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How to politely find out if a film is worth your time


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#1 Jason Anderson

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:38 AM

I am considering driving down to NM to camera PA on a feature, the DP has good work, though I have not been able to find any of the directors work. So part of me is saying it doesn't matter because its your first feature and first chance to see how a non film school set is run. I have not met anyone face to face, and will have to make my decision based on one phone call. Many "indie" film productions have made me scratch my head, because the preproduction just wasn't there. What was your method for deciding what you volunteered on when starting out your career. The one thing I do know is that there will be three meals a day, that certainly makes me happy.

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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 06:42 AM

My default attitude would be do it so long as you're getting paid something vaguely worthwhile (don't measure this against film industry wages, measure it against "what I need to pay the rent" wages). If the DP has a portfolio that may be worth the contact alone.

But trust your instincts, especially about the conduct of the people who are involved. if you're not happy don't do it. I have made this mistake in the past and it is never worthwhile.

P
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#3 Jason Anderson

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 07:22 AM

My default attitude would be do it so long as you're getting paid something vaguely worthwhile (don't measure this against film industry wages, measure it against "what I need to pay the rent" wages). If the DP has a portfolio that may be worth the contact alone.

But trust your instincts, especially about the conduct of the people who are involved. if you're not happy don't do it. I have made this mistake in the past and it is never worthwhile.

P


Unfortunately I will receive no financial compensation.

How many films have you guys volunteered on before receiving your first dollar.

I imagine that once my resume starts to look a bit more professional I can start asking for money.

Jason
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#4 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 09:20 AM

Unfortunately I will receive no financial compensation.

How many films have you guys volunteered on before receiving your first dollar.

I imagine that once my resume starts to look a bit more professional I can start asking for money.

Jason



The "Great Project" call, meaning, it's a "great project" for those who are making it.

With any free or "deferred payment" project, you have to weigh the potential benefits FOR YOU against the potential downsides FOR YOU. If you're going to invest your own time (and possibly your own money) into working on someone else's project, you have to carefully consider what you may get out of the experience and whether it will be worth it for YOU.

Is there some piece of equipment that you'll get to learn that you wouldn't have in any other way? Is there someone working on that project who you hope may be able to take you along with them or recommend you for future work if you impress them enough? Are you hungry enough for "real" set experience and no other opportunities like these are on your horizon?

I worked on several free or deferred projects when I first moved to LA in 1992. I had enough money in the bank that afforded me the ability to survive without paycheck...but just barely. I learned quickly enough about how a real set works and met a few people who, thankfully, helped me start a viable career, but there were no guarantees. Had I not met certain people when I did, I could just as easily have been packing my stuff up and going back home.

As you already know, this is not a "get a degree and apply for a job" kind of industry. It's all about your own enthusiasm, perseverance, passion, and ability to weather the slow (financial) times in order to reach your goals. Your time and skills are valuable commodities that others will want to utilize to their own benefit. Do what you have to to find success but don't let others use you without you getting something valuable back. That won't always be money...it could be experience or making contacts...but do what you can to ensure that working on any project helps you.


Good luck!
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 10:09 AM

I'm afraid to say that harsh experience has taught me never to work for free under any circumstances.

P
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#6 Daniel Smith

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 10:18 AM

I got offered a job doing a documentary, I made the mistake of not doing enough research first and ended up embarrassingly having to explain that I didn't want anything to do with the rest after the first day (yesterday). No travel expenses, the content was good but the director was primarily controlling the technical side of things and she didn't really know much (solid state audio recorders set to 44.1khz as opposed to 48khz so it will all go out of synch with the cameras audio unless transcoded, cameras on automatic variable shutter speed etc.)

I normally google the hell out of people when I get a cast/crew list.
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#7 Frank Barrera

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 10:45 AM

Jason,

You live in Denver and as far as I know there isn't a whole hell of a lot of feature production going on there. As proof you are considering driving all the way down to NM for some free work. The truth is that this business is extremely competitive. It's so competitive that this "job" offer is unpaid and you are still considering it. Most folks (myself included) start out working for free to gain experience and contacts. But to answer your question if this gig is the right one: of course it is. Especially if it turns out to be a nightmare. You need to get that exposure to the highs and lows of production. You need to see first hand how bad it can get because some day you will be in the position of asking people to work for free and you need to have the perspcetive of being on the otherside. Who knows, maybe it will be a wonderful experience and you'll get bumped up after the first week to a paid position because somebody couldn't continue the job... whatever. the point is that most of us must go through this stage. People like Phil R can say never do it but HE did it. (nothing personal Phil).

i say go for it and if it don't kill you- well, you know the rest of that saying.

good luck and let us know how it went.

f
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#8 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 04:50 PM

I've worked on many short films and music videos on an unpaid basis in various capacities over the years but never unpaid on a feature which is a much longer time investment.
If you can afford it and learning a lot give it your all, learn and network.
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#9 Jesse Lee Cairnie

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Posted 26 May 2008 - 09:10 PM

my two cents..

It cost me $2,000 and my job to PA on my first feature for 5 weeks 5 years ago.. I've also had to be homeless for a project..
Finding that right project is a gut feeling.. You never know whose pulled a favor for a favor.. film is a small world.. Your success will revolve around relationships, not money..

You will do what you have to do to ensure your success in fulfilling your dreams..

Best of Luck
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#10 Max Jacoby

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 01:29 AM

How many films have you guys volunteered on before receiving your first dollar.

None.

Even as an 18 year old location PA I got something. It wasn't very much though, but at least it was something.
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#11 Kirsty Stark

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 01:40 AM

Make a decision, and the gut feeling you get after making it will probably tell you if it's the right one. Since you're asking the question, you probably have some kind of reservation about this film already... is it a project you're really excited about and all you're worried about is money, or is it something more?

To be honest, you're probably not going to work on a brilliant project first up, and if you do, you'll be lucky. But it will be good experience anyway. If you're looking for a credit, it will help... if you're looking for contacts and future work, it might not be as useful because you're interstate, but you'll still learn a lot just by being on set.

My first feature I did for free (and missed out on about $2000 I would have got working in my regular job during that time). My second one I did for deferred payment, and am waiting for the film to be released to see if anything comes of it (but with the attitude that anything that does will be a bonus). After working on those two films, I'd met people, learnt a huge amount about working on "real life" sets and had some more credits and referees on my resume. I'd also put myself in a position financially through my regular work that I could survive for a while without making money, so decided to take the plunge and go into film fulltime. (I had been planning to buy a house around that time and had even put an offer in on one, but realised that I didn't want to get stuck with a mortgage and miss out on film opportunities because I was too worried about paying it off - so the house deposit money became my backup money).

That was 6 months ago and so far it's going really well. I've assisted on short films and TVCs, shot some of my own work to build up my resume, and done some corporate work to get by. Yesterday I was given my first full-paying job on a properly-funded feature, starting in 3 weeks. Had I not done everything else leading up to this project, I wouldn't have the job, so I'd definitely say it's been worth it.

Obviously it's not an easy decision to make if you have to pay the rent, but in my opinion the best way to get anywhere in this industry is to make sacrifices in order to make yourself available for work, and then do the work as well as you can. If it sounds like a good project and you want to work on it, then do it, and arrange your lifestyle around it to make it work. Otherwise in 10 years you might still be too scared to take work and will be wondering if you could have done it. Do it early, and you can always go back to work if it doesn't work out.
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#12 Jason Anderson

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 04:37 PM

Thanks for all the advice all of you.

I spoke with the producer today, she is very professional, and I can tell she is excited about the film. I am supposed to receive a call back.
In the five minutes I spent talking with her, I could tell she was honest and upfront.

Jason
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 06:24 PM

> I can tell she is excited about the film.
> I could tell she was honest and upfront.

It is her job to make you believe she is excited about the film, honest, and upfront.

P
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#14 Gus Sacks

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Posted 27 May 2008 - 10:45 PM

I worked a few shorts for free (read: 4?) ACing on HD before I got my first job, which is still one of my best paid jobs, about a year ago... And I haven't done a freebie aside from shooting for friends (either on s16, 35, or high-end HD) since then.

Good people aren't a dime a dozen, but there are those few you know when you meet them that they'll help you out in the long run and short-term...
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#15 Vanessa Ward

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Posted 28 May 2008 - 02:38 AM

Think of it this way: it's like paying for education. If all works out, you'll "graduate" knowing more about equipment, technique, and set etiquette. So basically you'd be paying less to learn more. More importantly, you could end up with some good contacts.
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