14 May 2010

The Audacity to Get Paid

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

A few months ago, on February 11, 2010, to be exact, I published a post called "Two Months."  This post was in "honor" of my second month of unemployment.

It's now four months later (plus two days), and here I am.  I'm in my sixth month of being (gainfully) unemployed.  As with the post of February 11, this post is not intended to illicit sympathy, or anything.  It's the way it is.  But, since that time something has changed.

I am no longer working for free.

As a creative, it's expected that we will do some things for free.  Monetary gain does not necessarily mean money.  It means people.  It means contacts.  But there comes a time when contacts and people don't pay the bills.  It's a time for determining your worth as a creative - are you willing to put the work and effort into a video production for no money?  When you're starting out, absolutely.  It's a must.  But the question you have to ask yourself is this:

When are you no longer starting out?  When is it OK to ask for money for a creative job?

I was lucky.  My learning time (and let me be absolutely clear here - anyone who says that you stop being a student is full of it and themselves) was paid time, as I was a paid contractor for my former employ, who one day opened his big mouth and said "I can make movies" without knowing if he could do it.   I was paid for my time there, and it was a learning ground; a proving ground.  And I did fine work within the constraints of the job.

But now, I'm no longer being paid to produce content.  But there is a fine line between not being paid to produce YOUR content and not being paid to produce OTHER PEOPLE'S content.  OK, it's not so fine.

In April, I made the decision.  A complete and total shutdown of any and all "free" work (unless it meets the criteria listed below).  I cannot afford the time commitment to produce the projects of others, while they act as though I am a paid employee.  If you want me to be part of your team, show me the green.  Simple.

Is it selfish?  Probably.  But not really.  I have a home.  A family (OK, a fiancee and two dogs) who depend on me.  Would anyone ask a lawyer to work for free?  An accountant?

Until we as creatives monetarily value our own work - realistically, and not through rose-tinted lenses - we will never be taken seriously.

That's not to say I won't take on "free work."  I don't get paid for Multi-Hyphenate (I created it).  I don't get paid to write for Pulp Tone (I like Anthony and he lets me make trailers with monsters).  I didn't get paid for "Obviously" (I was given total control, and come on - Dolores' voice? I'd be a fool not to put image to that - plus, I was obsessed with the challenge of the video, which was ironed out thanks to a story differential with my producing partner Paul).

There are two criteria that must be met in order for me to go "Gratis."

1.) I have to have total creative control of the project.  I will, of course, invite debate and collaboration, but I have "final cut."

2.) It would break my heart for someone else to take on the project and/or I believe in the project enough to sacrifice Ben Franklin to my creative impulse. 

Of course, there's the third criterion:  It's my own bloody project.

So, to answer the initial question for myself...

When is it OK to ask for money for a creative job?

When you're ready to take yourself seriously.  If you don't take yourself seriously, no one will.  When you overcome the fear of failure - and when you realize that, while you'll always be learning, you are no longer in kindergarten. 

It's time to go to school for the full day.

There comes a time when you realize that you want to make this your livelihood - not because you feel destined for Oscar greatness (and if you feel that way, screw you - it's the work that matters), but because you know that you have a saleable skill set that could bring other people a solid ROI.

Oh, and the best way to make contacts?  Take your craft and business seriously.  Get paid for it. Produce good work through maximizing your resources, using your know-how to get it out there, and the "contacts" will come.  

So the final question.

Will you miss out on some opportunities if you don't work for free?

Yes.  

You will.   

But that's why I included point two in my previous question.  You have to balance out risk vs. reward.  And it has to be one hell of a balance.  Who takes the biggest risk, and who gets the greatest reward? 

Moviemaking is like DeNiro's crew in Heat - the juice IS the score - if the risk vs. reward is in balance, and the payday is right, and the Al Pacino of your private life isn't barreling down the street with an AK-47 saying you've got a great ass and screaming "gimme all you've got!"

Ahem.

Bottom line - don't be afraid to get paid.  The only way to get other people to value your work is to value it yourself - and to take it - but not yourself - seriously.


Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.

 

6 comments:

Dol said...

I agree Tyler, with one caveate...make sure you're clear from the outset when you're not doing someone a favour...if you expect to be paid say so from the get go because it changes how the game is played. If someone is doing me a favour I wouldn't expect less then to allow them as much freedom of expression with it as they want, it is a favour after all...this changes when you're doing a job for payment and we can't really expect that to be otherwise considering where the the risks lay.

Tyler Weaver said...

I absolutely put it up front that I want to be paid - even before I offer any sort of advice, and the caveate you mention ties into number two - if I really, really want to do it, I'll do it for free - though maybe I should have been more clear

That's why working with you was such a joy - you gave me the freedom to let loose, and we were both very clear in the beginning that it was a free thing, of our own will - and we were doing the project because we wanted to.

You gave me what I wanted - freedom and the unfettered chance to make a video for you, and I gave you what you wanted (eventually - after 9 months of tearing out my hair) - a video.

Thanks for commenting - and for giving me the chance to make Obviously. =)

Dol said...

Tyler, I should be thanking you, I loved your vision for that song, it was an absolute delight to see where you took it. :D The best collaborations are born out of freedom. It's kind of unfortunate that not everything can work that way, but money is an unfortunate necessity these days. HUGS

aishajcreative said...

Tyler, I so needed to hear this - I've been doing projects to build a portfolio (and to better identify what an ideal client looks like). What I'd really like to hear about as well (from one creative multi-hyphenate to another) how do you set up your prices? hourly? packages?

Thanks again for this post!

Tyler Weaver said...

Hi Aisha -

Cheers for reading. I tend to charge by the hour for a project (generally corporate video or marketing projects) - divided up among shooting and editing. I do enforce a minimum shooting day (generally 4 hours). This usually goes by a LOT quicker than the client expects.

For other things, it depends. A lot of times, just to keep it easier, I do offer packages, but it depends on the projects themselves, and the length of the contract (a shorter contract generally means I offer a package - longer contract I go by the hour).

Hope that helps (and isn't too non-sensical). Thanks for reading!

aishajcreative said...

No, it makes perfect sense! Thanks for taking the time to answer.

aisha

 
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