Someone emailed me yesterday asking me to work for free. This happens more frequently than you would credit in my industry. Sometimes I dismiss it immediately – usually when it’s evident that loads of money is being spent on production and they’ve just gone “ahh we can save by not paying the actors.” This time I haven’t said yes yet, but I haven’t said no yet either. It’s a very short time commitment. I might enjoy myself. All those treacherous little thoughts are swimming through my head.
I like my work. It’s a craft I’ve spent a lot of time and money honing, and for which I have made some quite significant sacrifices and life-choices. But there are plumbers out there that could likely say the same thing. Dean who fixed my boiler was learning on the job. He was enjoying his work, despite running into difficulty. He got shot with adrenaline when he overcame the problem, and he drove home smiling and probably about £700 richer. If I’d put an ad up saying I couldn’t pay but it would be a great opportunity to fix an interesting boiler, with as much coffee as you want and a friendly cat… well, at best I’d still be cold and at worst some idiot would’ve blown my flat up. Just because I like my work, it doesn’t follow that I am therefore happy to do it for nothing – (or in these circumstances, technically I’d be paying to work, factoring in tube fares etc.)
And yet, I haven’t said “no” yet. What’s that about?
Let’s look at my history here. I did an unpaid gig in a pub theatre. I didn’t even like the script and I still did it. The journalists didn’t like the script either. More harm than good. But then I frequently volunteer for Scene and Heard. I help kids grow in confidence and I make good friends, and have fun being moles and bacteria and travel-cups. More good than harm. I accept an unpaid film and die ridiculously in a council block fire escape, killed by a terrible werewolf. I get soaked and ruin a shirt I love. The footage is never edited and the director vanishes. One day maybe it’ll show up on a clip show. “Do you remember doing THIS?” *facepalm* But then I do a short for a quid and it leads to good exposure and good friendships, and money down the line…
I’m going to sleep on it. And then I think I’m going to say “no”. She’s a young director, she’s not profiting, I’d like to help her out. It won’t be a huge amount of time. But there’s no point working if you’re not 100% sold, as my reputation stands on every choice I make. And now I take the time to write about it I realise that I’m not sold on the script either. It’s a single joke stretched into ten minutes, and it’s very much on the nose.
All that aside, I told myself I wouldn’t work for free outside of Scene and Heard and, circumstantially, The Factory, who have often been able to pay me and have always paid in challenge, love and friendship.
And yet still I’ll sleep on it. And then tomorrow like a sucker I’ll wake up all optimistic and say “Yes yes I’ll do it! I’m helpful Al! Hooray for helpful Al.”.
Punch me if I do.
(I hung out with Ivo as per the photo.) I said no. But it was hard. Everything seemed predicated against me writing tonight. All my WordPress apps crashed repeatedly. Done now. Sleep…