Wednesday 31 October 2012

Paid/Unpaid: Your Value in the Film Industry

This isn't an article about what rights you have, it's an article about the realities of the industry that most of us find ourselves in. You can quote rules and figures to me from unions and laws, but unfortunately; so few of us get to live within those luxuries. Sometimes we write/act/sing for free, sometimes we get paid huge amounts. At the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, there were professional dancers who were fully paid, and thousands of 'volunteers' who worked for nothing. But who in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to be a part of such a unique event? Virtually no-one.

And that's what it comes down to in movies. Supply and demand. When a movie is being cast, there are often 1500 people applying for 5 roles. Unless you're indispensable as an actor, they can easily replace you for someone else.

What does it mean to be irreplaceable? A big part of it is business. If your name is on a poster, will it mean a big increase in ticket sales? If I put you in a YouTube video, will you bring in 50,000 views?

Johnny Depp gets twenty million dollars a movie because he guarantees profit at the box office. Robert De Niro gets two million because his name being attached to your project will guarantee pre-sales with a distributor; they can sell his movies before they're even made.

But you're not De Niro or Pacino, so what are you? You're an out of work actor.

It's like Jim Rohn used to say, your value goes up when you provide value to the market place. You can demand £100 a day to be in a student movie, but it's unlikely you're that valuable to them.

The successful actors build their careers over time. The harsh truth is, you're probably not as good as you think you are. You did twenty unpaid films then said, "I'm only doing paid work now"? Well maybe you should have done fifty projects, or a hundred.

It's a gradual thing. Longevity counts for a lot. It's like the way google ranks websites higher when they've been around longer. It's the same with actors, there's weight to longevity! All your favourite actors were at it for 15 years before they broke in at the levels we know them for. 

You get paid based on business, or uniqueness. Maybe you're not successful yet, but you have a unique voice as an artist. 
If you've been at it long enough, and you're unique enough, you'll probably be worth it. We'll cut down the food budget, we'll fire the DOP and hire you, because you're magic! If you think you're this already, when you're only just starting out, you're delusional!

As I said, this is not a post about rights. Or unions. I know my rights but still I've written screenplays for productions companies who have exploited my talents like crazy for very little money. But I'm not Charlie Kaufmann, it's the reality of the business. You take what you can get, otherwise you're unemployed and irrelevant. 

Even at the top of the line. You've got Ron Howard losing his studio deal, you've got Kathleen Kennedy going two years without a greenlight before the Lucas/Disney deal, and yet Christopher Nolan gets to make the movies he wants.


Business and uniqueness. No-one can do what he can do. At the moment, he guarantees box office. And the movies are great.

Why is Woody Allen still making movies? Business. His reputation, plus that of the stars who beg to work for him for scale; they make the movies profitable. Maybe not in America, but after foreign sales and home video, he's a safe bet. W
oody doesn't get to make films because of his glasses, it's because he's unique and profitable. 

You can think about paid/unpaid as a thing about rights, and making a living. But if your goal is to make a living this year, go work in an office. Your goal, long term, is to be a unique artist who can demand a big fee based on what you bring to the table.

You're less helpless when you realise how empowering this can be. Have you PROVEN you can do the work? Have you shown you can be AMAZING?

Don't moan about how poor you are. Do something that shows a bit of talent. Make a 30 second movie. Write a book and give it away for free. And then do it all again to prove it isn't an accident.

Provide value to the market place.
Build an audience.
Build uniqueness.

Care to share?

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