How to Negotiate for No Pay

Filmmaking isn’t cheap. We all know this. It costs a shiny penny to make even the shortest of content. Sure, anyone can pick up their iPhone and shoot something, but unfortunately it takes more than just a camera to make a good piece of work. All the software, hardware, props, meals, location fees and even insurance costs (unless you’re a gorilla ninja) add up quickly, and sometimes (as much as we hate it) we have to find a team of people willing to work on the production for (gulp!) free!

So how on earth do you get people to work on your production when there isn’t a pay check involved?


The one thing I have learnt through not only being a filmmaker, but also starting my own production company with almost no budget, is that money isn’t the only currency out there.

Think about it, how many times have you worked on a production for no pay? I’ll happily raise my hand and say that the majority of films, sketches, trailers, spec commercials, series and content that I’ve been apart of so far, I’ve done for no pay check. So why did I do it, and most importantly, how have I negotiated with other people and brands to work on my productions for no pay?

Firstly, there’s a term I like to call ”negotiating for exposure”. This basically means that even though I can’t pay you, what I can do is promote you and/or your work on my platforms; think social media channels, credits, IMDB, ton the website. If you already have some sort of distribution plan, then this one can easily go down a treat, especially with start-up companies looking to reach a wider audience. Think, “You contribute to our wardrobe, and we’ll make sure our audience knows who you are!”.

Something else that can be effective, although please tread with caution and make sure you get this handled by a professional lawyer, is to pay people in royalties. What are royalties? In layman’s terms, it’s basically a piece of paper stating, “If my production makes a profit (after all previous expenses have been recouped), you will get a certain percentage of that cash”. Make sure to be clear between royalties and rights. You don’t want to be handing over your creative control or decisions to everyone on a crew. Trust me, it that never ends well and makes selling your production that much more difficult.

Remember, when dealing with filmmakers at the earlier stages of their careers, building a network and list of credits is like gold dust. You’re offering them that! If you can get your production to be union (I’m talking SAG, DGA etc), you can offer non-union actors the chance to become SAG-Eligible. It takes a little paperwork, but it’s really not a tricky process. You can also offer them, as well as your crew, the IMDB credits to help build their portfolio. Want to sweeten the deal even more? Let them know that they can have access to your footage for their reels. A win/win for everyone!

And finally, something that I overlooked for a long time but am starting to realise is a bigger selling point than you might think, is that you’re offering people the chance to be “part of the team”. Filmmakers, of all and any kind, want to work. They want to continue creating, they want to meet other people and they want to feel like they are a part of something exciting and new. You are offering them that. Never under play the power of community in the filmmaking industry.

I’m going to leave you with a word of caution though. In my opinion, the only time that it’s okay to not pay your cast or crew is when you yourself aren’t receiving a pay check. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s your reputation in the mud! And let’s be honest, your reputation is everything.

Now get negotiating, get creating and get those productions up and off the ground!

Article written by Alexa Berry for The Monthly Film Festival



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