Working for free is a subject that causes a lot of debate within the acting industry. I see it talked about in lots of acting groups and I speak about it with my own acting students regularly.
The thing is, many actors want to build up their credits and profile but that can be difficult when a huge chunk of the listings on casting sites offer expenses only (student films aside) and you have bills to pay. Many actors are scared that they simply won’t work again if they don’t offer their services for free and others are dead set on never taking on an unpaid role. Everyone has a different opinion and quite honestly it boils down to personal circumstances and the value you place on your work.
Should you work for free?
Yes – I know that may shock as you I tell you each week to see yourself as a business, but hear me out. There are two very good reasons for me saying this.
Reason number 1
If you are new to the industry and find yourself without an agent who can put a value on you to production companies it can be difficult to know your own value. Working for free when you are new to the industry is a great way to test the waters with your craft, build your confidence in your own ability, sharpen your skills, test the best way to build genuine relationships, test the work you do and don’t enjoy, plus you’re building up footage for your showreel and have a starting point for your CV.
HOWEVER the value you must place on yourself is to CAP THE FREE WORK you do. You must have clear boundaries and clarity on WHY you’re doing freebies, initially.
When you reach your magic number (which only you can decide) you must, must must then say no to unpaid work because ultimately you need to survive financially, whether that be through you day job or paid acting work and for some other reasons I’ll share shortly.
Reason number 2
If you know that you will be working with the right people, people who are well connected and can introduce you/recommend you to other influential people in the industry and your career will move forward the way you want it to then that is ok to work for free. Although quite honestly I rarely hear of this happening.
HOWEVER and this is a big however, you must be savvy, you must have other ways of supplementing your income to make up for the loss of your dayjob, you must realise that nothing is guaranteed and it is your job to then work your ass off building up genuine relationships because nothing is handed on a plate. EVER! (There are so many carrots dangled in this industry).
Why you should cap the freebies
When you do free, free, free you do not show you value yourself to other people. If you get called into an agents office for a meeting and can say “Look, I’ve got all this work myself, I did xx jobs for free and all the rest is paid” they are going to perceive you in a different light to those actors who have done very little paid work. It shows them you are sellable, it pricks up their ears and makes them think “Hmmmm there is a place for this actor in the industry, if they can find paid work without an agent, where could they go with an agent?” and perception is the important thing here.
You are building your brand and as you know the brands who charge very little don’t get associated with quality. FOMO (fear of missing out) also plays a part when you put a price on yourself. Trust me I’ve seen this with the actors I train. When they’ve said no to an unpaid project the production company (when they really want that actor) then offer up a fee. Naughty hey?!
Let’s get clear
- Cap the freebies by choosing your magic number and sticking to it, you will still work.
- Once you’ve reached your magic number put a value on yourself and choose an hourly rate. It may seem weird at first but people will VALUE you more. Go on be brave!
- Don’t dis-regard the people you worked with for free, follow them up and ask about roles when you’re resting, only this time if there is a role you now have a price attached to you.
- Reflect after each freebie and take something you have learnt with you into the paid work
- If you did a freebie and your work or the production isn’t up to standard, it doesn’t have to go in your showreel. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a learning curve.
- Here’s the science:, when you make it important to yourself to only do paid work, your RAS (reticular activating system) will find you all the paid jobs to apply for over the free ones. Basically your brain searches out what you make important.
So what is your magic number going to be? If you feel comfortable declare it below in the comments box. And if you have an actor friend who is worth so much more than doing continuous freebies, share this with them. It could be the thing they’ve been needing to hear.
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