Should an Actor Ever Work for Free?
Just make sure it’s part of your plan
(By Tonya Tannenbaum)
(Photo: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)
Should an actor ever work for free? Should you ever work for significantly less than what you truly deserve?
In the opinion of some, the answer is a resounding, “No”. For them, an actor should never, under any circumstances, work for free, or work for cheap.
In their minds, actors should always get paid what they truly deserve and actors who take less than that, ruin things for all actors everywhere.
Eventually, as more and more actors work for less and less, actors are paid less across the board and it becomes harder and harder for actors to earn a living. And for actors who have a family to feed, it’s even worse.
It’s a real issue!
People do it all the time…
But here’s a different way to look at it:
Why the hell not, under certain circumstances, especially early on in your acting career? It’s not as though the idea is unique to actors. People do it all the time.
Have you ever worked as an intern to get your foot in the door with a company? Have you ever helped someone on a project, for meager compensation, to gain experience? Have you ever helped a family member in their business, for little-to-no money, for the purpose of adding that work experience to your résumé?
Why should acting be any different? There are certain circumstances in which an actor should at least consider the opportunity, itself, to be just compensation.
But here’s a general rule of thumb to follow:
Never work for free, unless it’s part of your long-term plan to never work for free.
That’s the win-win!
The problem with working for free, among other things, is that you may be devaluing your time and talent. You may be selling yourself short. And, yes, by taking low-wage or no-wage acting jobs, you might be making it harder for actors everywhere to earn a living as actors. That’s not good for you or your fellow actors.
If we all, as actors, demand to be paid for our talents, the industry, as a whole, will have to pay us. Makes sense, right?
But what about a unique situation? What about a job that allows you to work with a certain director; a connection that could lead to opportunities in the future? What about acting in a low-wage student film that could give you unbelievable footage for your reel? What about acting in an indie project that could bring you tremendous exposure and growth? Wouldn’t that be worth it?
By the way, famous actors do this from time to time, too. They take far less than their normal rate to do, say, an independent film. Or they make a guess appearance on a TV show to give their careers a badly needed boost, even though that role is beneath them and should have gone to an up-and-coming actor, instead.
Consider an actor like Jonah Hill, who appeared as Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), reportedly for a mere $60,000, mainly because he wanted the opportunity to work with legendary director, Martin Scorsese.
(Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street)
“I would sell my house and give him all my money to work for Scorsese. I’d have done anything in the world. I would do it again in a second.”
See! There are some circumstances where it makes sense to see the experience as a better form of payment than actual dollars.
It’s almost like an investment. I take less money than I deserve today, in this rare instance, to set myself up to earn far, far more tomorrow. And I only do this because it is part of my longer-term strategy for personal growth and prosperity.
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