low-pay/ no pay

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    I went along to the Equity low-pay/ no pay Film Symposium yesterday. Which was very interesting?

    Just wondered what your thoughts are on low-pay/ no pay films and student films.

    Do you feel its right as a professional actor to work for nothing?

    Cheers

    TRACEY

    • 30th Apr 2006
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    I wish I'd known about this, I would have liked to have gone. I think doing this type of film is great to get a showreel of screen time together, if you don't have one. Although the quality and standard can be hit and miss. It can also be good practice for screen technique without the worry that too many people might see it. Ultimately if you're doing something for free there has to be something worthwhile using at the end.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Mark Joseph

    Actor

    Those 2 terms are VERY different things.

    Student films and low-budget films must be treated in very different ways.

    Students are part of an educational environment. They are not given a budget to make a film in the normal sense, they are given just enough funds to physically get it made. This does not allow for payment of cast or crew. This must be understood. It is therefore the actors choice whether to take part or not, but they can't expect pay from students. If you want pay, go elsewhere. Student films are a screen actors place to begin, not pro work.

    Low budget is more of a vague term. In this case, we can expect pay, albeit low pay. This is down to the production itself, and again, the actor must choose for him/herself.

    The only reasons to work for nothing are:

    1. Showreel piece - made on 35mm/16mm/HD, or just such a great character that you have to have this dialogue on record.

    2. Networking - are these people going to be useful when they graduate (if students), or will this company use me again when they have a paid position/higher budget film?

    If, as an individual you believe either of these 2 is fulfilled, you can feel ok at taking unpaid work.

    Yes, it would be nice if we all bandied together and never took this work, which would in turn then force people to pay all actors. But we all know this wouldn't work.

    It would simply force students and low budget film-makers to use their friends to make films instead of pros, which would mean even less work, and less places for fledgling actors to get screen credits.

    Mark.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Michelle Miller

    Actor

    I just wanted to put my little thought on this across too - personally I do think a low budget film is worth doing for camera experience, networking, showreels, it may go to festivals etc etc. I have not done any yet because I would rather do unpaid/profitshare theatre- I will ALWAYS choose to do unpaid theatre over an unpaid film - I just think there is more chance of being seen and above all - I love it!

    Not so sure how I feel about student films but I rarely apply for them.....

    Hope that all makes sense!

    Michelle x

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Mark Joseph

    Actor

    Except that unpaid theatre could take up 3 months of your time, whereas an unpaid film might only take a few weeks.

    Depends what you can afford.

    Mark.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Michelle Miller

    Actor

    true mark - true - but then all the fringe stuff i have been doing has only been for say 4 hours a day - we can work around it.....

    anyway 'captain' anonymous I just finished a paid run - hurrah!!!- then its Uncle Vanya at the Lion and Unicorn from 18th April for 2 weeks- SPREAD THE WORD! (it's profitshare after all!)

    M xx

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Michelle Miller

    Actor

    Sundays 6 o'clock!

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Anthony Wolfe

    Actor

    Interestingly, I have just had a casting at the Metropolitan Film School at Ealing Studios and was discussing this topic with the director. He informed me that the school actually pay for the students to have two professional crew (in his case a camera man and a sound man) but nothing towards the actors. He had chosen to pay the equity student rate to his actors in order to try to attract someone other than a beginner.

    Food for thought, indeed.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • User Deleted

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    Kudos, Kicks, Kash.

    If a job gives you 2/3 then take it... If not then don't.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    Hi All

    I too wish I had knew about this!

    I do think there are even more shades of grey to the student/lo/no-pay divide. I did an expenses only short early last year, directed by a well known costume designer who was untested as a director. It wasnt that the acting talents were at the bottom of the pecking order for pay by choice as such, more that the project was so ambitious (It included use of a vintage steam train, Victorian style funeral carriage, a real cemetery and the St Pancras building!). I knew I got 'kicks' from it as I got to do a mad film with amazing costumes, 'kash' I did not but now it has been selected to play all over the world, with the chance of being considered for an Oscar nomination through one of the fests.

    'Kudos?' I reckon so!

    My point is that it really can be worth it, and a project to project basis is the best way to look at it I think.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Forbes KB

    Actor

    Unpaid or not they are all good experience, although good experience is sometimes a painful lesson.

    Would you rather be sat in the house waiting for the phone to ring or working on a LB or Student Short?

    I currently feel like I'm the busiest unpaid actor in Britain having just completed my 19th LB/Student Short in just 21 months! At this stage of our careers where else are you going to get lead role experience.

    Don't be so elitist, ..LB & Student Films are a great thing to be doing after all...the film students of today are the Casting Directors, Directors and Producers of tomorrow and in a business where reputation counts I'd rather be working (OK, for expenses only) that sitting at home moaning into CCP and over analysing why the phone doesn't ring.

    First post in over a week and boy, does that feel better!!! I've missed you guys.

    ForbesKB

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    Thank you for all your comments on Low pay no pay films. The Equity Symposium was advertised in the Equity journal and on the Equity website. So I am sorry some of you who would have like to come along did not see the ad.

    Cheers

    TRACEY

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    I don't know how I've missed this thread in the past but it has thrown up 2 real rarities - disagreements with Mark and Forbes, who I feel consistently give sound, mature advice on many subjects.

    If budding film-makers (and let's face it, given the affordability of digital recording hardware, who can't claim to be capable?) don't wish to engage a professional (ie. someone demanding payment for their services) actor and use their friends and relatives then the results should prove to them that hiring a professional is worth the expense (whatever that is, determined by the actor/agent). By allowing ourselves to forego payment, I feel that we send out a hugely negative image of professional actors as a whole and, indeed, contribute to the driving down of fees in the profession. And for what? A line on a cv? A few seconds on a showreel?

    Those lines on the cv and film clips are presumably there to impress casting professionals - however, there is a real danger that those very people will see quite clearly what they truly represent because they know the business and what's going on in it. It would be quite conceivable for them to believe that the actor concerned could only secure unpaid work. More dangerously, isn't it possible that they can begin to believe that actors in general are so desperate a commodity that they can be hired for no payment/ increasingly smaller payments?

    If the unpaid work is there to attract the attention of an agent in order to integrate into a casting process that already works very well (certainly for casting directors, producers, directors, bookers, agents and many, many actors) then so be it, although I personally feel that those credits have no place on a professional's cv. If it's work undertaken because you feel that you've identified an embryonic Spielberg, then good for you - you will at least have no embarrassment in talking about it to the next casting director who asks "so, what have you been working on recently?"

    It's a hugely difficult and uncomfortable area but somewhere along the line we all have to become realistic about this chosen career and realise that payment is fundamental to professionalism. Without it there is no profession.

    all the best,

    cliff

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    I could'nt have put it better myself

    but

    as so long you get a copy of your work

    sometimes directors promise then you don't see

    the goods

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Alexander Helm

    Actor

    Many established actors have to work for nothing on some projects initially. It is a matter of thinking practically about it and decide if the production is really worth it. I have done some jobs for well-known organisations for nothing in order to develop skills and gain experience. However, in light of past experiences I make sure I find out as much as possible about the production before I spend money on travel and committ to something. For example I make sure I get a script and try and get an example of the persons previous work.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    dear lilbinham,

    my opinions are certainly not intended as hurtful or "snide", they are formed from twenty years of experience as a professional. Those opinions are openly offered without a convenient cloak of anonymity. I'm sorry that you are upset by those opinions, but I feel that they are rational. Your analogy of an apprenticeship doesn't, for me, ring true - for a start graduate trainees are paid, I would have thought. And "career progression" happens very rarely - more often the process is the absolute reverse, where actors find themselves working less and less as their physical beauty wanes. This is the reality, in my eyes, of our chosen career path.

    The established casting process isn't going to change because it works for the casting/industry professionals. And here I appreciate that I'm defending a process that has hardly over-rewarded me. Twenty years in the job, still waiting to become an overnight success. Pretty sad, really.

    We all want to be pro-active in order to achieve our dreams but with the massive overcrowding of the industry together with the new technology of the casting process, it's becoming near-impossible. And I know that hurts a lot of actors, because we feel that the harder we try to present ourselves to the market, then the more success we deserve. And, sadly, I believe it rarely works out that way.

    If it is an apprenticeship that you're undertaking then when does it end?

    I honestly wish everyone on this splendid site the success they deserve and it troubles me that by expressing opinions based on experience I'm left feeling like some miserable, ageing uncle with bad news about the tooth fairy and father christmas. I can actually be rather good company, so I'm told.

    all the best,

    cliff

    • 1st Jun 2006
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  • Alexander Helm

    Actor

    This topic has certainly raised a big debate and if the truth be known the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

    When you are laying down the foundations of your career it is best to look at some unpaid work as a free education.

    Last year I volunteered to do some narrating at the bbc and this gave me an opportunity to learn about the whole process of doing voice work in a professional sound studio with a professional director.

    However, I do think there is a point where you have to draw the line and really consider what you are getting out of a each given project. There is a point where you can become totally exploited.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    A response to Clifford's comments.

    Clifford, I've looked at your CV I can't argue with the fact that you've notched up an impressive list of credits; clearly you've cracked the market and I assume that your insistence on taking only paid work (expressed very strongly on at least one other thread that I've read) has played a great part in achieving your success. If so, congratulations - and I mean that honestly.

    Nevertheless, your method is draconian and I think there's a danger in encouraging less experienced actors to measure their success by how much they're being paid. I do agree that there comes a point at which you have to stop fooling yourself about where the line between success and failure is drawn, but for many of the people on these forums that time is still a long way off. In my opinion they should be taking the opportunity to practise their skills at every opportunity.

    Below are a couple of examples of why I believe immediate financial gain should not be guiding factor in determining whether to take a job.

    A couple of months back I did an expenses only indie film. It was a period piece aimed at the festival circuit but well mounted with a large, well-trained crew. I'd won a nice role with at least one excellent scene which (and I saw the rushes) will look great on my showreel. I also worked alongside an actor who was going from the film directly into rehearsals for the NT's Royal Hunt of the Sun. At one point we were talking to another young actor and my colleague made the point that he rates anything he does simply by whether he wants to do it - if he does he goes ahead, paid or unpaid. He's rarely out of work, and has made a lot of interesting contacts from his low- or no-pay projects.

    For myself, I'm presently getting back into the mainstream after several years in museum theatre. Last year I did a profit share with a director who liked me so much he offered me a three month paid tour straight afterward. I'd never have met him, much less impressed him, if I'd been snooty about unpaid work.

    TV and filmwise, too, I can't see any reason why one should look down one's nose at unpaid work, especially in the digital era when many young and responsible film makers are mounting low-to-no budget features with a view to securing subsequent distribution and paying their actors a percentage of the profits. Another project with which I was recently involved has just sold to a distributor in the USA. Whether this will result in the programme actually appearing in the shops is another question, but in the meantime, as stipulated in the contract, I've been compensated quite satisfactorily on 'points'. I'm now planning a film of my own for next year on the same basis.

    As I've said on another thread, I believe that any time spent in front of the camera is worthwhile, especially for anyone less experienced in camera work and the palaver associated with getting footage in the can. I know that my own camera technique is improving with every film project I complete. Taking a chance on a few duff experiences in your early days can only leave you better prepared when a decent bit of filming comes up.

    After the same amount of time I'm not an overnight success either - but I'm happy!

    Finally, well said Lilbinham - with an attitude like yours I'm not surprised your positive attitude is remarked upon!

    Best, KD.

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    dear KD,

    I remain upbeat about my life and career although I can't claim to have cracked the market. Only wish I had.

    I suppose my concerns are of a bigger-picture variety - ie. if actors work for nothing then we cannot, by definition, be classed as professional. The more actors that do it, the more the trend towards lower fees in the industry and lessening respect for performers. I can't believe that can be seen by anyone as a good thing.

    I'm also confused by the double standards applied to different areas of "work" - no one would dream of putting amateur dramatic society credits on a professional cv but apparently unpaid film work is okay. I suppose I'd appreciate a bit of consistency.

    Congratulations on the good things going on for you, I hope the success continues.

    all the best,

    cliff

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    Goodness me this has turned in to a hot topic.

    Like Clifford I have been an actor for twenty years and I very much agree with everything he says. When we left drama school in the 80's professional film companies would never ask an actor to work for nothing. How things have changed!?!

    Now I feel with so many of us happy to work for nothing we are driving our own wages down. The advice from equity is if a film company is not paying don't do it. Student films are different as Equity has a student film contract with one or two of the well thought of film schools.

    However often the film companies offering none paid work to actors will be in receipt of funding and paying every one else but the actors. I think we are mugs for working for free.

    If we want a show real why not write our own short film then get a couple of recent film school graduates to work for us for free. After all they must want some credits on their CV's too.

    Cheers

    TRACEY

    • 1st Jun 2006
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    Some great points made be everyone on this thread and it just goes to show the divided opinion. I'm only going to concentrate on low budget film productions because, as Mark says early in this thread, there is a massive difference between the value of giving your time for free for a weekend against giving your time for a month.

    My tuppence (I think this thread is now worth over 20p) is that there is little or no benefit from working on a student film. In the majority of cases the object is to create 10 minutes of coursework. It is not to make a film. There is a big difference in the mentality of those involved behind the camera.

    With low budget independent films the object is to make a film and the mentality is more in tune with us as performers. The people involved want to make something that people will want to watch rather than something that people will give a percentage mark to. There is a better chance of getting some credible showreel material from this style of production and further your experience in front of the camera which is something vital in the early stages of your career as a screen actor regardless of how many years you have spent in theatre. As we all know, there is a huge difference between acting on stage and acting for the camera. Lil made the point very well in her excellent post that it is a fantastic opportunity to iron out any idiosyncrasies that you may have as a screen performer. Isn't it better to iron these out on a low budget production than on your first major role for the BBC?

    If I'm taking on a role in a low budget film it's because it will benefit me in some way. Either because a scene will look good on my showreel or the other performers add the kudos mentioned by Dusty. However the big deciding factor for me is the production values of the project. There is little point in giving up your time for nothing if the final product is badly lit, poorly produced and the sound quality makes it appear that you delivered the dialogue with a sock in your mouth. That is a lesson that has been learnt having given up too many hours of my time for nothing.

    Onto the CV credibility factor raised by Clifford. I agree and I don't. I agree that most casting directors who see a film school credit on a CV will probably dismiss it out of hand and that probably includes any credits which jump out for all the wrong reasons (i.e. a film with a ridiculous title made by a company nobody has ever heard of. If it has a silly title and it's made by Universal then it has a lot more credibility). However, the industry has moved on at such a pace over the last 20 years that I believe independent films are classed as more credible than they were. The introduction of satellite TV means that there are more opportunities for filmmakers to get their films shown to the masses and more opportunities to secure work within the mainstream. With due respect, Clifford, twenty years ago there were only 3 TV channels and only a handful of production companies producing programmes for them. As a result of this, I don't believe that independent films can be dismissed out of hand as easily as they were even 5 years ago. An example of this is a low budget independent film I shot last year which is going to be screened at this years Cannes festival. 5 years ago that probably wouldn't have happened.

    The point made that you wouldn't put amateur theatre productions on your CV but it's OK to put unpaid screen work is a valid one to a degree. The question is how do you view your CV? Do you view it as a chronological list of roles you have previously played or do you view it as an opportunity to open doors? Your CV is one of your prime marketing tools as an actor. Sell the sizzle, not the steak!

    I do agree with Clifford that the number of actors who take on low paid roles has a knock on effect. You only had to see the recent commercial casting for a well known brand of ice cream that appeared on a number of casting sites that this is true. The pay for a mainstream commercial was shocking but I can guarantee that they will have got actors to fill the roles without any problem at all. This business is like any other business and is governed by the cornerstone of basic economics - supply and demand. The days of doing a commercial and being able to command huge repeat fees has pretty much gone for the majority of the acting profession. The proliferation of buy out contracts is testament to that. The reason behind it is a saturated market but this is probably all worthy of a thread all of its own!

    • 1st Jun 2006
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