Just stumbled on a new reader question that I feel like addressing in a post.
…what is a reasonable amount of PA work to be doing gratis before you can expect to be paid? I don’t want to shoot down opportunities but at the same feel like I am being used. Is this something negotiated before hand? Does it depend on budget? I worked 35 hours on a 3 day shoot thinking I was getting paid and then I didnt. I even paid out of pocket for lunch and didnt get reimbursed. They want me to work for them again and say it wont be paid (a pretty decent sized indie studio). I told them I would do it but expect to be paid in the future. Am I out of line? Am I burning bridges? Did I shoot myself in the foot? The whole if you wont do it, someone else will line is getting old. People have to live. People have to pay bills. I cant keep working for free, can I?
I would ONLY take free work if you know there is a high possibility that it could get you paid work in the future. I’ve only worked for free 5 times. I will lay them out here.
1. The very first job I took in LA was a non paid 2 day job on a music video. I knew somebody working for a production company out here and they told me “Hey, the production company is super over budget on this music video and are looking for some free labor. I know you just moved out here and are looking for work. These guys do a lot of work. If you work your ass off for free I’m sure you’ll get noticed and get more work.” …or she said something along those lines. It was my first week in LA and I didn’t know anyone… so what the hell. I took the job, worked my ass off for free, and it TOTALLY paid off. I ended up getting about $900 worth of work from the same producer the next week on two more shoots. Which then led me to getting work with their company doing freelance shoots up until the now. Last shoot I did with them was a few months ago. I also networked my ass off and got work later down the road from the Set Dresser and the Production Designer as an Art PA. So… I did this job because A). I didn’t have anything to lose. B). It was the first and only opportunity I had to get on set. C). My friend who worked there told me there was a good chance I would get paid work if I proved myself.
2. The second free job I did was a 3 day super low-budget TV pilot. I had already been working freelance a bit and another friend I met in the industry shot me an email. Basically he knew an AD that was going into production on a big hour-long network drama in the fall. So he got me in contact with her 2nd AD. The 2nd AD told me they were shooting this low-budget pilot for a friend (they were all working for free… even the ADs.) And if I came and worked on it, it could be like my interview. If I proved myself, I could become a candidate for a PA position on the show. So, of course, I took the free 3 day job. Long story short — They got a few political hires (producer’s nephew or something) and hired another one of the PAs I was working with for free… who was a girl. Girl ADs… wanting to hire Girl PAs… I feel like they stick together in this industry. But in the PAs defense, she was one of the best PAs I’ve ever met. A god damn super PA. You’ll know a super PA when you meet them. They carry like tool belts and shit. You can’t compete with them. Anyway… I didn’t get the job. Months later I got a call from the ADs wanting me to day play a few days on the network drama. So I did that. It was a miserable couple days. And I haven’t heard from them since. BUT! A few months after that, the DIRECTOR of the super low-budget free pilot I worked on called me up. (I had kept in contact with her. NETWORK!) Turns out she was an AD as well… on another big network half hour comedy. So — I got a few day playing days as a SET PA with her… Then one day she called me up because there was an OFFICE PA out sick. So I lied and said that I had been an office PA before (first… and only time I have lied while trying to get work… i just don’t like to do it… but it paid off). So I came in. Was super terrified about answering phones, but got over it quick. (fake it til you make it). Then I became the go-to day playing office PA for the show. (Every time one of their office PAs was sick or had jury duty they would call me to come in). Then the coordinator from that show (who I will call Coord. A) hooked me up with a coordinator friend of hers (who I will call Coord. B) who was working on another pilot. I did that show. Then Coord B. hooked me up with a coordinator friend of hers (who I will call Coord. C), and I went down to Atlanta and worked on movie with her… and now I’m back in LA working on another pilot with Coord. B. CANT YOU SEE NOW THAT THIS INDUSTRY IS ALL ABOUT MEETING PEOPLE! Anyway. I guess that free job paid off. It didn’t pay off the way I wanted it to at first… but it definitely paid off in the end. I took that free job because A). There was a chance I could get a PA job on a big network drama.
3. The third free job I took was a First A.D. job for a super small Funny or Die video. No one was getting paid. I did it because a friend asked me to. A friend who had gotten me work in the past. You have to do favors in the industry. You don’t want to be the guy only asking for stuff and never returning.
4. Fourth free job. Also First A.D. on a short film for a friend. Again, favors.
5. Fifth free job. Set PA. Favor. Friend.
So there you have it. Only take a free job if you think it’s going to help you in the long run. Personally to me… it sounds like these guys are fucking you over. If you feel like you’re getting fucked over… you probably are. Go with your gut man. That’s all I can tell you. But think about your options as well. If they’re not going to pay you… but you have no paid work… are you still willing to work for free to make contacts and get experience? If so, do it. But look for more work in the meantime. And the second some paid work comes in, leave them. Just say, “I appreciate the opportunity, but I have to take this paid job, I’m sure you understand.” And if they don’t understand, fuck ’em. And… unfortunately… if you don’t do it. Someone else will do it. But then they’re the ones getting fucked over.
P.S. — and as far as the “Is this something negotiated before hand? Does it depend on budget?” 99% of budgets include paying PAs. And yes… it is negotiated beforehand. How you ask? Easy “Is it paid?” You say. “Yes” They say. That’s it. Feel free to ask how much. It will be anywhere from 112-250 a day. Usually more on the 112 side of things. And if this company led you to believe you were going to be paid… and then didn’t… fuck them. Fuck them forever.