Is working for free, training or a pathway to paid work?


Graham Reed TV-Bay Magazine
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by Graham Reed
Issue 102 - June 2015

I suspect like a lot of KitPlus readers I often have a look at a websites that advertise jobs, but mainly un-paid. I have frequently thought that these job offers are really just trying to get free or cheap labour for the benefit of the director/producer.

One recently advertised for .... a cameraman thats enthusiastic and punctual, professional with a high performance camera (Canon, Nikon, Red, Blackmagic) and lenses. In other words for a few thousand pounds worth of kit plus an operator just for expenses!! They were offering guaranteed locations, a visit to the BBC and Channel 4 where they said you could reach professionals who may give you paid work in the future. Really? So the question is if you are a young camera owner who has invested in kit, why would you do it; for experience, for training?

I recently wrote to a person who was advertising for crew on this website expressing my concerns, I said:

I am very concerned about training and the standards of people entering the programme production industry. If all these low budget very low pay productions are used as a training exercises then that is great, as long as there is constructive feedback to the crew after the production is finished. If the programme is made just to satisfy the ego of a director then I feel that there is no point in producing these programmes, as the crew working for free may not receive any learning outcomes.

I would very much encourage creative endeavours but I often feel that if there is no money then the programme shouldnt be made.

Last year according to the BFI there were only 210 programmes with budgets over half million pounds that were started in the UK. So it concerns me that the many young DoPs with high expectations working for free will never earn a living in their chosen film careers. Just owning or knowing how to operate a RED camera does not make you a good cameraman!

Another problem is that there is money to make films but also there are many, many directors who have the best and greatest creative idea ever who want to make a film!!!

Best
Graham

His reply:

Hi there Graham,

I completely agree with the lack of a training standard for both TV and film productions. We pride ourselves in being honest with people and never just simply expecting highly skilled technicians and creatives to work for free. Unfortunately, the film industry in this country consists of mainly low budget films and the high budget profitable films that are made are a niche really in the UK. It muddies the waters when anyone with a Red or DSLR considers themselves competent or even the next Roger Deakins.

We try to separate ourselves by at the very least ensuring we pay something and we have a strict policy of no skilled workers being paid less than minimum wage, which whilst isnt the amount wed love to have the budget to pay, it is more than the majority of our equals at this level of filmmaking. Some of our crew, especially those at the head of departments such as our Sound Mixer and our current short list of DoPs have constant work on mainstream TV shows or music videos, they however love the input they get on films like ours and take away so much in terms of learning new techniques that they can experiment with. Something they are seldom allowed to do on mainstream productions. We offer a shared learning experience that allows everyone to walk away with a new experience that at the very least they are never out of pocket for taking part in. With our previous film festival nominations we are getting some traction with our films and this reflects heavily on our cast and crew who are able to use this to boost their desirability to prospective employers.

One of the most over arching reasons that we find is causing low budget film to stay low budget, is the lack of substantial funding initiatives set out by the UK government and the big media companies and broadcasters. Most funding is small batch and unfortunately alienates so many people and potential talent that most are stuck in a cycle of making no budget films. I do however think it would be fair to not assume that all of us at this level are playing to our egos or even worse, using people to that end. Whilst possibly a minority, we arent by any means alone in trying to be fair to people who are learning or making a living.

We are not in this to either make money for ourselves or take advantage of others. When I say we are not in this to make a profit or money, I mean that this production is a stepping stone for those of us starting out or honing our skills, or even a great piece of extra experience for those already established that choose to share their already acquired skills. As the director and writer of this film, I am not looking to get people to support my ego or even help me get noticed, rather I want to get everyone together to make a film out of passion and love for a craft and then send it out into the film festival circuit for a chance that someone may love what the sound guys or the camera department are doing and select it for their festival. That way, everyone from the runners to the producers have a film under their belt that is at recognised for being well made by an industry body or professionals.

Kind Regards...

So is working for free good for training, or is it playing on peoples hope and dreams for proper work, over the centuries many great artists have died in poverty, is it now the turn of film makers to suffer the same fate? Discuss!


Tags: iss102 | ittp | training | industry | students | tv film industry | Graham Reed
Contributing Author Graham Reed

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