Have you ever been asked to work for exposure? What about working to expand your portfolio? Or my personal (least) favorite, working to establish a relationship that is guaranteed to bring more paid work in the future? If only it was that easy!
Luckily for you, I've been through it all, so I've decided to start a 3 part series dealing with the main reasons people work for free, and why you should run for the hills when presented with such o̶p̶p̶o̶r̶t̶u̶n̶i̶t̶y drivel. This week, we're dealing with working for exposure!
The only reasons to do free work.
Before I get to the many reasons why doing free work usually doesn't benefit you, let's go over a couple exceptions. During my time freelancing and running my own video production company, I only found 2 reasons why you should do free work.
- Because you want to. Part of the fun of being an artist is making art for the hell of it. Sure being a "starving artist" is no fun, but being a slave to getting paid isn't that much better. If a project catches your interest and you would like to work on it, then by all means go ahead and have fun!
- Experience. I become a better Filmmaker after every shoot. In fact, the more I film the more I realize I still have a lot to learn. The thing about Film, and most art forms, is that you learn better by doing, so if experience is what you're after, there's no better way to get it than by practicing. Gaining experience also puts you in a better position to charge later on.
These are the only 2 reasons where working for free is guaranteed to work in your favor. For everything else, expect your time and talent to be wasted.
The Exposure Trap
The Exposure Trap is when you're promised that if you only do a job for free, a lot of people will see it and trip over each other in order to hire you for more. Here are some phrases to watch out for:
"Once that music video hit MTV, boy your phone's gonna be ringing!"
"We have a lot of rich people attending our event. Once they see you with your camera, they'll all want your business card!"
"This film will be submitted to all the major film festivals, and your name will be on the credits!"
"Your logo will be on the event banner as well as our website!"
All these promises sound delightful, especially to the ears of a young naive Filmmaker. Let me spare you some heartbreak: IT DOESN'T WORK! Why? Because believe it or not, people don't watch MTV to find filmmakers to hire. They don't attend events to recruit talent either, and they never... ever read the end credits.
If that person could really bring you massive exposure, they'd be able to pay you. In fact, they wouldn't even bother making promises; they'd just pull out their checkbook and hire you like the professional that you are. The Exposure Trap takes advantage of the optimist in all of us, and leads us believe that free work now will make it rain tomorrow. It won't.
A Personal Example
Let's say the client could actually offer some exposure, there's still one big problem: Exposure doesn't always mean more business.
I did this music video during the early days of my company. The manager of the band wasn't willing to pay the price I asked for, but he promised that the exposure I would get would bring me a ton of work. They seemed like a pretty popular band, so I agreed to a reduced rate on the condition that I add a link to my website on the video (as opposed to simply my name as director).
Currently the video has over 500,000 real views on their page, as well as over 100,000 on mine. Wanna bet how much business I've gotten from that exposure? None! In the end, the manager didn't lie about getting a lot of views as this is by far my most widely viewed video (though far from my best). I don't regret doing this video since it was a very simple project that paid enough for my time and effort, but can you imagine if I was only counting on the exposure?
I've had my links on videos, company logo on event banners, flyers added to gift bags, and business cards passed among the crowd. Take it from me, working for exposure is a waste of your time. You're better off creating stock footage packs on your spare time and selling them on the internet. Ha!
What to do instead
When faced with The Exposure Trap, kindly let the other party know that promises of grandeur do not pay your bills. Inform them that you are very good at your job, and that every penny they spend on you would be well worth it. If they simply wanted a young naive artist to exploit, they'll hang up and never bother you again. Either way, you win.
Next Time: Grow Your Portfolio While Getting Paid
Next week I'll tackle the false notion that doing free work is the only way to expand your portfolio. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to this blog at the top to get notified of new posts. As always, check out our stock footage and effects for all your Filmmaking and VFX needs!