Freelancers are not free (or the angry story of unpaid gigs)
While sorting my last shopping receipts, sending invoices and looking for new gigs I didn’t expect to write a blog post today.
This morning I received an incredible non-paid opportunity work position by email. My school sent me that. I left school 5 years ago by the way.
The email was advertising a great opportunity for professional costume designers and makers to work for free on a TV show pilot funded by the French Television Network. Berk. I almost vomited in my mouth when I read the email.
I know what you’re going to say : “what did you expect from your school’s emails duh ?”
Yes of course I don’t really expect any serious job offers when it comes to my school and most of the time I don’t even read them. But I finished my last gigs last week and I don’t have anything plan ahead so I opened it.
And then I answered it because I could not believe my school would promote this kind of non-sense “looking for professionals for a great project with money but not for costumes so it’s unpaid but it’s great”. It’s ok to promote internships and I understand that if you want to start a theatre company or shoot your first short film you don’t really have the budget to pay normal rates. But this email was clearly a job offer paid with peanuts by a production who got funding from the government. The woman in charge of the administrative stuff answered me. Then I wanted to vomit and cry. Her email was so arrogant and disrespectful that I’m not even sure of how to translate it in English. Basically she was saying that I always had a bad attitude as a student (hum yeah my thesis got published though) and that I should only be grateful to get this kind of opportunity. She also said that she would block me and never send me any job offer anymore.
Honestly, I was shocked.
From this point I went to the kitchen to get some dark chocolate and decided to keep my tears inside. I’ll fight against that lack of empathy and respect for my craft and I’ll do everything in my possession to tell the world that freelancers are not working for free. I’ve decided to write to the Heads of the Costume Department of my school and to share my stories about working for free on social medias.
Yes, I’ve worked for free before. I’ve done numerous internships, couple students short films and two music videos I regret I did. I’ve worked for free because I needed to get some experience, build a network and start my portfolio. One of the short I did was actually a great experience and I still get jobs because people liked it on my portfolio. I also learned a lot through the internships I did although none of them were completely unpaid and I actually got paid the minimum wage for some of them (at the Opera, thank you). But the other unpaid gigs I did were complete bullshits. Some of the music video was never edited and the other two experiences were just too painful to worth the gain.
Working on set is difficult. It is physically tiring and mentally demanding. You don’t just hang out by the disgusting cheap crackers and instant coffee. You have to stand by, focus, make sure the actors look the way they are supposed to look, maintain the costumes, be reactive if something happens and of course carry, unpack, pack, steam, iron, clean… Sometimes you work ten hours, but most of the time you work more than twelve hours. So why your time should be less valuable than someone else’s time ? Why would a banker or a plumber get paid and why would you just get nothing ?
"Wait, nothing ? But you got an experience ! And a network !"
So I’ve never worked again with the people I worked for free before. Maybe it will happen in the future, but it’s not guaranty and they don’t really owe me anything. I also figured that once a production has the budget, they don’t always call the people who worked for free because they feel like hiring “real professionals”…
Working for free also implies to put some pressure on your own network by asking for discounts on costume rentals or favors from friends. Without even saying that some of my personal clothing stock got damaged and I used my costume kit for free on these shoots.
I think it’s important to get our work respected. It’s our duty to explain to producers and people who don’t really understand how creatives work what working for free means :
- they won’t have a professional result because they will work with students or people trying to build their portfolio
- they might get dropped at the last minute and loose a lot of money for that because delaying is expensive in the industry
- they won’t be respected by their crew and by the industry in general
It’s important that the people who hire you and seat behind a desk most of the day understand what we do as Costumers. I often get this look when I talk about my job : yes I’m shopping (and it’s very tiring), yes I’m dressing people (and I should get a therapist degree for that lol) and I spend time on Pinterest but neither of this is less important than your job when you think about the final result. My work will impact the look of the film/show/play because without Costumers, actors would be naked. Ok ! They might not be naked cause you would still have a Producer’s wife who is a wanna be Stylist but the actors would be wearing denim jeans and t-shirts who won’t tell us any story about their characters.
Anyway, I was angry and this post is not very well structured.
But I’m not a professional writer !