Why Can’t I Work On Your Film For Free?

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An Indie Producer’s perspective on why I didn’t (couldn’t) invite you to work on my set.

Oh look, we have another email! We’ve actually had dozens since MadeInArkansas.org published our press release. We have tons of fans that want to work on our next film! It is an amazing feeling. Look at all of these…

“I don’t have much experience, but I’m a hard worker!”
“I LOOOVE movies, it’s on my bucket list to work on one!”
“I can take a few days off of work and move some sand bags.”
“You don’t have to feed me or anything, I would love to help on set”

Oh no, this is the hard part- “Thank you so much for your interest, but this film has some budgetary restrictions that don’t allow us to invite everyone we want to work on this…-

“—But I’ll work for FREE!!!!!”

But, sadly, I still have to say ‘No.’

I am honored- seriously, and I don’t want to come off at all ungrateful. I WANT everyone to work on this film. But I HAVE to turn them down. Horrible. I know. But it’s a problem I’m honored to have. I would love having all my friends and fans help out…

DP Paul Olson & Producer Erik Bogh on the set of “Gordon Family Tree”

DP Paul Olson & Producer Erik Bogh on the set of “Gordon Family Tree”

But Free labor is never Free. On many of our early micro-budget projects, we learned that a DP or an actor has reel footage to take home in lieu of money when we didn’t have any to offer. But a person working a labor-intensive (non super artistic) job on our set should be paid, even a little bit, because they have less to gain simply from footage. You’d be surprised how much even the most enthusiastic and helpful film fan loses their enthusiasm to help when we’re on the 12th hour on set. And I would too, if I were working for free on someone else’s project, so I get it!

I am ready to work with professional crew members in every role. I want a crew member to show up on time. And leave on time too. Paying for work establishes a certain amount of expectation & accountability, I need to be able to count on our team. A free team member still costs us 1-2 meals, a parking space, a loud warm body, another cell phone user that the sound person has to explain that vibrate doesn’t count as silent, another chance to break or lose expensive equipment, and one more personality that can upset our gracious location host or surrounding business neighbors.

(Behind-The-Scenes of the “Gordon Family Tree” crew & interns on a lunch break

Behind-The-Scenes of the “Gordon Family Tree” crew & interns on a lunch break

Don’t get me wrong; a film school intern, day player with experience, close friend who has done this before, first time worker who has a true desire to gain experience in the industry does not apply here. If someone’s day rate is unpaid, it is a crew position we are filling with a capable team player. A stranger or friend-of-a-friend cannot ‘work’ on our set for free at the great expense of our precious production insurance and/or reputation.

I need privacy for my lead actors. I need quiet for rehearsals as well as when cameras are rolling. I need clear sight-lines. I need to walk away knowing my department heads have been equipped with capable or eager-to-learn professionals.

But if, even after reading all this, you’re still thinking,

“But I really do LOVE movies and I still want to come help out!”

Well, actually I might have just the task for you..

“…IF you’re still interested and can take off the time from work… PLEASE come do background work instead! I need the back of your head to dirty up our frame for 2 hours! Trust me, this is a perfect compromise. “

Actor Ryan Schwartzman & 1st AC Danny Brown on the set of “Gordon Family Tree”

Actor Ryan Schwartzman & 1st AC Danny Brown on the set of “Gordon Family Tree”

Jennica Schwartzman

About Jennica Schwartzman

Jennica Schwartzman is an actress/writer/producer that loves tackling a project from idea to distribution. She works alongside her husband and business partner, Ryan Schwartzman, also known for his legendary movie-night cuddles. Ryan & Jennica have been invited to speak on “Micro-Budget Filmmaking” for the International Family Film Festival road scholars program (several years running) and at Offshoot Film Festival (2014), they have been invited to speak on industry panels, and Jennica has been published in the Producer’s Guild Magazine “Produced By.” The Schwartzmans work on passion projects in their small office in Hollywood. They have collected TOP awards from Big Bear Lake Int’l Film Fest, Eureka Springs Indie Fest, Film Fest Twain Harte, Worldfest Houston, Offshoot Film Festival, The Int’l Family Film Fest, & the highest honor from The Dove Foundation. Ryan & Jennica have a toddler, who doesn’t quite understand what they do but seems very supportive. @JennicaRenee @PurposePictures