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
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  • Stephanie Lodge

    Actor

    Mark - Yup I think I remember a previous discussion where you supported the idea of collaborative theatre projects. It definitely is about establishing the bad fish. But a lot of this thread seems to be about condemning actors for doing non-paid work full stop.

    It concerns me when there are these campaigns to take on unpaid work and then to take the company to court to demand payment. Encouraging actors to do this, could result in a big problem for my new writing night, which I haven't personally taken a penny from in 2 and a half years. I am not suggesting you do this Mark, but there are many who do. I know this normally applied to film companies, people feel are screwing people over. But what is to stop someone doing it to a genuine fringe project.

    • 13th Dec 2012
    • 60
  • Martin Bell

    Actor

    "Working for free is really shortsighted, you have to see things as a whole and not just your own experience in the present."

    Deeming all free work 'shortsighted' is narrowminded in itself. I met Peter Mullan on a low-budget free gig, and yes, he was doing it for free as well. That landed me a role in an Equity paid feature, and I've been able to gain him as a contact, all through an unpaid job.

    If you make sure you have a criteria for unpaid work, then it can be the most beneficial thing in leading to paid work. I must re-iterate, if the work is chosen to a certain criteria.

    I have only ever worked on two unpaid shorts, both of which were pitches for full length features. I agree that you must be picky when coming to unpaid work, but folk who completely rule it out to maintain their professionalism or 'to be business like' is ridiculous.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 61
  • Stephen Moriaty

    Actor

    Graham, internships have been ruled to be subject to NMW. Student films and some fringe theatre may be considered collaborative but features and music videos are a different matter. Jenna is quite right when she says that they will be paying for props and venue hire and all the production team. Why should they not pay the actors without whom they would have a blank screen?!

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 62
  • Graham Cheadle

    Actor

    Stephen, you do have a point and as i've said in my previous posts I can see both sides on this. Sometimes small companies who produce music videos break even or even loose money because they see it as an opportunity to promote themselves.Likewise aspiring actors do it for free or expences thinking the same thing.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 63
  • Adam Diggle

    Actor

    I think the key word there is 'small' companies, there wouldn't be a problem if they were the only ones who did it!

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 64
  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    No Stephanie I completely disapprove of "condemning" actors for working for nothing without reason, but I don't like to see my work undercut and given to those who happen to have a separate income, or can afford to work for zero. I accuse nobody of anything, though I think it is a common mix of narrow minded, naivety and selfishness which drives certain actors into accepting no pay so readily. However, I actually recognise there is a demand for it….and with certain projects I am fine with it. You cannot possibly say, that there are not several jobs which appear on the boards of CCP which are offering staggeringly insulting sums if anything at all on certain projects which clearly must have a budget.

    The central issue is why do folk do those projects cheap….that is clearly undercutting unfairly…oneself and ones colleagues? I cant stop it….I can only police it carefully for myself.

    Graham does it because he can afford to do so…..I feel you Graham….overlook the bigger picture accordingly…which is why I agree with Dan's points.

    There is a better, dare I say livelier, and perhaps more informed debate on the no pay issues on the FB British Actors Network.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 65
  • Graham Cheadle

    Actor

    Mark I think your comments are a little hard on me. Pherhaps I should explain my positon. I came into acting late and to get a foot in the door I started out doing extra work and to gain acting experience ( apart from drama lessons)sought roles in short and student films as well as music videos to buld up credits and footage. I feel for full time actors and actresses who are deprived of paid work but Im sure on the whole there are those who wouldnt consider music or student films at their level. I've said it before this is a topic that people will be divided on.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 66
  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    No Graham....I'm not being hard on you, in any way....you carry on doing whatever you feel is right for you. I'm merely voicing what several 1000's of professional committed actors think, not just me, and highlighting the wider picture....I truly see it from both sides. But if we are going to see Corporate jobs which should be paying in the region of £250 - £500 per day being hovered up off the CCP jobs boards for £30 or less or NOTHING.....this is a side of the business that many actors depend on to supplement the poorly paid theatre roles and or out of mainstream work times.

    There is a major problem with the larger co's taking the mick at times....and our newer actors who rush into that kind of work, not worrying about wages....are undermining an already fragile state of the business.

    I honestly feel you might see it if you depended on it as your chosen career. As you say, you are retired and have the advantage of a pension, I have a separate income from my various business activities, but I will never take a job without pay when it clearly should have a budget, and never have done. Thats just taking the P....SS Every actor has prospected a bit in their early days, but for me only within non profit making theatre and the like. No offence meant Graham I promise, I am sure there is room for all of us!

    • 14th Dec 2012
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  • Jenna Sharpe

    Actor

    "Deeming all free work 'shortsighted' is narrowminded in itself."

    Martin if you read what I actually wrote I don't deem ALL FREE WORK as shortsighted at all. I added the caveat of student films and shorts so I don't know why you are taking issue with it.

    "folk who completely rule it out to maintain their professionalism or 'to be business like' is ridiculous."

    Do you really believe that? Honestly? Because that is basically saying that people who will not work for free are ridiculous because they are striving to be professional and business like? You act like these are bad qualities! They are what will make you successful so I am genuinly surprised that you think they are ridiculous.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 68
  • Graham Cheadle

    Actor

    It's ok Martin I didnt take offence and I knew you ment none, you were like others just putting your views forward the same as me

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 69
  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    Hmmmmm...little bit Harsh on Jenna Martin? She did not actually mean that at all. Also your example of doing a freebie and it leading to better or paid work etc was based on working with a good "named" actor. They are not the usual opportunities when working for free. The usual case is Fringe, Student film or unheard of collectives putting together an indie production, which rarely make enough money to pay anyone apart from the Kit Hire Co's.

    As you have already admitted…we are just saying one should be a lot more selective.…there are actors willing to work for nothing for ever and a day assuming they will be spotted or in the belief that they just have to do so. ….just in the name of working!!

    Nobody joins this business to make a fortune, but one can expect and should make a liveable wage if you are smart and a good actor!If not, I dont see how one cam claim to be a working professional? If you are very proactive and are willing to take on other connected projects you can make a good living at that. Its hard to maintain all of that, and the hard work you put in building the contacts, let alone the sacrifices made by committed professional actors, only to see the job that would have paid…..taken by someone who doesn't care and is willing to work for nothing.

    Where should you draw the line, in the name of claiming to be a professional? Further than that….how do you define working as an amateur or a professional?

    It's a mist covered mountain thats for sure...and more than not touches the nereves of those working for free more than anyone. However, it is a passionate debate!

    Peace and a happy weekend to everyone.

    • 14th Dec 2012
    • 70
  • Stephanie Lodge

    Actor

    Yup Mark, I think we are definitely on the same page here. There is a lot of crap on here, and that was my original point, actors have to be wise to that, of course they do.

    I have seen the BAN debate, you are one of the most reasonable voices on that debate Mark.

    I think perhaps a lot of people are actually on the same page, but as you say it is a 'mist covered mountain',so people do get defensive and angry on both sides.

    Surely we want the same thing, get rid of the crap, and the time wasters; I just hope this isn't at the expense of the genuine collaborative projects out there.

    Steph

    • 15th Dec 2012
    • 71
  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    Thanks Steph....no nothing need not get made. There is a solution out there somewhere!!!!

    x

    • 15th Dec 2012
    • 72
  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    As I pointed out over at the British Actors Network (though many on this thread may not be subscribed to that set of postings), when Equity discussed this contentious issue at the lo/no pay Working Party, there was an about equal division - between those who stood up for more draconian regulation being imposed on the industry, and those who maintained that the continued need for innovation, originality and an actor's freedom to follow their creative desires, necessitated the continuation of 'non profit making' work being made available in the future. What everyone was agreed on was that 'exploitation' needs to be curbed.

    This raises the next complex question about how 'exploitation' is defined; the working party's perspective on this is that an 'exploitation' occurs when an actor is being employed for nothing whilst the company concerned is ploughing profits back into its own maintenance and offering the performer very little in return for their contribution (even 'contract in kind').

    Although it is a very grey area, the ideal opposing model is that of a true 'collaboration' or 'partnership' i.e. a model that many graduate companies adopt where work is produced without payment but all parties involved have an equal stake in any profit to be made / costs to be defrayed. Variant models of low budget film-making whereby, for instance, deferred payment is offset by an offer of shares in the company, or 'points', are also worthy of consideration.

    Whether or not profit share theatre is 'exploitative' under these terms will remain an open question - and would depend on company policy...but there is at least an argument that by offering share in the profits the actor is being guaranteed a (putative)stake - however, there is also a sense in which the union feels that, given most profit share theatre is run by employers who audition and cast others to work *for* them (rather than *with* them), they are legally workers,and should be being paid NMW at least.

    A new movement amongst fringe companies to have their accounting made accessible to all employees who work with them on request ('open book') was welcomed by the working party, although it's not considered to offset the legal issues. It hasn't spread, as far as I'm aware, as a movement into the world of low budget film-making, but perhaps it should, as it does seem to offer a benefit (of sorts) to the actor.

    A fringe theatre venues interest group (SIT - Society of Independent Theatres) has been recently set up through the enthusiasm of venue managers themselves to try and negotiate with Equity, and find ways of improving the relationships between fringe venues and the union, whilst at the same time attempting to negotiate the issue of how demands for NMW pay across the board may impact their business.No-one yet knows how effective this body will prove to be: one possibility is that a new form of fringe subject to more stringent criteria for performance will develop in better line with rates of guaranteed profit share; another might be that activity in fringe is redefined - if classed as 'volunteer' work, it is no longer subject to NMW claims, though whether actors would feel more reluctant to take on such work should the status of it be redefined is another question. It is important to stress that this is a venue led, rather than a company led, movement - but it is, by and large, the main venues that play host to individual companies.

    Film work remains less considered, but it seems of note that Equity will soon be playing host to a Screen Committee with a specific remit to consider questions about employment in film for the first time when the restructuring of the union takes place in 2013. This coincides with an increasingly determined movement to demand that the film schools, who by rights should be subject to NMW law, fall into compliance with paying actors for useful services. Of course, were it to be the case that a precedent for paying NWM were to be established for the film schools, then more pressure to do so at fringe theatre level would be brought to bear and vice versa.

    I think it's foolish to ignore the fact that, in the modern industry, many, when they start out, are presented with the stark choice of working for little or nothing in order to get themselves seen as *competent enough to qualify* for paid work. The alternative is sitting at home, being unable to win a career. The truth is that the modern industry doesn't operate, for the majority, like the industry of forty or even twenty years ago, when a newly minted professional with training under their belt, Equity card in hand, and a potential to join a rep, would have even questioned the idea that they would be paid for practicising their craft, as they had been taught to do. These days, with no closed shop in place to limit access to the profession; a loss of most of the vetting procedures that once separated wheat from chaff in acting terms; little middle level 'entry work' available since the decline of rep, where basic skills were inculcated in return for a basic rate of pay; and a vastly oversubscribed industry, the whole nature of the profession has altered. It has to be realised that the reality for most professionals who are not 'fast tracked' into immediate earning these days (generally dependent on having been trained at a prestiguous school and securing a prestigious agent) is that no-one in the industry will regard them at all seriously until they have at least shown they are *capable* of acting. In fact, matters have always been this way: what made the situation more palatable in the past is that fledgling actors learning their craft and making a name for themselves were much more liable to be paid properly for the graft they put in, during the first 'establishing' stages of their careers.

    What hasn't helped this very real professional difficulty are other trends that have been encouraged by free market growth and are to deplored: the tendency for dilettante actors, who are, in essence, dabblers who like to 'do a bit' (essentially amateurs) getting into easier competition with those trying to make a livelihood because controls have slackened; the tendency for modern companies, essentially 'exploitative', to lay claim to the mantle of one time genuinely artistically inclined and communally run fringe companies, as the notion of 'fringe' has expanded out of all recognition; the tendency of companies well supplied with money (and some not so well supplied with money) to work on the assumption that the actors are so 'ten a penny' that skills can be hard for free.

    For this reason, it is, in my opinion, truly important that the continuance of low/no paid work be debated by our industry and whatever we can do to staunch the rot be done. Those who have to work for nothing (and that has, at times, included myself) have my sympathy, but I believe it's ultimately in everyone's best interests if they're serious performers to fight against the trend. We need to win back some dignity and a living wage for those who *aren't* employed on Hollywood blockbusters.

    • 15th Dec 2012
    • 73
  • Toni Brooks

    Actor

    Well said Lee. I wish CCP had a 'like' button.

    • 16th Dec 2012
    • 74
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Hi All,

    I was quite surprised to read some of the comments here..........

    I really think that actors just starting out are perfectly fine to take low paid work. It builds up your c.v and helps you gain experience and a show reel. There are film makers out there also trying to get a foot in door so to speak, who cannot afford to pay everyone. You have to put something in to get something out! If I hadn't taken low paid work I wouldn't have been able to join spotlight or get an agent!

    Also if you have a passion for acting you would like to be doing it even when it's low paid surely!?

    I say get as much experience as you can!

    • 16th Feb 2013
    • 75