Posted by Alexia Melocchi

Getting paid for being a filmmaker is an art form and rarely taken to heart, so artists starve for their craft. This image of the "starving artist" must not and should not be perpetuated. Most people believe that the work of a writer, a producer, a filmmaker is based on passion alone, and as a result it is assumed that all artists are meant to work for free, or to get paid later, because their passion for the craft will make them accept work under any condition, including the freebies or the infamous “defer”.

Of course, the compensation for your talent and skill should be directly proportional to your experience, but I have seen it one time too many when a seasoned and experienced writer or filmmaker or producer or actor is asked to join a project with promises of riches that are broken one time too many, leaving the artist spirit shattered and bank account depleted.

I am here to give you some advice on how to start giving yourself more value and how to value your peers as well: you get paid if they need your art and your talent and you pay them as well if you need theirs. Becoming more resolute in this will make you feel empowered and will also avoid one too many misunderstandings or backstabbings within your Team as you embark on putting together or selling your next movie or show.

Despise the Free Lunch

One of my favorite books for navigating the shark-infested waters of Hollywood is "The 48 Laws of Power" By Robert Greene. Law 40 is called: "Despise the Free Lunch". It clearly says (and gives true historical facts to prove its point) that what is offered for free is dangerous- it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. WHAT HAS WORTH, IS WORTH PAYING FOR. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also wise to pay the full price- there are no cutting corners with excellence.

I can hear the stir of protest here, as pretty much everyone I know, even well- known directors, producers, and writers, are looking for money, not chomping at the bits to give it away.

However, let me offer you some solutions here in the main categories of writing, directing and producing, a compromise of sorts, so you can actually look at yourself in the mirror and not feel like an art whore, because sorry to be so blunt, but even whores do not give it away for free. And how you position yourself (which is directly reflected by your resume), can make a world of a different on negotiating for yourself a fair compensation, or at least a fair barter between you and your cohorts.

Despising The Free Lunch How to get paid like a Pro

Scenario 1 - The Writer

You are a writer and a producer or director asks you to do a rewrite of a script of yours or another’s IP and they ask you to do it for free. Here are some questions to ask yourself before even attempting to negotiate a rate for yourself. Is the director or producer in question an A-lister? If so, then you will get something of value in return for rewriting for little or no money as most likely that project will get made sooner or later and you can also add this collaboration on your resume. Consider it an investment in your career by asking that your name is mentioned in a press release and that you are allowed to participate in a creative process. The second question to ask yourself: is there any cash funding in place? If so, there is no excuse that a gesture of payment cannot be made to you. You are a Team player, you won't ask for the moon and stars, but if a project has actual funding and a producer of director cannot spare a few thousand dollars to send your way, there is something wrong with this picture.

On the reverse, if you are a newbie writer, and you want a filmmaker or producer to join your team and take your project to the next level, meaning you need them more than they need you, you absolutely have to show you are willing to pay them for their expertise, in whatever way you can afford. Believe me, the money wasted in screenwriting competitions (if you add them up) or in pitching interns at various pitchfest, is far greater than partnering up with the real Pros who will open doors for you- assuming that a Producer or Director in question have the credits and experience to make it worth your while.

Despising The Free Lunch How to get paid like a Pro

Scenario 2 - The Director

You are a director and you are asked to be attached to a script or project. If there is no funding in place, and you like the Team, you should negotiate for yourself a down payment upon first development funds secured. If the Writer or Producer asks for you to do a sizzle reel, or visual trailer or prepare a storyboard to sell the project, unless the Writer or Producer are going to enhance your image (see Scenario 1 above) because they are fairly high profile and have a specific game plan to make things happen, you must ask for some compensation for any additional work required of you such as putting together mood trailers. Everybody who wants to make a career in any area has a credit card they can tap into to pay with a symbolic amount of acknowledgment for your talent and visual skills.

On the reverse, if you need a bona fide (emphasis on bona fide) producer to shepherd your project, taking it to film markets or helping you put together a viable business plan, or a line producer to do a budget for you that will help your funding or a casting director to give you access to talent, please find a way to pay them something. Here again, you can take advantage of credit cards if short on cash.

Despising The Free Lunch How to get paid like a Pro

Scenario 3 - The Producer

You are a producer who has access to international co-production partners, or distribution, or can run a set seamlessly and you have the credits to prove it and you are asked to attach to a project. It is perfectly okay to ask for a percentage of your producer fee upfront because legendary producer Dino De Laurentis once said to me "NO producer, NO movie" You are the only key that opens the doors, so ask for the money that reflects the blood sweat and tears of your experience level.

On the reverse, You are a producer who needs to attach a director or needs a certain type of writer who will increase the value of your passion project. Pay them! An established director, with a deposit against his or her fee, will go the extra mile to give visibility to your film and will attract actors. A showrunner writer from a hit TV show or a writer who has box office hits in his resume, will make your material shine and allow you entry to the key broadcasters and Studio producers. And if you need a quick polish from a writer, give them something

The Bottom Line

Asking to get paid for being an "artist" is not an act of greed but of necessity to keep the check and balances in proper order. There will be more times that you get screwed in a movie or television show that not, therefore whatever money you will have gotten to date will come very handy to pay a therapist.

I have gone over the 3 main categories but this, of course, applies to actors, cinematographers, editors, composers, casting directors, line producers, etc.

Don't let anyone push the buttons of your passion for your craft as an excuse to work for free. Choose carefully your associates and teammates. If they can't value you at the get-go, chances are they will feel the same after you deferred your fees or worked on commission. Being liked, as with a love affair, is a fragile and temporary state... do you want to be respected for your talents? Show them your price tag!


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