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Dominik Bauch

working pro bono....

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I'm involved with a low budget short film and will be providing high $X,000's of camera / lighting gear for free, plus no day rate and large amount of prep; test shoots, scouts, storyboarding in CG etc. I'm happy to do this for a cool project that has potential upside down the road but when I brought up the fact that as I'm investing significant resources and time in this, is it unreasonable to expect a commensurate return if the short film serves it's purpose and is sold to a studio or network to either turn into a full length feature or a limited run series, I got blank stares and awkward silences.

I mean without physically filming a script on equipment, it's just a great idea on paper. I'm super passionate about creating cool stuff and I'm happy to be involved with interesting projects that push my boundaries creatively but working for free with no upside down the road is pretty embarrassing to admit to oneself, let alone anyone else.

They are seeking funding and I was asked if I know any people who would be interesting in investing. So I said 'sure, what the upside that a potential investor can look forward to in the event of success down the road?'. To which they replied that investors would receive an EP credit and nothing else, apparently they look look for people that have a 'spare cash' lying around who want an EP credit for the fun of it. Needless to say there was no-one I could approach with this kind of one sided 'opportunity'.

Is this the norm or is there a precedent or standard practice in the low budget short film arena that I can use to leverage a fair deal?

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Short films rarely make a profit, so don't regard them as commercial projects. 

Studios won't buy a short to turn into a feature film, they may option the rights to the script, so that they can develop it into a feature film, The short film itself doesn't enter into the equation, it's the writer who will usually be involved in that agreement. However, there will a lot of development required to get to the production stages.

Alternately, the writer or writer/director will write the feature script themselves and then get production funding,  Investing in the short film doesn't automatically mean you hold any rights to the feature film.

 

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well for a start they should be considering you an investor as you are supplying thousands of dollars of gear and your

time for their film. I would at least be wanting a free tea shirt....(sarcasm)

after 20+ years as a shooter and gaffer I have never received any deferred payment or preferred booking

for any shoot I have done. (in fact the opposite is usually the case).

 

I usually tell them I will do the first shoot for pay and when it goes to feature or series I will shoot or light

it for free ( Needless to say I never hear back).

you have to remember it is called.  show business not show charity.

there is no such thing as a cool project if you are supplying gear it is work and you should be treated

with the respect that deserves.

 

cheers

 

.

 

Edited by ian dart

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Don't really sound like the most appreciative bunch.. to say the least...hopefully they at least insure your gear..  I,d check that..so at most you will get something for your show reel .. which they will most likely not give you and or sue you if you use it..

Working for free is one thing, to get some experience .. but your providing a lot of gear for free.. thats paying to work..

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Don't rely on future promises, there's no way they can guarantee future work and shorts are unlikely to make a profit.

But if you think it could be profitable you could ask for a contract with a deferred payment, without paperwork its not likely you'll get anything.  A deferred payment is pretty common - e.g you have a contract that states you will get X amount if the film turns a profit. However I can count on 1 finger the number of films that I know about that actually was able to make the deferred payments. Particularly for shorts. 

Only do the film if it benefits you for other reasons - e.g levelling up on the showreel/experience. Or do it because you want too, filmmaking is fun, if you enjoy making films then its not a bad thing to make a film for the pure joy of making it outside of financial reward. These days I do project for free either because it allows me to explore something creatively that haven't been able to do in paid work, or i like spending time creatively with a specific bunch of people.

In terms of future work or being promised they will hire you when they get funding for the TV/feature version don't expect too much. In the first instance its very unlikely project X will become anything bigger - its a long shot. 

Also, even if the filmmakers are working in good faith and they get funding for a bigger project and want to keep working with you. They may not have the clout to take their crew with them. The studio make (for instance) want them to use a DOP thats known to them. If your a filmmaker presented with an opportunity to make the film, but only if you work with the crew the studio demand. It would be very tough risking a deal breaker to keep your old DOP. This has happened with quite big directors e.g Danny Boyle and Kevin Smith not being allowed to bring on their own DOP's from the indie days when they make a studio sale. So even if they promise they will keep you, they might not be able too. 

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I agree the with the kit side of things, they should consider that an "in-kind" investment - so both a exec producer credit, a contract that states a deferred payment (which you won't get) and clear agreements about showreel should be the bare minimum. 

To be honest I'm not a fan of producers that also want free kit, especially when they aren't paying for labour. Its a bit cheap ass, what other corners might they cut?

As a producer in the past I have done microbudget project with unpaid crew, I didn't enjoy it, made me feel cheap, but I alway paid for kit hire and I once was able to make a deferred payment to the crew when a project won some prize money. 

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as I stated earlier deferred payment contracts are the biggest load of crap in this industry

in 40 years I have never heard of any crew getting a payment.     producers come up with

all sorts of excuses to not pay.

the more jobs you do for no pay the harder it is to get paid gigs. you do not want to be the guy

everyone goes to because you will work for nothing. (but why do you want to charge me ....you worked for Steve for free....)

 

just my 2 cents

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Never give away expensive equipment for free even on no profit projects. You can donate you time and work if you really want but them taking advantage of you financially is a completely different thing. 

Personally I sometimes do no profit projects where I may not charge much for my own equipment IF they accept to rent some expensive additional gear which I really want to test on a project but dont want to rent it by myself just for camera tests. 

Effectively making yourself a no charge  rental house is never a good idea and will make it look like you are hired just for your gear not for your talent

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I have charged for my kit at a discount price on shorts, if I'm working on it for free. If they can't find funding, possibly from their own pockets, why should you make a large investment in their project. 

Electricians don't work for free, so they need to be paid for.

There has to be some element of doing something that you don't usually do for it to be worthwhile. Future promises mean nothing, so don't expect anything in that regard.

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If they really have a passion and commitment to this project and are not doing the entitled thing, they will find a way to make the financing happen or find a patron. That patron should not be you unless it pleases you to sponsor the project for the feelgood or "the exposure". When it comes to loyalty down the track from up and comers, you can pretty much assume it will be non-existent if they step on the fast train. Those who hire a new director are not likely to want any attachments which come with him or her.

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From my experience...

When I've worked for free I've always understood that I should not expect any financial compensation for the project.

My first real "connection" in the business I met while working as an AC for free and a DP I met there later hired me on my first "real" feature film.  So, it was worth the time I put in to learn the job and get started.

Much later, I shot a short film for free and I even donated my camera package that I had invested quite a bit of money in.  I only asked that the filmmaker pay for a couple key crew members, but I declined any payment for myself or my equipment.  A few years later this filmmaker introduced my daughter to some people at the TV network where the filmmaker worked in their "day" job.  And... this led to my daughter becoming a PA and later a writer/producer at the TV network.  Declining any payment for this project and donating my expensive equipment didn't help my career, but it made all the investment in the equipment (which I never came close to recouping in rentals) all worthwhile!

So, Pro Bono work is really a shot in the dark.  Don't expect anything in return, but... even years later, who knows how this might change your life?

If you have the time, and like the filmmakers, why not roll the dice? 🙂

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I do free stuff all the time in the name of ART, but I have to have some kind of creative control. Free projects are the perfect place to try insane ideas that "clients" would never agree to. 

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1 hour ago, Frank Hegyi said:

I do free stuff all the time in the name of ART, but I have to have some kind of creative control. Free projects are the perfect place to try insane ideas that "clients" would never agree to. 

Similar for me. The less I'm getting paid, the more I fight with the producer on creative choices. If it isn't money it needs to at least be something you're proud of.

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16 hours ago, Frank Hegyi said:

I do free stuff all the time in the name of ART, but I have to have some kind of creative control. Free projects are the perfect place to try insane ideas that "clients" would never agree to. 

Indeed the last "free" music video I did was on the agreement they let me do what I want and have no input in the edit. Its not fun getting trapped in edit hell on free jobs because the artist is upset they don't look sexy enough....

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