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.