Monday, March 28, 2011

Is that gig really worth it? A guide to how I figure it out. Part One

This is a topic that springs up from time to time, usually inspired by conversations with fellow friends and colleagues in the industry, who are tired of being taken advantage of.

There are so many factors to cover, that this is probably going to be a mini series so that I don't ramble too much, nor have the post end up the length of my languishing novella.

(Me, pontificate? Perish the thought.)

Ahem, right - back to this part of the topic.

How the heck does one choose projects? There are zillions of them, ranging widely in potential, both creatively and pay scale.

My most basic is a sliding scale based on those two factors. The less I get personally out of a project, the more money I'd better see - or the project better be insanely simple. I once got conned into shooting part of an infomercial for free, because I was flat out lied to about it, the 'producer' claiming that it was a documentary on research for new cancer treatments. To say I was irked would be a bit of an understatement.

What I've come to notice, is that newbie producers genuinely believe that the whole industry runs on hype and bullshit. Save that crap for promotions, where it can occasionally work that way. Experienced producers understand that honesty is the most important commodity that they have. They are honest about the scope of each project, the requirements, and the rates.

So baby producers - stop lying, stop exaggerating. The only people who believe you are in no way experienced enough to add value to your production. Don't tell me that a piece that hasn't been shot will get into Sundance, let alone win - you cannot predict that. And if you start your pitch with 'this will be great for your reel', I'm going to smack you through the phone. Really want to impress potential crew? Try 'we believe in this project and have really great catering'.

On awards - really, nobody you want working on your movie cares. Now, if you have an extensive track record of major awards, by all means, mention it. Single awards, or even a series of them for a single project is not so impressive - it makes that work sound like a fluke. There are so many factors for each film, and each one is unique. Honestly, seasoned production is far more worried about good accommodations, decent food, and the checks clearing.

As a brand new production person, by all means take a wide variety of offered projects - you'll get your hands dirtier, and learn more that way. Only you can tell where your limit is, and you'll figure it out in time.

More on that 'great for your reel' thing. Yes, everyone does need material, and to keep shooting stuff. Here's where it breaks down - why should I kill myself on a project for no money when I have a network of pros who all want to shoot personal projects in their free time, and understand what goes into it? I can take a day with some friends to shoot something awesome and have a great time getting more footage for my reel. You're asking me to do what I'd do for a friend, but we don't even know each other. I can collaborate with friends who are also seasoned pros to get great footage if that's all I'm looking for. So this is NOT a prime selling point.

If I want to read the script before deciding whether to work on your project, send me the thing. Trust me, I don't want to steal your student film project opus idea. I have plenty of ideas of my own. What I'm looking for is a script that's both strong, and seems like it could reasonably be shot in the number of production days allotted. Refusing to send me the script tells me two things - you're a paranoid egomaniac who's going to be a nightmare to work with, and that your script probably sucks. (Believe me, this is a safe assumption.)

Out of the scripts I've been sent (figure around ten or more every month) over the past, let's say five years, I've been excited by the writing on...


So yeah, chances are the script alone isn't as brilliant as the writer/director wants to believe. The vast majority are nearly unreadable. The remaining ten percent are just awkward, overdone, or tired - I think mostly because the creator is only familiar with either blockbusters, or the top few films of the last decade or so. Watch widely. Read widely.

More thoughts on that sliding scale in the next post.


  1. Digi? Why are you and I on the same wavelength today?
    I just ran into those kind of thoughts myself, about jobs and how to choose if more than one bite on an application.

  2. I think it's the sort of stuff every freelancer has to address eventually. And with more and more jobs being less secure and more inflated (in terms of promises, rather than actual benefits) things like this are becoming more important for every worker bee to think about.