Thursday, 27 June 2013

Should graduates work for free?

The bad guys always wear top hats and smoke cigars
This is a tough question. Lots of seasoned professionals in the entertainment industry feel strongly that graduates should never work for free - why provide cheap labour for greedy capitalists who just want to exploit young talent? The counter-argument is very simple: because it's worth it.

The problem that all arts graduates face is simple. You need experience to get a job, and to get a job, you need experience. It is a chicken-and-egg problem that is not easily solved. "But why", ask many graduates, "don't entertainment firms want to take on young talent and train them up?"

The answer to that is also simple - it's because they don't have time. Most companies in the entertainment industry operate on razor-thin margins and are usually just one flop away from bankruptcy. Don't be deceived by the swanky premises and glossy reception areas - it's all for show. Very few businesses in the arts and media actually make a decent profit. So, while companies talk loudly about training, it's usually just that - talk.

So what's a graduate to do? The answer is, at least at first, work for free, or work for low wages. Get that vital experience that you need to build an impressive demo reel of paid work, work done for clients, subject to all the discipline and intensive feedback that goes with doing client work. Get this sort of work on your reel, and you will have the kind of skills that companies will actually pay for.

How do you find internships? Some of these are publicly posted, such as Cinesite's Inspire program. More commonly, they are informal, word-of-mouth, or even generated by the graduate him or herself. Offer to work for nothing, or for low wages, be enthusiastic, and help out. These are qualities that all companies are looking for.

And don't forget to keep in touch with your tutors. We hear about job opportunities and internships all the time, and are always happy to help out willing talented graduates to kick-start their careers.

(Editor's Note: for more on jobs and recruitment, check out this map of CG companies, also watch this video on how to make a great demo reel,  watch this video on finding a job, read out Dave Berry's interview about his internship, see who is hiring in Soho, and take a look at this dummies-guide to creating a blog or website. And don't forget our interview with Lion King Producer Don Hahn, who explains what it takes to make it in animation. Finally, remember that in order to hone your skills, practice makes perfect.)


  1. I don't know if I agree with this to be honest. I understand the principle, and I agree that a starter position will always have a lower wager, but I think the only reason that so many people who already went through years of learning (though you're hardly ever prepared for the working world out of the box) are accepting unpaid jobs, is because that has become common practice for companies. And that is a demeaning principle that should change, and only with a push from the higher ups, or at least senior people, will that ever start to change. It is not something that is usual outside of the arts world, to work for free after you've spent years studying something. And it is wrong, in my opinion, to explore people as a standard option, and to think everything is ok with it, making it something that is accepted and seen as normal, something you should go through. That is not right, if you've studied and worked for years, you should be given a good opportunity while working for free and saving money for companies who, tight as their budgets might be, will have enough money to pay minimum wagers to a few interns. I was lucky to have done my internship at Ninja Theory, where I was rewarded for my work, real work, and learned a lot from it. That should be the industry standard.

  2. It's a very tricky decision, and one for every artist to make on their own terms. But in the current climate, taking unpaid work for a bit may be essential to building a career.