5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Working On A Film For Free


You’ve been really giving this filmmaking life much thought and figure that the best way to get your feet wet is by working on an indie film.

Finding an indie film crew to jump on is often the best and easiest way to start building your career as a filmmaker.

It’s a perfect endeavor no matter if you aspire to be a director, producer, screenwriter, editor, you name it, because of the invaluable skills you will gain on set. It will open your eyes to all of the ins and outs that goes beyond any book or article you could read. It gives you first hand knowledge of the film business, which is priceless.

However, in saying that, most indie films have a very limited budget or none at all. Therefore, if you decide to volunteer your time to working on one, there are several factors to consider on whether or not it is worth pursuing.

Can I literally afford to work for free?

This seems really obvious but it’s worth asking yourself. I’ve known newbies to practically quit their 9 to 5’s at the drop of a hat just because they were being offered an opportunity to work on a film “for experience.”

If you don’t have a flexible job, ample vacation time, or have income that’s on life support as a freelancer, then it may not be worth the risk to work on a film for free.

At the end of the day, you have to take care of yourself and your responsibilities.

Yes, you may get an IMBD credit on a film working as a gaffer or production assistant or 2nd camera, but if it comes at the expense of you losing your primary source of income, then keep your eyes peeled for another opportunity that will better fit in or around your current work load.

Will I be able to leverage this opportunity?

If you are not being compensated financially directly for your work on a film, then you need to consider other ways how you can maximize this opportunity.

One way that you can get mileage out of working on a film for free is by sharing your journey behind the scenes via social media and or your blog.

This builds social proof and clout for you. It lets the world know that you are gaining actual on set experience. It will also make it easier for you to generate industry connections for future projects.

Make sure you get clearance from the film’s producer or director on whether or not you can use images captured on set and make social media mentions about the film.

If it’s a green light from them, then take that opportunity and run with it.

Will I receive official film credit for my involvement?

Another way to justify working on a film for free is if you will be given proper acknowledgement in the film’s credits.

If you can get a guarantee from the producing team or director that you will be getting an IMBD credit then use that to build credibility for yourself as an aspiring filmmaker.

Is this film in a genre I want to build a career and portfolio in?

When you envision yourself in the film world and only documentaries or TV shows come to mind, then it may not be worth the time and energy to volunteer on a horror film or romantic comedy.

Not that you can’t learn an onslaught of tips and tricks by working on an indie horror film, but if you have to do it for free and as a genre is just not your cup of tea, then why make the sacrifice.

Having a portfolio you can be proud of and that reflects your aesthetic is something to keep in mind from day one. Save your volunteered time for films that fall in align with your goals.

Does the director and producing team appear competent, organized, financed, and capable of leading a team and creating a quality film?

This is a biggie. No matter how awesome the film sounds when you read about it on Craigslist or Stage 32, if you get a sneaking suspicion that the producing team or director is unorganized or incompetent, then do yourself a real favor and sit this one out.

In the end, you run the risk of wasting your time. And if you are going to work for free on a film, then time is the last thing you can afford to waste.

A well-run set is noticeable from day one. The director is sticking to the call-sheet, actors are in make-up timely, craft services is a priority, the crew knows their duty stations for opening scenes, and the remainder of the day’s activities move swiftly and efficiently.

If that is happening then you are apart of a solid grew and golden set.

You will be able to walk away from working on that film for free with invaluable gems that will empower you on the next film (that you should definitely get paid for).

No matter how bad you want to jumpstart your filmmaking career, sometimes the pay-offs are too small and not worth the risk.

But the good news is that with a little patience and a watchful eye, a solid opportunity will materialize that will be more than worth the wait.

What did we miss? Do you have any tips for working for free on a film?


CJ CHILDRESS is a photographer, cinematographer, and writer. She just had a blast pretending that she was the technical director at the Beyonce concert in Houston last weekend. At the moment, she is editing stock video footage for commercials. You can keep up with her on Instagram. 


Shortie of the Week-Ana Monaco


Ana Monaco: By day, I’m a Film Student (attending the top Art School in the world!) media entrepreneur, writer/director, photographer and founder of the Latina Lifestyle Bloggers Collective (#LLBLOG) and creative director for the First Annual #LLBLOGNOTACONF Blogger Getaway.

Check out Her Shortie of the Week : Meet Kenny.

Regardless of what you see and read in the media, this is probably the most exciting time to be a female filmmaker – and to be a woman of color to boot!
Just look around you: we’re right at the cusp of Hollywood paying attention to something that needed to be done a long time ago – including women in the mix.
The voices of women of color are unique and yet inspire greatness. Women can make great films – and everyone, begrudgingly as it may seem –  is ready to see what we do…and as female filmmakers, we’re ready to show the world what we CAN do.
That being said, it’s never too early or too late to pursue a passion. I for one, applied to Film School school after more than 15 years working in PR/Marketing and Social Media. Because the passion in film, as you probably have already figured out, is not something that goes away when you get a stable job after college.
If you’re like me, don’t be afraid to go back and pursue your passion. I, for one, have already discovered that life experience coupled with a unique voice and point of view, will make you stand out from everyone else. And, as scary and sometimes lonely as it may seem, it’s actually a good thing.
So do whatever it is that you need to do to discover YOU. That might mean taking a job after college – in a non-related film industry – traveling the world, and of course doing the things that will make you a better filmmaker: Take part in the arts (painting, photography, etc.), read (scripts and books – everyday!), watch good and bad films, old and new; and have a life. A REAL life. Because unless you’re writing about a world that doesn’t exist, you need to connect to the people you’re writing about – and for. Do all of this until your heart is so full and so ready to do something, that like it happened to me, someone will tell you that it’s time to pursue your passion. And they will. Listen to those signs.
Going into filmmaking, know that regardless of what you want to say or share, filmmaking is a collaborative industry that largely depends on its history – so you can’t learn by just doing, you learn by getting inspired by the work of others. You HAVE TO work with others. Men and women. Gay and Straight. People of color and of course, the largely white male fraternity that has run Hollywood for years. So while it will help you get ahead to be you, you also have to learn to play the game. THAT, is probably the hardest thing to do when you decide to pursue your filmmaking dreams.
Lastly, while sometimes you discover who YOU are by working on your own film projects, there’s something to be said about attending Film School and having the collective feedback of some of the best folks in the industry and others just as passionate about storytelling as you are; and, able to make mistakes in a safe setting versus striking it out on your own. Film School also helps you refine your unique voice in such a way that you begin to learn where you want to be and what you want to work on.
Yes, Film School is expensive and it’s INCREDIBLY hard to get accepted into the top schools – so if you can’t do it now, collaborate with students attending those schools and learn from them. We’re always looking for crew and we’re always ready to share our knowledge.
As they say in Hollywood: See you on set!
Lydia Hunter Britt
Ursa Gifted Major Kenny
Mary Dallas Nicki
Maria Richwine Jan
Kevin Duarte Editor
Carrie Hesse Production Design
Ana Lydia Monaco Wardrobe Styling
Stephen Adler Cinematography / Director of Photography
Frank Duncanson Catering
Andrey Bailey Camera 2 + Sound Supervisor
Vicki Jo Costanzo Script Supervisor
Cathy Guzman Location Manager
Mimi Guzman-Duncanson Production Assistant
Bobbie Roth
Frank Monaco