Is it worth working on a project for free?

The film, TV, theatre, music and dance businesses are, of course, all industries and every creative should expect to be paid for their work. But sometimes opportunities – whether acting, writing, editing, directing or dancing ones – can be just as rewarding or developmental for your career as paid jobs.

9th May 2018
/ By Andrew Wooding

Should I work in an entertainment job for free? PIXABAY

In fact, Mandy member Chris Overton crewed part of his Oscar-winning project The Silent Child by listing opportunities for Mandy Crew members and Anders Walters, the director of short film Helium, won an Academy Award with his unpaid project.

The music industry is full to the brim with stories of bands or singer/songwriters playing open mics to build up their audiences and theatre producers, directors and actors are renowned for starting small with humble, above-pub productions which sometimes aren't paid or work on a profit-share basis.

But how do you see the wood for the trees? How do you choose what projects are and aren't worth working on for free?

Well, Mandy News has some advice for you!

Who? What? Where? Why?
The first action you'll want to take when considering an unpaid project is research. Who is making the project? What have they done? What is the project about? Where is it taking place? What is the project's goal? What are the career goals of the creatives making it? Are you working with them or for them? How will the relationship go ahead? Is there mutual respect there? What kind of equipment or locations are being used? Why is the project being made? Why is it unpaid? Does the project match your own personal goals or creative tastes?

Find out that information from the people posting the opportunity and by scouring the internet for details about them and the project in question.

The answers to those questions should guide you in your decision. It might be that the project and people behind it have big dreams, big connections and serious stepping stones lined up to achieve amazing things with this production or the next. If not, perhaps the creatives have such great attitudes, projects, visions, ideas and work ethics that working with them might yield amazing results or be a rewarding experience.

Over time, with experience, you should become adept at sniffing out interesting projects and swerving wastes of time.

As with our "How to stay safe in acting auditions and avoid dodgy castings" article, look for red flags as much as you are eyeing up the promising prospects. Is the communication poor or excellent? Are the team friendly, passionate and driven, or aloof, lazy and arrogant? Or somewhere in between? Does the project itself sound interesting to a general audience or the audience you see yourself working for?

The more you ask these questions, of yourself, the people and the projects, the more you will fine-tune your nose for good, bad and ugly opportunities.

Always be open
One important asset to maintain or cultivate, as a creative, is openness. After years of working in the film, TV, theatre, music, dance or voiceover industries and getting paid to do so, it can be very easy to close yourself off from the ever-blooming brilliance that could potentially be out there. Of course, circumstances may not allow you to be part of too many unpaid projects – you do have bills to pay and potentially mouths to feed – but keep your eyes peeled. A brilliant, career-changing opportunity could be waiting for you.

As our Mandy News interviewee, and West End lighting designer, Charlie Morgan Jones revealed to us: "There are little gems out there though that don’t take too much of your time and are extremely valuable to your career."