I Need You but Can’t Pay You: 4 Things to Remember When Asking for Free Work

Doing freebies is a part of life in the filmmaking world - Bobby Marko offers 4 tips of how to ask for help when money is scarce.


We’ve all been there! The all too familiar passion projects, short films, documentaries, even feature films. And when we create these projects we know in order to pull them off, we have to invite others to get the vision, to hopefully be as passionate about the project as we are, all in order to utilize their skill for either very low compensation or none at all. So who do you invite, inspire and convince others to join your team when money is scarce or no existent? How do you ask the people you know who are very talented to become part of your project knowing they will most likely not see a dime? Here are four things to remember when asking for free work.

This first point is probably the best point to make because it makes all the other points relevant and easier to follow. It goes without saying, you should be up-front and honest with the people you are asking. If there’s no budget to pay crew for your passion project, tell them right away and be honest. Whether it’s no budget or only $50 a day, let them know up front. Do not promise that they will be paid once you have a successful crowd funding campaign or that a rich relative will most likely come through. Those are not guaranteed statements. It’s ok to let them know you are seeking funding and if there is money left over everything else, then some compensation could be made. But if you do not have the funds ready to spend, it’s best to let them know from the very first conversation that there will be no compensation.

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Oliver Burkeman: The Negative Path to Happiness and Success

“Get motivated!” and “stay positive!” are common bits of self-help advice. But have we gone too far in our penchant for positivity? Leaning on research (including a story about Mount Everest climbers), reporter and author Oliver Burkeman shares the counterintuitive insight of how abandoning goals and allowing some negativity in can actually be helpful.

“Theres a real benefit to find ways to loosen our grip as goal driven people. When you look at successful entrepreneurs…you find they don’t follow this stereotype.” We should instead remain ready to adapt where we are heading and embrace uncertainty.


Terrence Malick: The Art of Voiceover

A video essay produced by Kevin B. Lee with Scott Tobias of The Dissolve.

Noel Murray’s Keynote essay on Days Of Heaven addresses at length the difficulties Terrence Malick had in figuring out how (and whether) to use voiceover narration, before finally arriving at Linda Manz’s extemporized musings—without which the film would be severely impoverished. Manz’s narration solves practical problems, like giving the audience information about the love triangle at the film’s center, but Days Of Heaven now seems like an editing-room crisis that opened up new possibilities for what Malick could do with the form. There’s some carryover in tone between Sissy Spacek’s naïf in Badlands and Manz’s more worldly variation here, but Malick allowed himself the freedom to use narration to broaden perspective and open up the audience to more abstract ideas.

Inspired by this thought, the video above traces Malick’s evolution as a voiceover artist, and the creative ways he’s found to innovate with the form while accommodating the specific needs of each individual film. The fundamental value of Terrence Malick’s films is in how they remind us that everything happens in the larger context of the natural world. The voiceover in Days Of Heaven unshackles the director from the humdrum business of over-the-shoulder shots and melodramatic confrontation, and widens the frame to bigger observations about the period and the astonishing beauty captured by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler’s cameras. Malick didn’t pick up the thread until he made The Thin Red Line two decades later, but it changed the way he made movies, and changed the way movies could be made.

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5 Low Budget Feature Writing Tips

Joshua Caldwell is an MTV Movie Award winning director, writer, and producer. Here he breaks into 5 tips for writing a low budget feature film.


Here are some things I’ve learned about writing a no-budget film:

1. Utilize modular storytelling. The easiest way to understand modular storytelling is to think of a movie camera (film or digital, take your pick). At its most basic, it’s a lens and a camera body. However, because of how a camera is designed, you can add on extra items like a rails system, mattebox, follow focus, monitors, and gadgets of all kinds. But adding those things doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the camera itself: a body and a lens. And even if you can’t afford all those other add-ons, you can still use the camera.

The camera and lens is your story, and all the add-ons are the things that you may or may not be able to afford (chase scenes, props, cars, locations, etc). Removing those items doesn’t change the story you’re trying to tell.

The story is the story, whether you have these other things or not. You should be able to tell an engaging, interesting version of the story without the bells and whistles. The easiest way to think about this is:

2. Your story should be able to take place in a vacuum. I don’t necessarily mean it should be two characters in a white room; rather, it’s that you have the ability to shift and adjust things as you make it. If your film cannot be made anywhere else except for a very specific location that is unobtainable on a low budget, then you’re going to run into problems.

In LAYOVER, most of the scenes could have been set in any location. While some details of the conversation might have been adjusted, the fundamentals of the scene wouldn’t have had to change. In that way, the lookout could have been any lookout, the house could have been any house, the hotel could have been any hotel. Leave the details out of your script until you either know where you’re shooting or know what you can definitely get. Which leads me to the next tip:

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