Last year, I wrote a blog about the issue of people expecting writers to work for free. The blog, entitled So you want to be a professional writer, attracted numerous comments including some from a number of actors who made the point that if I thought writers had it tough, I should try earning a living doing what they do.
This is, to be fair, true. I know numerous actors who routinely work for little or no money and one only has to look at the number of adverts asking for cast and crew to work for little more than a credit to see that as a profession, acting really is amongst the toughest there is.
Now having been on both sides of this particular coin, first as an extra and then as someone who’s asked people to work for free, I have nothing but admiration for those who want to act and understand only too well that often chances are taken purely to gain experience, exposure or simply to network. As a consequence, if someone comes to work for me for free, not only will I love them forever but I’ll do my utmost to ensure that they looked after to the best of my ability and, just as importantly, they have fun. That is the very least I can do and what they should expect. Sadly, this is not always the case as tales of exploitation bordering on slavery are hardly unusual. Which brings me nicely to the reason for this blog.
The other day I was exchanging tales of life on set with an old mate and he mentioned that on top of everything else, when he did get cast for paid roles it was becoming increasingly normal for him to have to fight for the payment he’d signed for. Sometimes, they didn’t materialise at all.
The fact that he was quite matter-of-fact about this was quite disconcerting but when I asked him what he ever did about being ripped off, his response was a shrug of the shoulders and ‘that’s how it is now’.
But he’s wrong. It’s not ‘how it is’ but ‘how it’s been allowed to become’. And it’s been allowed to become like that not just because of low-budget film making and the explosion of the short movie scene, but because people (and this applies equally to cast and crew) are willing to let themselves be stolen from. And that’s what we’re talking here, theft.
If someone steals your property, you report it to the police without hesitation so if someone refuses to pay you for your working time, why would you not report that to your union? That’s why Equity, the Writers Guild and The Society of Authors exist, to protect us and our working rights!
And if you’re not a member, why not take the guilty party to the small court? It’s your fundamental right to take legal action and at worst, you’ll be £25 out of pocket. At best, you’ll get paid.
So if what I’ve written strikes a chord with you because you’re in the same situation as my mate, then start to treat your profession professionally and take action. Not just for yourself, but for everyone who’s ever been turned over. Because if you don’t, this exploitation will not only continue, it’ll get worse.
And no one in their right mind wants that.
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