Saturday, 9 August 2014

Should Artists Ever Work For Free?

Scofield Entertainment
Should artists work for free? This is a knotty problem and a subject on which people tend to have strong feelings. Students and graduates do of course often work for free, taking work experience, unpaid jobs or internships which do not pay actual money, but which offer training in the industry and real-world experience of what the world of work is like.

The trouble is, there are many people out there looking for a free lunch. The trick with working for free is to ask yourself what the benefit will be to you, and whether or not it's likely to be worth it in the end. In this very funny 2009 video by Scofield Entertainment, some film-makers have cooked up a very entertaining satire on on the "Work For Free" culture of much digital media today.

The video essentially poses the question: what if the folks asking for free stuff from digital artists were trying to get hold of real world items like food, haircuts and DVDs? How far would it get them?

On a personal note, I have worked for free on many occasions, and I still do. The questions I always ask myself are: do I have the time to do? Is it a good cause? And, if so, is it worth it?

I have done many charity jobs over the years,  some of which have been very rewarding in non-financial ways (I'm doing one now, a design for a invitation for a charity auction). Charity work can be fun, and you tend to meet a lot of great people.

A design for a deckchair for London's Parks
When I was teaching myself story boarding, I did several storyboard jobs for free. Not charity work this time; just practicing my skills on a live project. So it's really about doing a cost/benefit analysis. Do you want and/or need to do it? Do you have a better offer? Can you afford to do it? In the end it comes down to a personal choice.

A charity gig in 2012 for "The Big Egg Hunt" in London. Like the cows - but with eggs
But if a total stranger asks you on the web to do free stuff for their amazing new project which is going to be The Next Big Thing, the answer should generally be "no". In the end, you need to be able to trust the people you are doing favours for, and know that they aren't just taking advantage of your good will.


For more on how to survive and thrive in the animation industry, read this post. Also read about what studios look for in a great demo reel, and read our guide to student demo reels. Hear what London's Blue Zoo has to say about finding work, and take a look at this video on portfolios by Sony Pictures Animation. You can also watch Alex's ten minute video on creating a great reel, and read this post on the perfect demo reel. Also, check out our guide to animation careers here, and also take a look at this map of digital studios - a great place to start your search for work in the business. Learn the nuts and bolts of freelance life by reading our guide to invoicing clients, and our guide to putting together a great CV. Also download the free Escape Studios guide to careers in VFX.

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