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working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)

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Bob Zelinworking for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 8, 2008 at 7:44:59 pm

Hi -
I am illegally posting this, copied from the Vincent Laforet blog site. But because he is the "defacto" Canon D5 EOS MK II person, I wanted you to see this important post. I am sure that Cow management will pull this post. However, I am sure that Cow management will enjoy reading this.

Bob Zelin

I’m very very much against working for free. In fact I don’t like people working or interning for me for free. It’s just not good business. Period.

That being said - there is value is what David Hobby is saying. But it needs to be CRYSTAL CLEAR: if there is an INCREDIBLE assignment - where there TRULY is no funding behind it (either due to the people putting it on - or these days the economic reality) AND it is a portfolio/career builder - THEN and only THEN should you consider it.

Big name actors do occasionally work for free, so do big name talent in all areas - IF THE PROJECT is AMAZING - and not backed by a HUGE company sitting on cash. This is a VERY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.

IF YOU ARE WORKING FOR FREE - simply to get “a” job - you risk destroying the entire business for everyone. In fact - your dream job - that you do for free - will be a job that some qualified person will no longer be getting paid for. And you’ll hurt that person’s chance of feeding their family in accepting to do that job for free. It’s quite that simple.

That being said: you do AT TIMES (and that’s the key - this is 1 project a year at most maybe - as Chase is suggesting - and I agree to that) need to develop your book - expand your horizon and your book - and roll the dice. I.E. - I’m a qualified to do “x” but have never done and proven that I can do “y” - so I’ll do it for little or nothing - BUT - one time only - AND I RETAIN THE RIGHTS! i.e. - you and I can use it for self-promotion and so can I. BUT you can never generate any profit for it - if you do - we split it. If anyone makes ANY money - we all benefit - that’s KEY.

You can see why this can very easily get very complicated - and dangerous. Some people - such as Chase Jarvis - know how to navigate these things. And make sure that if that “free” awesome assignment somehow become a hit - he’ll be able to profit in it - and not get caught feeling left out.

What worries me - is that most of David Hobby’s readers - are not pros. And when they offer to do things for free - they don’t have Chase’s business acumen. And they may do more harm than good to our industry - that is already struggling. If everyone starts working for free - it’s OVER for everyone. So I think we need to make this more clear out there - and help define this more carefully for everyone - both for the pros and the advanced amateurs.

So if you want to - do it max once a year. That’s my suggestion. DON’T LET IT BECOME A HABIT.

And by the way: this is coming from the guy who shot a little film called “Reverie” and did it “for free.” Canon did not pay me - or fund anything. It was something that I did on my own. I spent my own money to fund the production - and reeped great professional benefit from it. It was a big win for me and my career - no question about it. I own the work and copyright OUTRIGHT and made that clear.

BUT - when Canon asked to use the video after I produced it. I made sure they paid. And they paid well. A lot more than I would have made had I been commissioned to do the project in the first place. That’s the important part here.

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Michael HancockRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 8, 2008 at 8:29:37 pm

Awesome. Hope it doesn't have to be pulled.


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Mark SuszkoRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 8, 2008 at 9:27:29 pm

I don't see anything here but common-sense advice. I always advocate for people to find a charity they support and offer to do some pro-bono for it, to build their portfolio if nothing else. It then makes a nice calling card to use when introducing yourself to the management of the organization, .....or the folks at a corporation that contributes to that organization. I call it "sneaking in thru the kitchen instead of past the front door".

But yes, the Craigs List model of "everybody works for free or for hamburgers" is for the birds for anything but a student film.

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Scott DavisRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 8, 2008 at 11:16:18 pm

I am seeing more and more using interns for what used to be a paying job. The more people do this the less chance they will be able to secure a paying gig in the future as people will see that there are lots of talented people out there who will work for free. It is working its way up the food chain as the rates of the paying jobs are going down also. Most projects lately have interns outnumbering paid people 10 to 1.

Scott Davis
View Scott Davis's profile on LinkedIn

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Andrew KimeryRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 9, 2008 at 7:28:57 pm

I've noticed similar things too Scott. I've also noticed PAs being assigned "higher level" tasks that typically a vault manager or assistant editor would be in charge of. Things like asset management sound mundane but are vital to a well functioning, efficiently run facility. I understand the economy is in the tank and budgets are tight but the old adage of being penny wise, pound foolish still holds true.


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Scott DavisRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 10, 2008 at 6:09:15 am

Getting people to understand that is really tough to do though.

Scott Davis
View Scott Davis's profile on LinkedIn

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Mick HaenslerRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 10, 2008 at 2:37:43 pm

I did 2-3 small pro bono projects this year. All I can say is, in the worst economy in many years compounded with only being in business less than a year, I have enough work to keep me going through the first of the year as well as a decent cash reserve and several contracts pending for January. Not only that, my bank just upped my credit line without me asking.

"You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give." Winston Churchill

There is a distinct difference between doing work for free and consciously donating your work to a worthy cause.

Mick Haensler
Higher Ground Media

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John CuevasRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 10, 2008 at 2:21:16 pm

LOL---Ironically, I just realized I have met Bob Zelin many yearsago in Orlando... while I was working for free.

Though I did eventually end up working for the company for 3 years after a short internship.

Johnny Cuevas, Editor

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Dan AsselinRe: working for free (read this before it gets deleted !)
by on Dec 10, 2008 at 9:58:28 pm

Dear Mr. Zelin;

Even though you have a well-earned reputation for cutting people
"a new one" I find it hard not to comment on this article and the attached string.

Like every artistic and creative field many are drawn to it for reasons much removed from the monetary. Therefore we should not in any way be surprised when there are those who would be quite willing to work for free.

When I started in television in 1977, at the grand sum of 100$ per week, I could never have envisioned that people following me would be called "interns" and make nothing at all.

I am also sure that you are in tune with the rapidly falling prices of technology which allow just about anyone to enter the field in one way or another.

We cannot ignore as well that with many helpful sites on the web, including the Cow, everyone has access to training and the experiences which used to take many years to obtain.

The fact is if you have 100K (instead of 100$) tied up in equipment and if you have spent many many hours obtaining the level of expertise you have (instead of a few mouse clicks) you will value what you have enough to charge for it and not give your time away.

Having said that I believe that there are ways for real professionals to still make a living.

First, you must bring your level of knowledge up beyond that of the
weekend videographer or after effects "dabbler". Second you must get better at marketing so that you are not relying solely on your "Uncle Jim" to fix you up with some work. (This is different than the professional contacts you have built up which can save your bacon on a regular basis)

And finally you need to find a niche that works for you. Yes, we will always take work to bring in a few bucks that doen't fit in with our business plan but hey money is money.

It's just that the people who I read about, and who seem to be doing the best, have a reputation for excellence in just 1 or 2 items and use this as the basis of a real career.

Maybe I'm off base here. Bob; as always your thoughts and experiences are welcomed here.


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