Well the real question is, “Should you work for free (or very little money) at any time during your career?”
And the short answer is, “NO, OF COURSE NOT! ARE YOU INSANE?”
But I digress.
Have I done storyboards for free in the past?
Have I done storyboards for a lowered rate?
And I never really enter art contests. Except in college when we had one for our graduation show logo (and I won ).
This post follows the last two about how you value your talents and how I value mine. I had some really great comments too (go read ‘em), so some of that information may be repeated here. At the end of the last post when I asked should you work for free, I wrote “It depends. On many things.”
We can kind of combine the first three together.
Sorry to burst any bubbles, but talent does matter. If you kick ass, your value is higher in this business. Period.
When I say talent, I mean everything. Drawing skills, organizational skills, professionalism… everything. That’s worth something and it shouldn’t be sold short. So the higher your talent, the less you should be ‘giving it up for free’.
Next, if you’ve had proper training for this profession your value goes up.
It’s something solid to back you up and have on your resume. It shows you’re serious about this and you know what is to be expected of you for the job. Not to take away from the self-taught folks, but if you’ve had training, your value is up a notch. If nothing else, it’s a little extra ‘ammunition’.
And of course, your experience really comes into play.
The more experience you have, the less you should be doing any free work. I don’t care how desperate you are. If you have a decent amount of experience, I would say get a side job to pay the bills and wait it out (and work on your own stuff).
Don’t under-value yourself or the profession by working for nothing. It hurts everybody. And what if a paying gig comes along and you’re still working for Mr. No-Name Director over there? Don’t do it. My opinion.
Again, it all comes down to value. Your talent has value. You can do something that someone else can’t and you should be paid for it.
So you’re worth something. Congratulations.
But when you’re first starting out and are desperate for experience… any experience… it’s tough. And I get that. There’s really no black and white with this and the final decision has to be yours.
Who is asking you to do the work?
This one is huge.
When you see a job offering little (and I’m talking crazy-little) to no money, you first need to see where it’s coming from. Where did you see or hear about it? Real studios usually don’t offer peanuts and don’t put the price/salary in their ads. They post jobs on their own, official website or respected industry sites (or not at all and it’s just word of mouth).
They don’t post them on craigslist.
So if you see ads there (or places like that) proceed with caution!
There’s all sorts of these people with ‘big ideas’ that go onto the animation message boards and ask for artists to work for them. They have no money, no backing, no experience with the industry and basically no clue. They don’t know how it all works and they don’t realize the professionals see this stuff and think they are a joke.
But the newbies may not know this and respond to the ads/requests.
And get burned.
If they are saying this is going to be the ‘next big thing’, ‘a great experience for someone trying to break in’, ‘no experience needed…students welcome’, ‘you’ll get paid when we sell it’ and all that stuff, hear this; they’re full of it. They just want something for free.
Even if they sound quite sincere, it means they are just ignorant of how things work and how expensive animation actually is. Think about it. If they are asking for students and inexperienced people to work on their ‘exciting and original’ project, how much value are they really placing on it themselves?
They’re basically saying they don’t care if it looks like crap. Why do you want to work with someone that doesn’t care enough about their ‘next big thing’ if they don’t want it to look professional?
If you want my advice, steer clear of anyone who sounds like this. At the very least, it will turn into a huge time sink that will last longer than intended. At the very worst, it will be a horrible experience where you will feel used and abused.
Is that ‘great piece for your portfolio’ worth all that? If you want to build your portfolio, work on it for yourself.
If you’re not going to get paid anyway, work for you!
One of my readers, Debi, also pointed out that it’s better to go into a free job knowing that it’s a free job. Meaning, there are plenty of times where these guys say there will be payment and it never happens. You do the work thinking you’ll get money and then you get screwed over.
That’s the worst. And they are never seen again. Try to protect yourself and listen to your little voice that says, “I’m not sure about this.” Get things in writing and ask for some money up front from these kinds of guys. Or just say, “No thanks.” (that would be my choice).
So is it ever OK to work for free?
When you work for a studio, the value you get is experience and a paycheck. No-brainer there. If you can find some real value for you in doing a job for free, then it may be worth it. It’s not all about the other guy, remember that.
So as the final test to decide to work for free, ask yourself, “What can I get out if this?”
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that I have worked for a lowered rate. It wasn’t crazy-low money, but it was about 60% of the going storyboard rate. It was for a studio in town that I wanted to work for, I was still in my first or second year of working and it was legitimate. It was for their own show and the budget was very low. So I did it and built a great relationship with them as a result.
Worth it? You bet.
I also think it’s cool for students to help students. If you have a buddy in the film department and he asked you to do some sketches for his film in exchange for a credit…why not, if you have the time? You’re both in the same boat and this is relationship building for the real world. There’s some value for you there. Don’t animate a whole film for someone, but some short storyboard work or some sketches can’t do any harm.
Friends will ask you for favors. Can they offer something in return? Maybe some computer advice or help writing your resume or baking you some cookies (mmm…cookies). What are their talents? Nothing wrong with trying to get something back for your efforts.
Or maybe an instructor or past student will ask for help on a personal project (like a film for a festival). If you know and trust them and think this could lead to real work or a great recommendation, do it. It might be a blast too.
Basically, if the source of this work comes from a place you can trust and you think it’s worth doing then go for it. Maybe you just get a really good vibe from someone who contacted you for a freebie job. You may want that experience and feel you can trust them. This is where it’s a personal choice and you have to decide if it’s worth your time. I’m just giving you some stuff to think about.
But never be afraid to say “no”. Don’t spend all your time doing favors for people!
And if you do decide to help someone, watch out for the huge time sinks. If you think it may just take a couple of days or a week, fine. Don’t devote months to working for nothing. Spend that time looking for real work.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of contests. Yes, I’m promoting one on the site (just for a link exchange…no money) but I checked it out first. It didn’t seem too ‘scammy’ to me. But there are many out there that are.
(UPDATE: This contest turned a little ‘scammy’ after all. Check out why I don’t participate in contests.)
Before entering a contest, consider all of the same questions. Here, I’ll play with the Aniboom contest:
Do I have enough talent, training and experience to enter this contest?
Sure I do.
Who is asking me to enter the contest? Does it look fair and reasonable?
Yes, I checked out the website and read the rules and regulations (always read the rules and regulations!). I feel it is a legitimate contest and they are at least respecting the animator’s time by asking for storyboards first. The compensation is fairly reasonable. BUT is it reasonable for someone with my experience? Sorry, no. I’d rather spend my time on work I’m getting paid for.
Which brings us to, “What’s in it for me?”
Well, $10,000 may be a great reward for someone doing this as a hobby or just starting out. But as a professional, I know that cash doesn’t come close to what it would really cost to make a 3 minute animated video.
And am I a huge Radiohead fan? No. I like them, I just wouldn’t consider myself a ‘fan’. But if I was crazy for them, I may have thought twice about it.
So there ya go. Nothing much in it for me, so I would not enter this contest. And let’s be realistic here. Who’s really winning in the Radiohead contest?
But your answers may be different and that’s cool. Again, there are many scammy contests out there so be careful. Many of them are just exploiting artists. Do some homework and ask yourself some questions before diving in.
There you have it. One long winded post. There probably won’t be another till next week…this one counts as two! Now get out there and find a job…that pays you.
You’re worth it.
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OFF TOPIC UPDATE: Ollie Johnston died today (April 14, 2008). The last of Disney’s Nine Old Men…a sad day indeed. Thanks Ollie, for loving the craft so much. Read more at Cartoon Brew.
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