Tuesday, 8 January 2013


You know I don’t actually enjoy blogging about unpaid work, right? Despite my countless entries on it, I don’t actually get a kick from it. Well, I do. My love for this job gets a kicking as does my poor and feeble bank account. But I don’t get a thrill from it, I promise. All I get from it is a desire to climb up on the roof and scream for the rest of the week. But, yet again, I find myself blogging about it. I’m sorry but it’s happening. So you can either look away now or you can come with me on a little brief journey… You still with me? Excellent, now follow me…

I had no intentions of writing about unpaid work because I was pretty sure I’d said all I wanted to on the matter. But yesterday, eager to get started on 2013 and hoping that the castings would start appearing as everyone gets back to work proper, I practically leapt on the casting websites. I checked the paid jobs on one particular site and found one measly, grossly underpaid role to apply for on the woefully meagre list. Cover letter and CV fired off, I checked the unpaid jobs to see if there were any gems I could share on Twitter. Despite it being mid-morning, there was already a full page of unpaid jobs. As the day went on, the unpaid list increased quicker than my Christmas waistline and I had trouble keeping up with them. At the end of play (about 5.30pm when casting calls ground to a halt and hopes of a productive and fruitful day die yet again) there were 15 paid jobs and 51 unpaid jobs. That, maths fans, means that for every paid job, there are 3.4 unpaid jobs scavenging around, making everyone feel a bit uneasy. I'm not saying that it's this bad every day but I can say that every single day, the amount of unpaid work will always outnumber paid work. Always.

This is worrying. And it’s no wonder that Spotlight are now planning a consultation on the matter (if you’re a Spotlight member and are yet to complete the survey they’re emailing out, please do so. It only takes a minute or so and is super important.) But the sheer amount of unpaid work out there is continuing to be a problem. I’m not sure I can say anything new that I haven’t said before. I personally don’t take on unpaid work anymore but I used to so I don’t feel like I can be in a position to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. I’d like to ask people to stop doing it because while people happily do it, it will continue. And it’s not just the small independent filmmakers and students that are the problem (and I’m not saying that none of them pay, some of them do which is wonderful) but it’s the big, major channels that are to blame too. Most weeks I’ll see castings posted by terrestrial channels asking for performers to work for expenses only. This sets a terrible example and show just how big this problem is. If the major companies aren’t prepared to pay everyone then you can hardly blame the smaller companies for following suit. 

And it’s not just expenses only work. Yesterday, on the particular website that gave up the depressing 15/51 statistic, around half of those jobs weren’t even offering expenses. These were jobs that expected actors to essentially pay to work just so they could receive a DVD maybe a year later and perhaps an IMDb credit on a page that no one will ever look at. I’ve even seen jobs that don’t even offer food for their crew and performers. However desperate you might be for work, please don’t take on these jobs. If they can’t even be bothered to make a few sandwiches and buy a few bags of crisps then I can almost guarantee that the on-set experience won’t be a fun one. But of course people are still applying for these jobs. The amount of work out there has decreased to such a depressing level that people just want to be doing something, anything to confirm to themselves that they are in fact an actor and not a temp or a call centre worker or whatever other job you find yourself doing to keep the money-hungry wolves from the door. I desperately need to update my showreel but I didn’t get any work last year that I’d be able to put on it. I’m still waiting for a copy of some work I did back in 2011 (chasing this up has become an almost full-time job) but while I have an out of date showreel, the jobs are that bit harder to get. So it’s no surprise that people take on unpaid work just so they can get a bit of material and maybe edge their way out of this ridiculous catch-22.

Hopefully Spotlight’s findings will bring about change. Or maybe 2013 will just be another year of me constantly whinging about a problem that won’t go away. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry. I really am.


  1. I think there definitely needs to be a change with big companies making professional commercial work, and expecting actors to work for free (not even for peanuts). This is definite exploitation because there will always be someone willing to do the work. This is where Spotlight, and casting directors should step in and not be promoting this kind of "job".

    But I think there's still a place for independent films to be made for expenses. I work as an actor and a film maker so I understand the difficulties from both sides. I always pay expenses and food (and usually offer to edit showreels or take headshots in lieu of payment) - but a lot of really interesting and mutually beneficial projects simply would not get made if people weren't giving their time for free. If I make a "no budget" short, I'm providing food, expenses, £x-worth of equipment and many £hundreds in editing hours + fees to submit to festivals (if it turns out ok!). For that I'm asking for for 3 or 4 days time from my actors who will (hopefully) have a good time, and get something useful and entertaining as well.

    But another challenge here is that there are now so many people making films that there's little way of knowing whether your crew will be professional artists making a creative venture, or a bunch of monkeys who bought a camera off ebay and now call themselves "film makers". So, as an actor, you don't know whether you'll ever see the footage, or indeed whether you'd ever want to...

    When looking at any work offering expenses (and I'd suggest not looking at anything not covering expenses) just do some research: if they're "independent film makers" look at their previous work. If it looks interesting, get a script. If that looks good, maybe meet them and see if they seem like they know what's going on. If they're a "proper film/tv company" look at the project and it's usually pretty clear if they're just cutting corners - and don't go for it. Hopefully Spotlight and Equity will start to filter out these types of jobs, but don't throw out the baby (film makers) with the (corporate) bath water.

  2. Matt Jamie,

    Clearly you have a conflict of interests. No one can successfully tread the line of employer and employee. On the one had you want to call yourself a film maker and presumably progress, but here's the rub, with that progression comes responsibility ie. the responsibility of paying people - its part of the process.
    Your problem is you are wallowing around 'pretending' to be a legit film maker whilst as a producer you are clearly offsetting your costs to the performer. Just when will you decide to pay people? because all the evidence above indicates that that time wont come soon and the unbalanced statistics will continue to grow. You have no incentive to pay people and from your response don't even think you need an incentive or want to pay people - its all too hard.
    We'll I'm afraid that's not good enough. As an actor (and you wear that hat also) we want a sustainable industry not one that is forever drowning under the weight of unpaid work with NO ONE willing to do the right thing and address the issue.
    You are part of the problem, not the solution. The problem IS mostly with the small guys, guys who don't want to bother to learn about National Insurance, Tax, Holiday Pay etc but who want to make their name of the back of other and piggy back on other's unpaid efforts. Its not good enough that you send your film to festivals - anyone can do that - why can't you learn the nuts and bolts of film making and budget properly. You seem to want to gloss over the difficult stuff and responsibilities of office.The big guys are by and large not the main culprits and they are easily dealt with.
    My advice to you is join PACT, learn how to become a proper industry producer and stop pussyfooting around, if you're serious about film making, invest some time, energy, responsibility and shoulder some of the financial risk - that's your job!