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When Will I Get Paid?

Emily writes in1:

I recently worked for a major out-of-town TV show as a casting assistant, though it was technically my first time casting. Before then, I had been working for free as a PA and personal assistant and have another paid position coming up next year as a production coordinator. I’m currently job searching until then and have been offered a few jobs with no pay, which I’m not sure I can afford.

Is two years of work and a high profile show enough of a resume to stop working for free, at least for awhile, or am I wishfully thinking?

I hate get all Ayn Rand on you, but you can stop working for free when someone wants to pay you.  That’s the long and short of it.

You could sit on the couch collecting unemployment while applying for paid jobs, or you can work for free while still applying to those same jobs.

It sounds like you’ve been doing pretty well. Everyone has downtime between shows, which is why you should save your money. The question is, can you afford this downtime?

If you can’t, then you need to find paid work. If you’re not getting paid work, you need to ask yourself, why not? Do you not have enough experience? The right connections?

These are problems that can be solved by working for free. You’ll gain experience, you’ll make connections.

You should always take a paid gig over a free one, unless it’s your passion project or you owe someone a really big favor. Everyone will understand if you have to leave in the middle of a free shoot for paid work, unless you’re one of the keys.

There’s no way for me to tell you when you no longer need to work for free. It’s different for every person. But here’s how you can tell yourself– The next time your movie wraps or your show gets cancelled, do you panic? If not, then you don’t have to work for free anymore.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. I actually received this email in December; I only just published it. Don’t worry, she’s not talking about a job six months from now.
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