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Advice on Shooting Pro Bono

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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 12, 2013 at 4:04:19 am

From time to time I get a few requests to do free work for charity. I've decided to take a few on in my free time, and am working out the legal aspects with my lawyer.

I've worked for free before, but only for my own benefit. I would appreciate any advice on how to work for charity - what problems might I face, situations I might come across, things I haven't foreseen, etc.

Thanks.

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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 12, 2013 at 3:16:19 pm

Sareesh -

One thing you might consider, and I don't know what tax structures are in place where you are, is to do your pro-bono work, bill the client for it, have them pay you, and then donate it back to them. At least where I am, this gives me a tax break.

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 1:56:06 am

That's an interesting idea, Joseph. I'm talking with my accountant as well to see how it might benefit me. Thanks!

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Bill Davis
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 5:04:39 am

Here's my 2 cents.

In charity work. it's even more important to "qualify" your clients.

Some legitimate charities have significant budgets. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do pro bono work for them, just that it's one factor in the mix.

Here's my list of criteria.

A - Do I have a real passion for their particular cause or work. If so, I'm supporting what I believe in. So free or hard costs only is fine.

B - What "class" are they in. A small local charity with everyone volunteering their time gets more "charity" weight from me than a national outfit who might be fighting the good fight, but is also paying significant salaries to their executives and regular vendors. Essentially, if nobody is getting paid, then I don't mind joining in. If most of the other goods and service vendors ARE getting compensated - then I don't think it's fair that I have to accept nothing. YMMV.

C - if you get this far, go back to A - A is the honestly the biggest deal for me. It takes significant time and effort to do the work that we do. I'm quite willing to do it for free for organizations that I'm passionate about. My kids school. Something related to an illness or issue that's touched my life. These get my attention.

I hate to say it but the world is awash in excellent causes. With many admirable people supporting them. Some of those honestly deserve grassroots support. But some are also "charities" with budgets as big as any big business. So they can afford to spend money to make more - just like any other well operating enterprise.

Get the reputation as someone who will make a great video for nothing - and everyone will want to work with you. But something has to pay your bills & cover the costs of your equipment depreciation. And if you forget that - you won't be around to help them in a few years.

FWIW.

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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 9:52:44 am

Excellent advice, Bill. I will be qualifying them every step of the way. A few big charities that I know might be able to afford at least the rental rates, and that's a big deal.

I won't go overboard with it, though. Can't afford to work on more than a few a year. Last thing I want is to be in need of charity myself!

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Mark Suszko
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 1:36:39 pm

One thing I usually advise on freebies or pro bono work is to always submit it with an invoice for what you WOULD have had to charge a for-pay client, then you mark the invoice as comped or "no charge".

Why is this paperwork important, if you're giving away the video?

I'm not a psychologist, but I can tell you from experience that people view the project in a completely different light if they perceived they got away without paying for something, versus if they were handed something for free.

In the first case, the perceived bargain, they will show off their prize everywhere to demonstrate what a great deal they got, and your name gets around. In the second case, they will treat the freebie as if it had little or no street value at all. They may even get bold enough to ask you to make changes and re-submit it for free a second time.


The invoice is also something you might be able to point to for accounting purposes.

But what you're hoping happens is the charity, or one of it's big-money sponsors, comes back to you and asks you to make something new and specific for them. Now you can point out you've done X amount of dollars' worth of work so far for them, and so now we're going forward on a for-pay basis, and we've established more or less what financial tier we're working with.


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 2:48:05 pm

Thanks, Mark! I intend to follow your advice about the 'no charge' bit.

Regarding contracts, other than signed release forms, one thing that worries me is about the 'choice' of making a video, for which I don't want to be responsible.

E.g., if the organization agrees to make a video they are speaking on behalf of those they are trying to help. In this respect I just want to be seen as a contractor without the legal obligation to share that responsibility. Being India, there are a lot of organizations working with underprivileged kids, and not all parents might agree (even if they are poor) on how their child is portrayed. Ditto for mentally challenged kids or individuals.

Let's just say the law in India isn't what it is in other parts of the world. I am also faced with the prospect of having to witness things I don't want to witness, even if I perform my due diligence and choose the organizations I want to work with. I'm talking about unethical practices, immoral or illegal activities.

Anyway, my intention is not to paint the wrong picture. Most people want to help, and I want to help them do their work. Maybe after I've done a few I might realize my 'fears' were unfounded.

Maybe it's just a disclaimer, outlining what I'll provide, show, and deliver (copies, licenses, etc.). I want to keep the number of pages to a minimum so as to not scare away anyone.

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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 13, 2013 at 3:36:21 pm

Both Mark and Bill bring up important points - if you think the client loves to make changes when they're paying for it, just wait until it's pro bono!

Some clients are very appreciative, and don't want to overtax you, but some will see the free work as an endless buffet, tossing out the first production, changing the concept, making needless "corrections" just to put their mark on it. It can get expensive on your end. I think the best idea is to create a contract - and I think the others mentioned this - as if it were a paid job, and make your stipulations the same - if the paying client gets three rounds of simple correction/changes, so does the pro bono client. And on...

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 14, 2013 at 2:02:20 am

It's my main worry. I don't mind their creative input, but when it comes at the expense of my wallet...

I'm going to carefully word out the contract and draw the line somewhere, treat it like every other job, but at 'no charge'.

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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Joseph W. Bourke
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 14, 2013 at 3:24:05 am

Bear in mind that it was ever thus, with paying or pro-bono clients. Some of them are aware of the work you put in, and try to be fair, and some of them will make change after change with no thought to the fairness of the situation. That's where the contract can be your friend...

Joe Bourke
Owner/Creative Director
Bourke Media
http://www.bourkemedia.com


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Advice on Shooting Pro Bono
on May 14, 2013 at 10:50:32 am

One iron-clad contract on the way!

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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