working for free is really shortsighted, you have to see things as a whole and not just your own experience in the present.

    • 13th Dec 2012
    • 58
  • Graham Cheadle


    Dan I can understand your feelings on this matter and I think this is a matter on which people will be divided.

    I think its fair to say that people who aspire to become actors/actresses and havent entered into it through the traditional route. Student films are the way of getting experience and accept their is no pay and are happy to get showreel footage etc. Its just like people now leaving university some have to accept doing an internship for no pay to get a foot in the door. Sign of the times

    • 13th Dec 2012
    • 59