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Louis Kiss

How to handle “working for free” by Louis Kiss

Although there are no set in stone guarantees in any career, there are consistent situations that occur in artistic fields that other career choices may not face.

Launching your career will be one of the biggest steps you ever take.  I am often asked how to handle a situation when an aspiring makeup artist takes on a gig and is asked to work for free.  This is not the same as an internship which I will discuss in another entry.  This is about taking on a gig that may last for a few days or even a few months.  It’s about you being a Makeup Department Head on a project and there is no money involved.

There are few careers outside of the arts that would entertain the thought of working for free.  Could you imagine the response if you asked a plumber to fix your exploding water pipes for free?  I also doubt if there are any aspiring plumbers that are willing to work for free in order to network, gain experience, or just get their name out.  Because we work in an artistic field, people believe our job seems “fun”.  That attitude may also lead them to believe that they may think it’s just a hobby for us.

No matter what profession of the entertainment field from models to photographers to directors, someone has asked them to work for free during their career and I bet at one point, every single one of them has.

Some professionals will tell you “take as much work as you can for free when you are trying to get established” and some will say “never work for free, it makes it look bad for the rest of us”.

There will be countless times that you will be in this position but there are methods of handling the situation that can possibly turn it around.

First and foremost all projects need some sort of funding.  Nothing is completely donation and favor based so it never hurts to ask for money no matter what the project.  The worst that can happen is that they say, “no.”  They need your abilities, that is why they are asking you, and they probably don’t want to interview a lot of people for the position.  Time is money and that means they have neither.

At this point, they need to understand you are making the models/actors look good for their project.  No other crew member has the supplies or training to do the makeup artist’s work so you should negotiate for a kit fee to cover your loss of supplies.  Makeup supplies are not cheap and the person asking you to work for free needs to realize that.

If they still won’t budge with money it is time to barter.  Do the job in exchange for a demo reel or get contact references for other artists and such that could use your talent.  It also doesn’t hurt to ask if they have connections to some supplies.

You should never walk away from a gig with “nothing”.  If the free job is not going to dwindle your makeup supplies and will not interfere with your non-makeup responsibilities (paying rent, purchasing groceries) you can walk away with something to add to your resume, add to your experience, and hopefully some networking under your belt.

If they start taking advantage of your generosity by asking to work longer or use more of your supplies (and they will) simply mention your original agreement and stick to it.  You should never simply walk off set without good reason even for a non-paying gig.

Once the gig is completed and if they decide to call you for another job, get paid or turn it down.  You gave them one free gig but since they like your work they need to make it worth your while since it is now obvious they received funding for another project.  Otherwise you will now be known to them as the makeup artist who works for free.  Don’t fall into that trap.

Once you begin receiving payment for your services, negotiating your rate will forever be a part of your job.  Learning to negotiate whether you do a favor or simply work for free will also be a part of your career and a great way to gain experience in the “business” aspect of the industry.  Handling these situations can be a great stepping stone that can lead you on your pathway to success.

Louis Kiss has been a Special Makeup Effects Artist for over 20 years.  Recent credits include MAN OF STEEL and SCARY MOVIE 5.  He is also an instructor at EI School of Professional Makeup.