Acting : Paying Gigs vs. Unpaid "Art" by Christopher Birk

Christopher Birk

Paying Gigs vs. Unpaid "Art"

I've run into this dilemma many times when it concerns acting and actors and maybe you all can give me your two cents! To me most true artists can't help but do their art, regardless of whether they make money or not. I have always kept busy and been paid for very little of the work. Being in a place where you can make a living doing this is a luxury few people have - but at the same time there are others out there who are willing to exploit this "need" to express your art. I've done my share of unpaid work and certainly also looked for people to work for me where it had to be the desire to do something artistic that drove them (because I couldn't pay). But I've seen more and more negative comments towards unpaid "work". I say "work" because it's still your art and you're asked to do it for free - and if you say yes then you accept the terms. But I've experienced people hinting at how "unprofessional" it is to not be paid AFTER they have accepted to work without pay and I've heard the sentence "if you can afford to make a movie, you can afford to pay" many times. Though I on one hand agree, I also completely disagree with that statement as art - to me at least - is different from any regular job and for us the work really is often enough - and to be part of an artistic venture is extremely satisfying. I often seek out "jobs" that don't pay just because I love what I do and if they're a challenge and interesting - that's what matters to me. But what are your thoughts on this people?

Vic Roych

Only in the arts do people feel they're entitled to professional services without paying for them. I'm a professional actor. I've worked hard to make myself one. If you want me for your project, you should be prepared to pay me. If not, there damn well better be something special about the part or the script. I used to be a free-lance writer, so I know all too well that if you're willing to work for nothing, that's exactly what you'll get!

Tony Fisher

This always seems to be one of those debates with no real conclusion. Some of it depends on what stage of career your at, if your just starting out then the unpaid stuff maybe your only avenue for moving forward. If you have a more established career then you tend to have more choice as to the type of work you take.

JD Hartman

How do you pay the bills without paying work? Live at home with parents, spouse with high paying job, trust fund baby or apartment/house share with others and work part time at Starbucks? If it's a career, at some point it has to provide enough income to support yourself Otherwise it isn't a career, it's a hobby.

Hank Isaac

I'm sure I'll take hits for this, but give it some thought before you lash out. Can we all admit there are far more actors in the world than there are roles in films, TV series, industrials, or stage plays? If that's so, an actor believing that he can earn a consistent decent living is living in a dream world, IMHO. So an indie producer comes along who perhaps doesn't have a lot of money, but has enough to get a project off the ground, but not enough to pay everyone a lot. Certainly not union scale or anything close to it. So with regard to potential actors in this project, what are the choices? • Appear in the project without pay • Appear in the project for very little pay (not enough to pay the bills) • Decline and wait for a better paying role to come along Since there are no guarantees that any film will be released (to make money), no guarantees that a TV series will air (or continue to air), and no guarantees that a stage p0lay won't close on opening night, the little indie project can have as much chance of success as its more substantial brothers. So, what might our dilemma-ridden actor take away from performing for free? Exposure he would not otherwise have had? A chance to practice his craft? Contacts for future work? Enjoyment doing what he loves? If no actors are willing to work on small projects which simply will never pay even a subsistence wage, what will they work on instead exactly? And if small indie productions vanish, what exactly will replace them? Who will replace the struggling producers who either pony up their own money with no hope of ever making it back or commit themselves to potential decades of debt by securing financing from other sources? Who? And then who will be left to give a "C" actor a chance to shine?

Isaac Middleton

Everyone made very good points and I can see everyone's points in there prospective arguments. If a person is just starting out then non-pain work is good, however, an actor should not be expected to take non-paid work forever, especially if that person is trying to move up the tier so to say. They are many roles out there and some time accepting the low to no paid work is a good thing but some times it does hurt the person. It hurts the person when the direct does not finish the film and no credit and/or copy is given. So, there is many things that plays into all of this. Ah, the area the person is in may not have many paid roles and/or those roles are reserved for whomever. An actor may need to commute to wherever the work is and if commuting I can see how an actor may wanna be paid at least enough to cover the trip. I do a talk show once a month and I can't afford to pay any of the actors/crew and so on but I try to provide the best working environment possible. I even gave them IMDB credit for there efforts. They remind me about doing the show each month. I am trying to get enough money so that I can pay them but as of right now there is nothing. The other thing of non-paid gigs is if you do your own skits, that is still considered non-paid but it gives you something that you can put on your resume especially if you get others involved. In the end it is all up to the person on what they are willing to accept. I have and will accept non-paid work but there is a limit that I can accept because I have to pay bills. If I give all of my time to non-paid work then I have no time to do anything, even outside of acting to get some money to pay my bills. I intend to do more with my no budget production that is know as the JB&I Show. But until then when they do get anything and/or if anything needs something it comes out of my pockets. Lastly, as an actor I have and will take non paid gigs. But I have to keep going and working on getting paid work as well. I enjoy acting and I am always learning so much. I believe in myself and I believe in the agency that represent me and that is why I am working so hard and that is why I am always giving it all that I got and that is why I shall succeed. May God bless and keep you all always and I hope that I have inspired someone.

Rex Baker

Volunteers don't get paid. Employees get paid. Ask yourself which one are you.

Suzanne Bronson

I don't work for free period. Anymore than I will accept low wages at my conventional job. My time, talent, skills, etc are worth something. (Not to mention cost me something to obtain) I place a value on that be deciding I will not play for free. How much that is depends. Also, those posting casting notices even if amateur filmmakers want actors to have headshot, reels, etc yet they post non paying gigs. I find that to be incredibly hypocritical. My wages for the conventional job I need to pay my bills since I don't get paid to act full-time should not also have to cover acting expenses. And for those filmmakers who post non paying gigs, well you get what pay for.

Vic Roych

Yes, we all have to start somewhere. I took my lumps doing community theatre and student films to build credibility as an actor and have little interest in doing such projects anymore. Still, if someone offers me a type of part I don't usually get called for or a type of play or movie I haven't done, I will consider it. For instance, a few years ago I did a reading where I played a Southern cop circa 1960, a part I would never actually be cast in. I received perhaps the ultimate compliment afterwords when a black guy in the cast told me, "You're scary." Of course, the market you're in makes a difference. Those of us outside LA or NY, especially in places without film incentives, have to have a different perspective. Still, I've found filmmakers frequently to be short-sighted. One who wasn't I worked with this spring. His budget was so low, he didn't have a light kit for night shoots; he used car headlights for illumination. Still he paid everyone who worked on the project. Even extras got $20 an hour, good money in my part of the world. There are jobs where you get to use and practice your acting. I'm a standardized patient. It's interesting, important work. I'm learning medical terminology and gaining knowledge I can use if I'm ever called on to play a medical professional or play someone with a particular ailment And it's great for people-watching, something every actor should enjoy doing.

Chris Fosselman

I love this discussion. Coming from Idaho where there wasnt a film scene/getting better now my dad networked for me when I was 8 when I told him I wanted to act. I thought I always got paid ten bucks but I eventually learned my dad paid me. He just wanted me on set to see if I liked it or not. I did every project free and most times they didnt have food. Although I remember this one time the guy had the big plastic tub of licorice and I thought I was in heaven. After working on projects that didnt get completed or we didnt get footage my dad put me and my brother in a film camp where we learned to shoot, edit, light and boom. He then wrote one-five page scripts and we would do our own shorts and make our own films. Make our own reels. I wrote an article on here about my journey a few months ago. https://www.stage32.com/blog/From-A-Small-Town-To-The-Big-Screen I truly believe doing everything for free put me in a position to make money now. In the article I wrote I talked about the UnMiricale with Kevin Sorbo and Stephen Baldwin. They flew me to Chicago and paid my expenses but I didnt get paid. Again, the money didnt matter. My parents always said it's not about the money. The money would eventually come. So The UnMiracle then got more funding and brought in Sorbo and Baldwin a few months after we wrapped. So they flew me to Chicao a second time and I did scenes with those two. I then got paid. After The UnMiracle things just started to snowball. Paying gigs started to happen. I'm in film school now and audition and act so I cant afford to do non paying gigs anymore. Although I do for my classmates if they ask. I pay my own way in LA so I dont have the luxury to do free stuff. If I were a millionaire would I ? Yep! Like Hank said above, you have no idea what can turn from a free project to something awesome. * I will say this if I got a comedy script I would find the time to do it for free. I love comedys but I dont have anything funny from my films. Would I feel less of an actor doing a non paid job? Nope! If anyone is bored you can see my reel which is based off free stuff at www.theconnorwilliams.com My Imdb is on there and now you can see who Ive worked with all because it wasnt about the money.

Craig D Griffiths

Hi Actors As a writer that makes the occasional film. Would it be acceptable to any of you to get paid a small amount and have a formal written agreement for shares of profit? I don't like to use volunteer labour (unless they are family). So would a share my risk share my glory approach be acceptable?

Caesár  

Unpaid jobs are a great place to start , I understand that everyone wants to get paid and do acting as a full time job but if you can't build up acting experience and a professional resumé if you're only gonna wait for the paying jobs. The unpaid jobs will help you get more paid jobs eventually.

JD Hartman

@Craig D Griffiths Deferred pay, which is what you are suggesting equates to no pay. This happens all too often even on low-budget features. If you can't afford to pay, a Producer should call it volunteer work and at least have the decency to have great food, reasonable shoot days and good snacks. Sadly some of the no-pay gigs won't even provide those things.

Christopher Birk

Good comments here! I do think it's a little less black and white than what some make it though ... Personally, when I do acting jobs I will do them for free if they're challenging in other ways and the "simple" things are taken care of. In this business I don't believe you can say that if you don't make money you won't do it. That's just not how it works. I produce a lot. And most of it I do for my own money. I don't make anywhere near the amounts on doing these projects to make it up for what I spend. Does that then also make me a hypocrite? Does it make me a hypocrite that I want to make a film but need people who do it for the love of acting rather than the love of money? There's a fine line before things like these become exploitation but that's the world we live in - and that's the case with many other areas. If you don't act/produce/direct etc for "free" then that's your right - but I don't think calling others out for having different motivations is a very right thing to do either. And how do you expect a paying gig when you haven't done anything yet? And what does "pay" even mean? Are we talking money only here? In my opinion, for an artist, "pay" can be much more than cash!

Edward A Haynes Jr

It's nice to be paid for work, but even if not, it's still worth doing unpaid work. Not only for the job itself, (though that's certainly a factor) but also for building connections with other actors/crew members who can help set up for future gigs. There are ways besides money to get paid. Experience and connections.

Quiona Jamison

In college my professors use to state the obvious: you're not being paid to come here (to attend college). You're paying to come here. Saying that to a group of cash strapped college students who just left home and were on their own seemed mean and heartless, but it was the truth for a lot of us. Then they said: Look at it like this - you're standing in line now so that you will have better opportunities later when you're done. Eventually, you will be paid in some meaningful way. Many of us took that reality check to heart and worked part time while going to school. We found ways to enhance our academic skills in order to apply for small scholarships to carry us over to the next term. We volunteered our time and made those connections so that when it was time to graduate, not only did we have degrees, we had legitimate resumes with actual work experience and community service. We had references to list on job applications because we networked the whole time with working professionals. We learned how to interview early on because our pennies weren't going to make themselves. Many of us had a real job with benefits to go to after graduation because we put in WORK along the way. That being said, there is no new thing under the sun. Just like in our profession, in order to get where you want to be you have to invest in your gift. At first you may not be getting paid, but eventually when you least expect it, things will begin to happen for you. Always use common sense . If you need to eat, get a job. Work until you are able to transition into something that can sustain you as you continue to pursue your dreams. Listen to and apply sound advice. Get a mentor. They're invaluable.

Craig D Griffiths

@JD thanks for the comment. Not really talking about deferred payments. It is like software dev I have done previously. Everyone benefits in success. A river floats all boats equally. It is a shame that there appears to be more rip off merchants than honest people to make the assumption of no payment be the default.

JD Hartman

Deferred pay/no pay, same same. If you give it away for free: your time, your talent, your equipment....then it wasn't worth anything to start with. How can I tell that your volunteer project is legitimate? If you can't even make a token payment to cast and crew, you probably can't afford to pay festival entry fees, meal on set, craft services, etc. etc.

Ronald R Bush

That's not always been the case in my experience JD. I've worked for free on a student short where the directors sister cooked a wonderful pasta dish for lunch and on a deferred pay project with wonderful food and we got paid a year later ( my role paid $10.00 an hour). I've experienced the opposite end as well. My point is, you can't make a negative blanket statement about working for free or deferred pay.

JD Hartman

@RRB Glad it worked out for you. Maybe you can afford to "give it away" as you earn your living elsewhere. Not so for others. When I volunteer my time and sometimes my equipment, I expect a well organized shoot, run professionally with decent food and I expect that the project will leed somewhere other than the local film festival.

Ronald R Bush

I don't know how you learned your craft. I'm pretty sure you weren't an instant expert. You may have even "paid" for college. A lot of people "give it away" to learn. Working for free does have a time limit, but has a purpose.

Debbie Croysdale

Money is not the only currency in life. A collaboration can work if both artists get some mutual pay off EG A cameraman works a red dragon camera (which I can't do) for a short film, and in return shoots his own work with my equipment.

Isaac Middleton

No doubt that collaborations are awesome and effective ways to get things done. The problem and also the fear is that if you hear the stories some would say, if you are serious then you would be doing it full time and others would says get an education in it and continuing education in it as well as doing free work to build ones resume. The true question consist of this, even if someone finds another job if that person really wants to do acting then that person is not going to try and find a career job, they are going to look for a job that they can take time off when they want and/or make there own schedules. In that scales the amount and the types of jobs that the person is going to get and/or can get. If that person wants to do acting for more than just a hobby. So, the issue remains, and here are the questions that every actor may have asked at one time or another, how do I get into acting is there a set pathway? How do I make a living at this and when do I say enough free jobs, I deserve to get paid? They are always exceptions, and some people will say things to help and others may not. But I digress, I personally think that doing some free work is okay but if the person want to do acting for a living then that person will have to do a lot of research and find those path ways that might not be seen and/or make their own path way. If a person says that you can't make it then I say that is not true because if that was so then the job would not exist if no one could do it. Doing free work can help you network and meet people and maybe down the line the same person that you once worked for free for may end up coming back to you and giving you a paid acting job and/or offering you a paid gigs. Oops, sorry about my run on sentences and I hope that I was able to help someone.

Suzanne Bronson

I respectfully disagree @christopherblack. It's not a business if you're not making money, than it's just a hobby.

Ronald R Bush

This discussion can go on forever. There are as many opinions as posters. You're not going to force people to pay who have no budget and it's pretty arrogant to say they shouldn't be making movies. Most people in this discussion would probably be labeled as amatures by consistently working actors. So be it. Call me an amature. I'm still enjoying what I do. So many people expect to be paid right away. If that's the case, do background work so you can afford classes or so you can afford to work for free. However, background work is not a way to make a living so, you probably need a part time job to survive. Some actors (William Shatner for example) have lived in their cars. What sacrifices are you willing to make or do you feel you deserve "instant success "?

Chris Fosselman

I guess I just don't get why you wouldn't want to volunteer. How can you build your reel or connections if you don't? Whether I get paid or not I still give 100%. * I just accepted a lead in a short, not getting paid but this will be my third time working with this director and I trust everyone involved will bring their A game. Sacrifices? 1st year (last year) I slept on a couch in a one bedroom. Paid a lot of money to do so. Second year, this year, I live with 4 other people (5 total in a 2/1.5 ) and we have a total of three people in our bedroom. But I really don't see it as a sacrifice. I see it as a necessity. If I ever make it I can be comfortable later.

Tanujaa Patidar

It depends on various actor , how he/she want to work with money or without money....IF its his/her first break may not work for money....

Vic Roych

This an excellent discussion, good points that are generally to the point, unlike what's on most other social media. Why I like Stage 32.

Cindy Myskiw

I agree with you Christopher. Most of my work is on Indies that don't pay. I love what I do so to me it is just another chance to do what I love. When I get paid that is just a bonus :) !

John Tague

If everyone else is being paid for their time working on a film then so should the actors. Period. Actors need to stop devaluing themselves by working for free. The filmmaker gets a better product with professional actors.

Hank Isaac

Absolutely, John Tague. No craft should be singled out to not be paid. And as a side note, I don't think anyone (actors or crew) has ever been ever forced to work gratis, have they? I mean, everyone has the choice to or not to. And I can't speak for every producer of small films, but not being able to pay someone is not necessarily the same as suggesting they're worthless.

Cindy Myskiw

Well said John Tague and I recognize you from many TV shows :) plus we belonged to the same Acting site on Facebook.

Allen Clark

I was apart of a project a year ago and it was part of a short film project. With that being said it is the responsibility of the producer/director to let the rest of those being apart of the project they aren't doing but it doesn't mean you don't have to accommodate them in other ways. Because I am now working on my first short film I am accommodating the participants with things to eat at filming and readings, making visual commercials that they can add to their personal reels and all members will receive an IMDB credit when done. I believe that when participants see you going out of your way they feel appreciated and will work with you.

Michael Wearing

A little story that might help; I was running a film making club for young people. We paid our regular tutors, but when it came to the films if we needed an adult actor the budget wouldn't stretch that far. Our first film was for the NHS and it required an adult to play a youth worker, we secured a trained actor for the role who agreed to work for free. The following year our drama tutor left, so we employed the actor who had worked for free as the new tutor. Almost ten years later I'm running my own production company and I have had the wonderful opportunity to repay the actor by giving him nicely paid roles in two films I've made to train doctors. Now it won't always work out quite that good, but certainly I try to ensure that those that helped me for free are given paid work when a suitable role comes along. I am sure that would also be the case with most other producers, because they will know your ability, your limitations, your behaviour on set, and hopefully they will actually like you, and want to help develop your career. As a producer I attend lots of events, investing time and money in the hope that I can network and eventually secure a commission to make a film from somebody I meet at them. Actors should also do the same invest time and money. Some of this will be attending acting classes, some will be networking at festivals and online, and some will be accepting to work for free for the new kid on he block. What you shouldn't be doing is working for free on corporate films, adverts etc, because a producer should budget to pay everyone for these types of film.....

Kirk Johnson

Looking for voice actors for several audio productions. Intergalactic Space Rangers (action adventure), Doorways and Dimensions(Tales of the bizarre), WTF Radio(Where’s the funny) a series of short skits, basically a mish mash between Saturday Night Live and Monty python as well as a Doctor audio play. You can take a peek at www.intergalacticspacerangers.com

Stephen Foster

I believe work begets work, but if you want to get paid, only go for stuff that pays and don't wait for opportunities, network constantly. make yourself know to Casting Directors instead of "waiting" by the phone at starbucks. LOL

Andrew Bee

For me it is all about the long game , and the fact that there are two aspects to this business. I am a unionized actor and getting very few auditions, so I had to shift my focus and seriously begin to network. It takes a lot of time to build respect and trust online. That's one aspect, as Richard Botto has repeatedly taught us here, that is critical. in order to meet those decision makers at a much higher level, I have to reach out professionally, over a long period of time. The one thing I absolutely understand is that writers, directors and producers need actors. What they don't need or want is unprofessional communication. The other aspect is that I would rather be working than not, so if I love a role, I do it. I really do not care about a project being good or bad art, because that is a discussion that usually ends negatively. I do care about creating all the time and getting better and better. The feedback I use is that if I am not getting better quality auditions and jobs, I must somehow make myself better. This keeps it positive and hopeful and in my control.

Stephen Foster

@Andrew I agree 100%. I've been a member of SAG for 100 years and I still get my best work from "indie" material!

Andrew Bee

@Stephen, what I unconditionally accept is that until my energy or lifeforce or "talent" is large enough to attract much larger, better paying roles, my only job is to train and get better and accept complete responsibility for my career. If I blame anything or anyone, that is negative. Like you, I love working with indie productions. They have a freedom that 100 million dollar budgets can never have. However, I also loved working On Suicide Squad!

Debbie Croysdale

@Stephen n Andrew You've both hit the nail on the head, and i totally agree with both statements. The beauty of Indie is the freedom to execute art with no petty restrictions. Art is everyones birthright, and participation in film making should not be given the red flag by closed shop cronyism, wheels within wheels cliques, institutionalised studios who want to promote their own actors/actresses, or by crippling costs. Aswell as "Indie" troupers doing film without Hollywood budgets, collaboration is the middle line between paid and unpaid work. Someone further up in this thread suggested Collaboration maybe viewed as "amateur" yet any collaborations Ive been involved in, always was with track record pros. Many professionals want to go out and do their own thing in private without the beady eye of studio heads. Off course collaborations have to be wisely executed, so all parties concerned gain in some way. One of my favourite quotes from Huck magazine, my favourite off the shelf read. "SELF DETERMINATION IS A FRAGILE RIGHT, TOO PRECIOUS TO TAKE FOR GRANTED". Another favourite quote from one of the 15 directors i trained under, about the Vietnamese mindset. "YOU HAVE THE WATCHES, BUT I HAVE THE TIME." We should never censor ourselves, ......INDIE......use it or lose it!

Debbie Croysdale

Follow your passion.

Andrew Bee

Great comment Debbie Croysdale. Thank you.

JD Hartman

@CB "...if you can afford to make a movie, you can afford to pay..." , as a technician, a crew person, I sometimes struggle with the same thought. If you can't pay you cast and crew even a token amount, how can I believe you have the funds to complete this project? Or edit, sound design, color correction, scoring, etc after we wrap. Or market it and take it to festivals? Will I ever get a copy? Oh, it's an art piece, something for your reel...., the work is a labor love for us, when I hear that, I know it's doomed.

Christopher Trastoy

If you are passionate about what you are doing you would jump at the thought of being able to work on your craft or art. Money helps keep the wheel spinning but it shouldn't be a deal breaker if it were free. As an actor, I work hard on set to help bring the character and the picture to life. The magic that you feel being on set, can't be felt anywhere else for me. Individuals from all walks of life, all coming together to put a dream, an idea, to reality. This happens right before our eyes. Money is great, but if you put the money before the project... you will pass up on a lot of opportunities and you will miss the magic.

JD Hartman

Christopher Trastoy Is acting your full time profession or do you have a regular day job? Passion is great, but bills still have to be paid unless you live at home with your parents. That's just reality.

Robert Franklin

Do all you can get, even if unpaid! Make connections and friends!

Christopher Trastoy

JD Hartman I can't believe I am just seeing this now. I do have a job that I work in aside from the arts that helps pay the bills, I do not think it is safe to assume that actors are living at home with their parents.Bills having to be paid is a certain but in this profession, it is wise to take whatever opportunity, that comes your way . Would you turn down an amazing opportunity because it was unpaid?

JD Hartman

Never did I say all actors.... Great that you're working while pursuing you real passion. Also great that you were able to find the type of job that gives you the freedom to audition and take off from from work as needed. Not easy to find work like that, I know from experience, having worked on both sides of the lens.

First describe amazing? Does that include things like: I'll use you (next time) when I have a budget; great for your reel; award winning Director or Producer; a passion piece; to be entered in many festivals; deferred pay (no pay, ever), etc.

I've heard all the reasons/excuses, nothing worse than showing up to work on a no-pay gig only to find: rented 3 ton Grip and Lighting package, rented latest and greatest camera package; above the line team staying in Hotels while you drive home each night; etc.

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