Some Animals Are Less Equal Than Others

What is about people not getting paid lately? An anonymous reader wrote in:

I’ve heard it is common for independent films to not pay their PA’s, but is it weird if some PA’s are paid and others are not? When I started I was told that the film I am on is not paying their PA’s. I recently found out that I am the ONLY PA that is not being paid…

It is totally weird, and completely unfair.

Personally, I prefer 1984.
I’ve always wondered… why are pigs the evil ones?1

But equality isn’t the only consideration here. You agreed to do the job for no money. Unless you made equal pay a condition of your employment, you’re committed. After all, it’s fairly common that some actors will be paid more than others. Why couldn’t that be the case for below-the-line?

In your case, however, they clearly lied to you, which makes it a little different. You entered a (verbal) contract under false pretenses. Now you face a dilemma that I can’t really resolve for you.

The reason anyone would work for free, besides for friends, is to make connections that will lead to paid gigs down the line.

Do these seem like the kind of people who will offer that? All I know about them is that they lied to you, which is not a good starting place. There’s a fair chance that they just abuse free labor as long as possible, then look for the next sucker when you wise up.

If that’s the case, quit. Leave now. Tell everyone on the crew why, so at least they know you’re not a flake, if you run into them on another show. Plus, it may serve as a warning if others find themselves in similarly sketchy situations with these producers.

However, you’ve met these people, you work with them, you know them. There’s any number of reasons this situation may have come up. Maybe they’ve worked with the other PAs, and that’s why they’re getting paid. Maybe they sought free PAs, but couldn’t get enough, and were forced to hire others after you agreed to work for free. Who knows?

You need to use your own judgement to decide what kind of people you’re working for. Do they feel they owe you? Then stick around. If they don’t, then you don’t owe them, either.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. And only in Animal Farm. Usually, they’re charming, like in Green Acres or Charlotte’s Web or Babe. What did Orwell have against pigs?
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One Response

  1. I can’t speak for Orwell, but having spent a good deal of my youth dealing with farm animals — goats, cows, chickens, and pigs — I can testify that pigs are the smartest of the lot. By far…

    As for working for free, you do what you must to get started in this business. My first PA job in Hollywood provided meals and put gas in my car, but that was it — and that gig led directly to thirty-five years of paying work. The dilemma faced by the PA in your post is totally unfair, but your advice is sound — honor the deal without whining, or quit and move on. The ideal solution would be for the kid to find a paying gig, thus allowing him/her to quit without burning any bridges, but those jobs don’t grow on trees these days.

    This is a tough business to crack, no doubt about it.

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