WHO IS THAT FILMMAKER ASKING YOU TO WORK FOR FREE?

I was going to add this to the most recent thread about working for free but I’m feeling optimistic it’s going to turn out better than that….

Okay, so it can suck working for free when you need to be making money…when you have no idea how your career will turn out…and when there is a very real possibility you will be taken advantage of (depending on how you think about tit)—on this we can agree.

Please think: WHO IS ASKING YOU TO WORK FOR FREE?

Are they rich pigs who love to make independent movies because they get off on swindling people and leeching off of gullible talent? (This seems to be the undercurrent in the assumptions that working for free is automatically bad.)

OR:

Are they asking people (not just you) if you’ll work for free BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO MONEY!

From personal experience (!!!), it’s far more often (b) than (a).

And then you ask, so why do I, talented composer, have to work for free?

We know that SOME people are getting paid, why not music?

Economics, dummy! Movies are expensive to make, even with today’s technology. Certain costs are HARD COSTS:

Equipment
Food (!!!)
Insurance
Locations
Tons more!

And, usually, a few key personnel whose talents are so essential, and are so in demand, that they DON’T work for free: crew members who know what they’re doing, and who can destroy the project if they are incompetent/flaky.

These are people who, if they are bad, RUIN THE MOVIE. As in, the movie is UNRELEASABLE. All the money is wasted!

Everything else let’s call a SOFT COST. And the soft costs are paid for by begging, borrowing and stealing.

I know what you are thinking: if these filmmakers can afford the hard costs, why not the soft costs too? Why can’t they pay everybody?

Depends on the definition of “afford.” Is it affordable if they are rolling their savings into a crazy gamble like a film and a film career? An inheritance? The good will of friends and family?

They are mortgaging their future to make a movie!

UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY ARE COMING FROM! If you’re treating this as “us vs. them,” you don’t get it and you’re probably a loser. (Is this too blunt? Apologies.)

So why do crew members on the SHOOT get paid and the composer doesn’t?

Here is the simple answer:

Because music is not essential. Sorry, unless you are doing a musical—it’s not!

If the sound recordist doesn’t show up and we have unusable production sound, we are UP SHIT CREEK!

If the composer doesn’t show up—well, there you have it. To what? A meeting?

The TRUTH: Music doesn’t happen at the same time as all those other costs (locations, food, insurance, the shoot itself).

It’s just bad luck: the people who can hold the SHOOT hostage if they don’t show up—they get paid.

The post-production people who can’t—they don’t.

Music is replaceable. Sorry but that’s just a fact. It comes last in the production process. And except for the great composers (who aren’t doing our indie anyway), probably HUNDREDS of composers could do the same thing.

Supply far outpaces demand (thanks, digital workstations).

Even aesthetically, if I’m an indie movie producer, the pathetic truth is that it makes little difference for me if the music for my indie is great, good or just passable.

As long as it’s not appallingly bad (in which case we just replace it)—it DOESN’T MATTER.

Bad acting? That matters. Horrible direction and cinematography? That matters. Plan 9-style production gaffes? THOSE MATTER.

Those make a film unreleasable. All the money—GONE!

Bad music? You just replace it!

This is the unglamorous life of the indie filmmaker: cutting corners and scraping together an indie out of passion for the project and for filmmaking.

The hard costs, you pay because you have to.

Everything else is elective. You put the money into the “soft cost” that you think will most help the production.

That’s why Larry Cohen paid a ton of money for Bernard Herrmann (relative to the production budget) on It’s Alive. Because HERRMANN MATTERED.

That is a rare case where the music did matter because creatively you had one of the top-5 film composers of all time available and willing to do a bizarre horror movie for his own reasons, and he was so good and perfect at what he did that he could elevate the entire production. It was an elective cost that paid off (in 1974—different world).

I can safely say nobody reading this is Bernard Herrmann. (Personality wise, that’s a compliment.)

Filmmakers will ask you to work for free because they have to. It’s just economics. There are so many composers, and films are so expensive to make, that filmmakers need their films partially subsidized by composers who are able to afford doing free work financially.

Maybe that’s worth reading again:

THERE ARE SO MANY COMPOSERS, AND FILMS ARE SO EXPENSIVE TO MAKE, THAT FILMMAKERS NEED THEIR FILMS PARTIALLY SUBSIDIZED BY COMPOSERS WHO ARE ABLE TO AFFORD DOING FREE WORK FINANCIALLY.

Nobody has to like this, but if you don’t accept it, you are only holding yourself back.

Economics dictate that composers subsidize entry-level productions with their time and talent.

Embrace it, do the best you can, use it for all the opportunity you can—build those relationships and create better music and improve your reel and resume.

Good luck!