How do you get experience if you have no experience? How do you get started working?
( Spoiler alert - I'm against working for free. )
There are folks out there who will intentionally ( or unintentionally ) use the allure of production work to request free labor, especially from inexperienced artists. Often credit or exposure is promised in return, but no money.
It plays into a real issue - how do you get experience when no one will hire you - because you don't have experience?
That answer will have to wait for a future blog post, but let me say this: don't work for free.
Aside from it being against the law in most cases, it’s exploitative. If you’re starting out, look for paying work in the environment you want to be in, even if it’s not the role you want. Make connections, ask questions and work on your portfolio. If you have experience, think very hard about what you will get out of any relationship where you are not being paid for your work. Put limits on it before starting and be firm about stopping and re-evaluating once you reach those limits.
- If anyone is getting paid on a project for the work they do, you should be paid for the work you do. No exceptions.
- Whatever agreement you arrive at, get it in writing. In case of disagreement or misunderstanding, what is written is what anyone moderating a dispute will look for.
- “Exposure”, “Credit” and “Experience” cannot buy you food or gasoline, and can’t pay your rent. It is very rare for unpaid work for someone with whom you have no prior relationship to lead to paying work.
- CA and Federal law requires private for-profit employers to comply with minimum wage laws as well as overtime and meal break periods. That means if someone plans to make money from what they are doing, but they ask you to work for free, that is in violation of the law. Read this reference about volunteering in the workplace.
- If you find yourself in a position where you do decide to work for free, before you start, put limits on it. This means either a time limit ( “I’ll do this for one month and then re-evaluate” ) or a quantity limit ( “I’ll create X pieces of art for free, but that’s all, then I’ll re-evaluate” ). This is extremely important to do before starting because by doing this, you are focusing on what you want to get out of the experience before starting. If it’s not working out the way you had anticipated once you get to your limit, stop. Walk away. There will be other opportunities - take what you learned to the next one.