Okay, here we go...
You’ve made the decision to work in film. You’ve made your roadmap. You’ve assessed your situation and resources and now you’ve got a job working... for free??!
Yup, for your first project expect to hear the words “defered payment” or “for credits and copies”. This is very common on low budget projects. Now, when you’re first starting out and trying to rack up some experience it’s a good thing to get out and do as much as possible to build your skill set, resume, and reel/portfolio but it’s also important to remember that, even if you have no appreciable skills or experience, you still have value. What I mean by this is, think carefully about what you are willing to do and how far you’re willing to go for the project that you’re working on. It’s one thing to work for credits, experience, and pizza but it’s quite different to go “out of pocket” or take a loss for the privilege of working. It’s also important not to trade your self-esteem for a vague opportunity that may or may not pan out. A couple of handy tips that Makeup Pioneer Dick Smith passed on are these:
Figure out how you can be screwed and expect it.
If you are to be paid get as much as you can and make the payments regular.
Always get advance money before beginning work.
If the money stops, so should you.
While these are simple, common sense financial nuggets it’s easy to lose sight of the reality. Filmmaking is a business and, if you work in the film business, you are a business person. Think like one.
Another, and certainly more important, aspect to consider when beginning to work is your health and well being. While this is important at every phase of your career it is even moreso in the formative stages and when working on independents. There are several reasons for this. First, even though this is the time when we should be developing safe work habits, when we’re starting out we are more willing to take risks and play a bit fast and loose with the rules in order to “score points”. Next, on lower budget fare there tend to be fewer safeguards in place to protect the crew. This isn’t to say that indie productions are dangerous or careless and I’m certainly not saying that majors are necessarily safer. I am saying that whereas majors often have big money and studio safety departments behind them, indies often have limited resources and manpower to throw at “The Safety Patrol” so it is important that you take the initiative to be aware of what’s going on around you, to be aware of potential safety concerns, and to look out for yourself and others.
Remember, in our quest to pursue something that we are passionate about we can easily lose sight of the simple fiscal AND physical realities of the filmmaking process. I clearly remember a personal turning point where I worked, literally, 32 hours straight (Set to Lab to Set) in order to have something ready for filming the next day on a major film. While driving to the studio I found myself nodding and struggling to stay awake. Obviously, I made it and everything worked out but I realized that I could’ve become an LA highway statistic. I decided right there that I would never do that to myself again because trying to get a piece of rubber on camera isn’t worth a cop telling my son that daddy will never be coming home again. Choose wisely.
"Film Biz 101" is ©2007 by Corey Castellano. The Film Biz banner is a creation of Corey Castellano, ©2007. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.