Doing Things For Free

When I was 26, more naive and more idealistic, I believed that ideally not charging for creative work or at least charging very little was the best way to go. Why? Because deep down I still have more respect for the work a hands on labourer does than for say a painter. This is coming from a filmmaker and writer of course.

I am a creative and therefore I often think that creatives price their work far too high.

However, one of the things university did teach me was to put a value on my work.

Now that I am 29, much older and wiser and having had a lot more experience with freelance jobs, I have finally gained some perspective on it all.

For the purpose of this post I am going to talk about freelance jobs and one off video jobs, not full time work.

The sad story of some rejected videos

Many, many years ago I would do videos for charities to 'help them out,' so to speak, usually at the request of friends who had some connection with these charities, so I felt a tiny bit obligated to make them. The charities were explained to me as having very little funding, were unable to afford a video in the first place and that it would be good experience for me as well as giving them encouragement and support.

I was young, idealistic and in the 'money is not important' phase of life, so I agreed to do them for free. I spent a lot of time, a few months in some cases, putting as much care and effort into it as if it were my own production. I would then be asked to make some changes, which I did and finally the product was handed over to them, in just the condition they had requested, after them overseeing it from beginning to end.

Imagine my horror then to discover after a few weeks that my precious videos, with all the care and time I had poured into them had disappeared from all existence! I used to find them, buried away at the back of the company website somewhere, alone, dusty and ashamed. Unwanted.

Apparently my videos hadn't quite suited what these companies wanted. If I had been made aware of this, I would have redone the whole thing to whatever they specified. Not a word was mentioned during the post-production process.

The vanished videos would haunt me, like little excommunicated ghosts crying in the darkness of cyberspace. I vowed not to pour out my soul into anything like that again.

Were my videos just really bad?

Possibly. I am much more experienced now than I was then and I know that in 10 years time I will probably have improved still. I am relatively honest about my own work though and I'm not convinced that my videos were 'bad' so much as not exactly what the company wanted.

Part of the problem is that the idealism of doing something for free, often means that the other party hasn't taken your work seriously to begin with.

Most people have no concept of how long editing takes, how to animate a tiny little word across the screen can take hours, or that sifting through hours of interviews to find the best bits can take a day. Most people who ask you to 'make a video for free,' do not see it as your craft. They usually see you as a man with a good camera and they think it is the camera they are hiring, that if you just handed over your camera, they could probably do it just as well. Who knows, they might well do.

If you work hard, put some value on that

It was through timeless hurts like these that I came to the conclusion that when it is not a passion project, when it is not my vocation or my vision, if people are requesting my time, expertise and craft for their own purposes - it is only harming myself not to charge.

Saying, "I will do it for free" is sometimes saying, "I'm not good enough for you to pay me to do it and it's quite a quick job anyway, practically a hobby can chuck it away if you're not happy with it."

Nowadays, I don't mind if my work gets pushed away somewhere at the back of a website. I mean, I do mind, you always wants your work to be showcased and finely showcased at that, but when I get paid enough to cover a horse riding lesson or a new filmmaking book and sometimes grocery bills, it doesn't hurt quite so much.

Get my drift? The hard work has been compensated. It wasn't for nothing. Somebody has essentially said to me, "I appreciate your craft, here, you deserve this for what you have done."