Friday, August 20, 2010
Posted by Bobby Beck at 2:58 PM
State of the industry: Is working for “FREE” worth it?
Returning home from Siggraph this year I had a major concern on my mind and I wanted to expose this concern as well as offer up some potential food for thought. I had an opportunity to talk to just about every major studio and a lot of mid-sized studios during the week of Siggraph.

My main concern is that artists are being taken advantage of!

I understand that the global economy has been in the dumps by-and-large and that job seekers are willing to jump at any opportunity due to these precarious times for fear that there may not be jobs available. Although I do not feel that the market is saturated I do feel the result from this thinking is that some studios are taking advantage of the economic hype which is resulting in artists taking less money, covering 100% of their relocation costs or worse, working for free.

One issue I want to raise here is that the entertainment industry is doing exceptionally well despite the overall state of the economy. This article shows trends from 1995 – current 2010 in movie ticket sales and things look great! We all know how well Toy Story 3, How to Train your Dragon and Despicable Me have been doing and there is a lot of buzz in Hollywood that animated films are saving the entertainment industry. This article notes a dip in video game sales in July but reports confident signs of sharp recovery.

I had one mid-sized studio tell me recently that they have more money than they know what to do with, yet have decided to have new employees pay for 100% of their own relocation costs and take lower wages than were previously offered because they can do it and people are willing to go for it.

In addition to this, I can't tell you how many emails I get from "new studios" that have ”a great idea to have our students and alumni work for free on their project in exchange for gaining valuable work experience."

I don't know about you, but I find this absolutely absurd and do not support it in any way. Students pay a lot of money to learn their craft and they should be compensated for the skills they have gained.

It is clear that some studios are taking advantage of the "state of the economy," and what is most alarming is that job seekers are unknowingly adding fuel to the fire by taking jobs that pay sub-standard or do not pay at all.

There's no doubt that the world has become smaller and more accessible through the internet. Outsourcing and remote working is common place in most every industry. With this change in global workforce it is inevitable that there will be these kinds of changes in the way people do business. However, as we navigate through the evolution of these times it is important that companies see the importance of ethics in business. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. There is a happy medium that needs to be found.

I'm proud to see some of the big boys operating from a place of valuing their artists first. I hope they continue to lead the way as an example for up-and-coming and mid-sized studios.

As far as artists go; I urge you not to work for free. In doing so you are encouraging a downward spiral of diminished returns for yourself and future generations of artists paving the way for much lower wages.

If a lot of inexperienced entry level artists are working for free on a given project, the quality of that project is going to suffer in the end. When it comes time to shop around your demo reel, the very slight benefit of this free "experience" will be far outweighed by the low-quality work on the demo reel, or the poor reputation of the project within the industry.

If you have the skills you will get a job. You may need to be patient, but the jobs are there. The world is large and the opportunities are vast and wide. Just as the global evolution of business is happening, so too are your opportunities. Industry jobs are no longer just in California and New York. There is a whole world of opportunity out there and you will need to be flexible in where the opportunities take you; especially in the early years of your career. Perhaps they will be in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, Spain, India, South Africa or in the comfort of your home office.

Some may ask, "Isn’t it better to at least work for free so that I can get some experience?" I personally believe that it would better serve an entry level artist to work on their own project, or with a few friends, helping to shape their own voice and storytelling abilities. In doing so they ARE gaining experience and it will show in the quality of their work.

My advice to you is that no matter what you do or where you work, to make the best judgment for your situation and I encourage you to not be taken advantage of, ever! You're worth more than that.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject.