Nine Things Producers With No Money Tell You to Get You to Shoot Their Fabulous Short for Free

Guest columnist Scott Spears

The talented and often hilarious Scott Spears, the cinematographer for my first feature Foreign Correspondents, came over to my house one afternoon and started rattling off all the various lines low-budget producers have fed him when trying to get him to shoot their short films for no pay. He hit it so right on the nose that I asked him to write me a list of nine such cons. This list applies not only to directors of photography, but really to anybody being asked to work on a low-budget film crew. So you budding independent filmmakers out there, take heed. Scott will take over from here:

  1. "Shoot this short for free because we've got 'real' money coming for our next project." I'll believe it when I see it and I make one project at a time.
  2. "This will be a great way to get experience." I've got 14 features' worth of experience.
  3. "The footage from this short will be great for your reel." I've got a good reel.
  4. "This short will be seen by high-up industry professionals." Yeah, the mailroom guy at ICM or CAA who'll throw the tape in the garbage or tape Smallville over it.
  5. "We've got crew folks from some big budget movies on board." A guy who gripped one day for the third unit crew on Godzilla.
  6. "This one's a sure winner at Sundance." They all are.
  7. "We've got some big-named talent involved." A phantom big-named star who'll never show, who was sent an unsolicited script which got thrown out and has never heard of the project. Option #2: Somebody who had one line on a WB show.
  8. "We'll have great food." Pizza followed by Taco Bell, followed by cold pizza, followed by stale chips and flat generic soda, followed by nothing...
  9. "We're really cool people." All people who work on movies are cool. Especially those with no money because they're not Hollywood sell-outs.I may sound bitter here, but I'm not. I have worked for very low rates on some great shorts and even worked for free on a very few. I just want people to be realistic about what they are asking from prospective crews. Some folks seem to expect me to show up for free with my expensive film or DV camera and light kit and enjoy eating ramen noodles. If you want a good crew, save up some money and pay them. If this had been a list of 10, I would have listed "possible deferred pay." In all my years of shooting, I've never seen a dime of deferred pay except when I was a co-producer.