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Austin Actors
Sian Rees-Cleland

We can't pay you, but it would be such great exposure!
by Sian Rees-Cleland

May 2002

Why is it that there seems to be an attitude that it is O.K not to pay creatives of all kinds for their work? I am sure I am not the only one who has heard this:

"Well, we can't pay you, but it would be such great exposure."

If my participation is key to your success, you can damn well pay me. The person asking me to work for free generally won't do my taxes or paint my house for free for the "exposure", so they shouldn't ask me to design/act/write etc., for free. While there are times in the beginning of your career when you may have to do some spec work to get "exposure", after you have a few of strong projects under your belt, asking you to work for free becomes exploitation of your talent and experience.

It's one thing if you are working for a struggling independent film maker or designing a logo for a friend as a favor, it's another when you are dealing with companies or individuals who have the money to pay for creative work and feel they are entitled to free or criminally cheap work.

"You are so lucky to do what you love for a living. We don't have a budget for talent but..."

That kind of hits the nail on the head: "for a living." Creatives deserve to be paid reasonably for doing a good job (and acting, writing, and designing etc., are jobs), just as a lawyer, accountant, or waitress is paid for being good at theirs.

Producers or companies with medium to large-scale projects generally do have the budget for creative talent unless they have underbid a job on a fixed bid, something no experienced producer should ever do. The worst-case scenario is when the producer is charging the client for talent and not paying the talent, but that is another (hopefully rare) story. 

"My cousin Bob will do it for free/for a beer."

There are lots of people who are willing to do creative work for free. Everyone seems to have a cousin Bob who knows Photoshop and will design their website for free, or who will be the talent in a commercial if you buy him a beer.

What is the answer to this? Let Cousin Bob do it. Cousin Bob is blackmail. Unless the project meets the above criteria (independent film, logo for a friend, etc.), don't put yourself in a position where you are being blackmailed into working for people who can pay you but don't think they should have to pay for your work.

Your creative work is special and meaningful. Itís your passion. Don't let unethical individuals and companies cheapen and exploit your talents. You are better than that.

Copyright Sian Cleland 2002

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