The short answer is – no. The long answer is – read below:
So, you’re freshly graduated, you have a few skills and a lot of ideas and – let me guess – you are absolutely terrified. Me too. As a recent graduate I’m terrified about not finding work in the animation industry, for many reasons: not knowing if I have what it takes to work in this field and trying to convince my family that their daughter won’t wind up on the streets despite having been an art student. Generally keeping one’s own ambition and drive alive is a day-to-day challenge.
I have been searching and applying for internships and jobs since December across the world. Very few have got back in contact and even fewer have actually offered me work, which was genuinely what I was expecting and, as such, not exactly disappointing. However one piece of advice my tutor gave me has stuck with me – never do free work.
This is an incredibly tricky situation and needs to be considered from both your side and the side of the employer.
Why you should work for free?
If your Mum, very close relative or someone that helped you out a lot at one point asks you to do some simple design work don’t be cruel, lend them a hand. However if it’s your family member/friend’s company they are asking for work for, no dice. Companies, even start-up companies, have some form of budget and their visual branding is very important to the organisation’s overall success.
If your buddy’s band that you’ve supported from the beginning asks you to design their logo, get paid and get a contract. ‘Rocky and the snot hounds’ may not seem like much now from their Mum’s garage, but one day when they’re waving a flag on MTV with your logo design on it, you might be kicking yourself from the dole office.
Charity -if you know this for a fact that an organisation is non-profit and you really believe in the cause, then of course feel free to do it. However there is still no harm in asking for something to make it worth your while, like creative control, a good reference or coverage. Keep in mind that some charities have CEOs that are on six figure salaries, can they really not afford to pay an animator?
If someone you really admire offers you the opportunity to work on his or her new film, definitely think about it. Most people in the industry would probably like to offer you some kind of stipend, such as covering travel expenses or at least feeding you during your services. Either way, having that name on your CV and your name in that set of credits will probably help you in the long run, and being able to say you worked for or alongside a big name that’ll make your CV stand out is worth a few of your days off. It’s this philosophy that motivates the coverage – written or otherwise – that I take on for this very website.
Why should I not work for free?
By working for free it sets a bad precedent for not only you but for the industry as whole. Put simply if you offer your services for free, and they pass your name on there is no guarantee the next person won’t simply just turn around and say “Well you worked for that company for free, why should we pay you?” Which is a very good point.
Also, there is massive problem currently with companies seeking out recent, inexperienced graduates, asking for free work and offering a wide range of rubbish incentives. The graduates do the work, get nothing and as well as feeling used, they’ve taken a potential job from a trained and experienced professional.
It is important to try and build upon the reputation and not cheapen the creative industries. You may have always had a passion and love for drawing from childhood, but just because you enjoy it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for it. You wouldn’t ask a builder to stick an extension on your house because you used to go to school together, nor lie down on the plastic surgeon’s table and say quickly before going under “Sorry if the cheque bounces, things are a bit tight this month”. The fact of the matter is, this is not a hobby, it’s your career and livelihood and as a graduate you’ll have paid an unholy amount of money to have that piece of scrolled paper that reads ‘Animator’. As such you deserve to be paid for your training.
Even the old ‘Will work for Food’ is better than working for nothing. If you are offered alternative payment, such as equipment, exposure, a potential contract or opportunities such as travel or meetings with top names are all things that should be considered, but be smart about it; A promise isn’t worth anything unless it is written down in a contract.
Creative control, being able to work in a way you haven’t tried before under the umbrella of a live brief is also worth consideration but make sure that with that ‘creative control’ comes complete freedom to use that method or idea again; If you’re selling your services for free, definitely don’t give away your ideas.
“Getting your work out there” is a very small incentive which is used a lot, in the age where blogs and social media are so accessible, there isn’t really much problem with promoting your own work. Fact of the matter is, if you have the time to do free work, why wouldn’t you use that time to produce work of your own invention? The only way this is potentially useful is if they are offering to screen it at events you wouldn’t normally have access to, thus opening your work up to a more global client/fan-base.
Take the time to boost your skills; If all you’re getting is free work then it might not be them, it may be you. A growing amount of graduates are coming out without the core skills the industry needs, who need to be pro-active and take charge of their post-university development. Asking for feedback is perfectly reasonable, just don’t be bitter or rude if they don’t respond or give you harsh criticism – while the latter can sting in the early years, it’s the most valuable advice a young creative can hear. The problem is that no-one can tell you honestly what exactly the industry is looking for from recent graduates, so being technically savvy or creatively ingenious won’t always be enough. Studios are trying to hire people that can fulfill many roles and try their hand at multiple disciplines, so expanding your creative repertoire can only help matters.
What do you need to do?
Really you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Ultimately it comes down to how much you’re willing to fight.
If you do take on free work or any other work for that matter do read the contracts or terms and conditions, a lot of companies will try and claim full copyright for your work, so don’t let go of visual concepts and ideas that are personal to you.
Understand that the global economy does come into play here – since the recession hit, budgets have been cut and companies have gone under, meaning less employment for everyone. However knowing this does not mean free work is acceptable, if it’s offered and you don’t absolutely have/want to take it, consider explaining to them what they are doing isn’t fair and quoting them an appropriate amount for the work they are suggesting. At the very least you get no or little reply, however you may be able to start a branch of conversation and debate.
Internships are the biggest provider of free work to companies. This isn’t always a problem, by definition you should be gaining skills and supervision from the organisation and ideally be given a small wage in order to live and travel to the company. You have to weigh up the options if you feel working for any dream studio is worth it, so if you go for it be aware that not all internships lead to paid positions afterwards, and when you are offering your services for free you are inevitably taking a paid position away from someone else.
A lot of work is also being outsourced to other countries that can afford to have a much cheaper rate of pay. This unfortunately is an unchangeable fact that we have to deal with. The hope is the potential for face-to-face interaction, and quality of work will keep the jobs here, but only time will tell.
Some important don’ts:
- Don’t take my word as Law – I have researched this but at the end of the day this is simply my opinion. We all take responsibility for ourselves.
- Don’t be rude – being rude, arrogant and overly self-assured has never got anyone anywhere. Well, it may have, but no one invites that guy for a drink. Don’t make enemies, be respectful and treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
- Don’t be taken advantage of – think clearly what your worth is and what this opportunity means to you and your career.
- Don’t suffer in silence – if you need help or advice on your rates, talk to your tutors and use your student advisers (at the end of the day this is what they are paid for, to advise). Alternatively, contact people in industry via a heartfelt and considered e-mail, or meet up and discuss with like-minded professionals at any local networking events.
What it all boils down to is that we are a necessary, invaluable commodity and not everyone can do what we do. Very few people, in fact, can be artists, animators or any type of creative. If everyone said no to free work the companies would have no alternative but to pay us. So be reasonable, be clear in your message and think about what you are doing, not just to yourself but to your peers and industry as a whole.