Don’t be duped, but don’t let opportunity pass you by…
There is a fabulous website entitled “Should I Work for Free” which features a flow chart of all the possible if/when situations that a freelancer might face when approached for non paid jobs from a client. It serves as a good reminder that it is not just makeup artists who are constantly approached for freebie “gigs” all the time. All freelancers are, particularly those in the Creative industries, particularly in a down economy. Basically, as you can see on the chart, most roads lead to “No” – which is as it should be. But why is it, as a freelancer, so difficult to say “No”? Because as a freelancer networking is part of the game and you really never know where or when opportunity might strike. People often say “well would your mechanic work for free” and the answer is rightfully No, but that hardline/black and white attitude doesn’t really work in a field where your success is greatly dependent upon constant marketing and networking. Here are my tips for deciding whether or not to take an unpaid gig.
1 ) Tests are Tests and Jobs are Jobs
I test as much as my schedule will allow and so do most of the working artists that I know. What changes are the how/when/why of doing a test but testing is a large part of the game. I am amazed at how many artists fail to realize that testing is not only about building your book, but about creating and building relationships. These are people who now know and have worked with you, hence the likelihood that they would hire you for a paying job is greatly increased over someone whom they do not know. NOW – here’s the rub: There is an absolutely terrible trend amongst newer makeup artists and this whole online “photo community” world of expecting payment (usually a kit fee) for tests. No No No. The only exception is that in certain situations, a modeling agency may set up a paid test. Those are usually with specific photographers and set up as such in advance. Most tests you will do are either for the connection or for the photos or both. The onus is on you to ask the right questions and get the information needed in order to make an informed decision on whether or not it is something you want to do. That kit fee thing pretty much automatically singles you out as a n00b (non-professional) and will alienate you from working with better photographers. Do the test or do not.
2 ) So When Should I Test?
This will change as you change as an artist and your career progresses. Nowdays I am very very specific with what I test. I know which market segments I work in and the types of clients I have and I am trying to attract, so there’s little point of me doing something random, unless I just want to have fun. Fun is fine – I love fun – but I’m a professional not a hobbyist so I have to stay relatively focused. Further, I try to work with talent with whom I am equally yoked or who are a little bit further up the food chain than I am so I can keep my networking moving along. Therefore for me, while I might get a cool picture out of it, I am less likely to work with say a student photographer because really I’m looking for both cool pictures and future work opportunity.
The game is entirely different, obviously, for an artist who is just starting out. If you are really really just starting out – either just finished with a school or if you’ve begun to DIY it – you should do every single shoot you can. You need to build a portfolio which is a very hit or miss proposition and you also need to keep learning your craft which means not only your technique at applying makeup, but being on set, communicating with a photographer and team, etc. etc. Trust me, you will make mistakes, and you want to make them on a test not on a job. Lastly, these folks with whom you are now testing are likely going to be the among the first people to give you a shot at a paid gig.
I wrote a whole thing about putting together tests in my So You Wanna Be a Pro Makeup Artist series. Go check it out 🙂
3 ) Jobs Are Jobs and Tests Are Tests
Didn’t I just say that? No. What I am referring to now is when things start to get murky and grey and when artists should have their Spidey Sense going for them so as to not be taken advantage of. Point Blank: People will try to get artists to work for free on projects that should clearly be paid. In my marketing classes I have a whole section devoted to how to read between the lines of online job listings. First of all it should be noted that most really legit jobs do not post listings. Most good jobs are obtained through marketing, word of mouth, networking, etc. In rare instances a good job will show up someplace like a Craigslist but that is not the norm. That said, when you are in the building phase of your career, obviously you have to start somewhere. Do not, however, be fooled and think that online job listings are the only places where bogus “opportunities” may appear or that this will only happen early in your career. I have been contacted by email from folks who clearly must have seen my website for “tests” that were actually jobs in disguise. I’ve even had people contact my AGENT to see if I would do a “test” that was actually a job in disguise. Lookbooks, corporate videos, promotional/demo videos, and certainly any kind of advertising should NEVER be done for free. Why? Because the entire purpose of creating a Lookbook or promo video or the like is so that a business can promote themselves to MAKE MONEY. Short version – they are trying to make money for themselves off of your free work. That does not sound fair, does it?
4 ) Someone May Very Well Be Getting Paid
There are also instances where someone is getting paid, but they are trying to get you to work for free. Say you get contacted by a photographer for a “project” and the initial email has no particular information – aside from the fact that it is not paid – and they are asking if you are available and interested. Before you say “yes” – Stop, Look and Listen. Upon emailing the photographer with an open-ended “what did you have in mind” response (leaving the door open, but not committing) they email you back with a bunch of concepts and looks and a model. Hmmmm…. Stop Look and Listen again. Tests should be collaborative. If you do not even have a say on the look or choosing the model then something needs to give. Do you like the concept? Do you like the model? Do you like this photographers work? If the answers are yes and you think this will add to your book and you want to maintain this relationship with the photographer then it may be worth it to go ahead and do the project. However, I suggest asking one more question: “How is this going to be used?”. Note that they did not use the word “test”, yet most artists will assume that’s what an unpaid project is and agree to it blindly. The most ‘red-flag’ point in that email scenario is that you do not know what you’re being asked to agree to. What is this “project”? It could turn out that this is a magazine editorial and those are often not paid but you get a tear so that’s great. It could just be portfolio development for the photographer and they have teamed up with a designer to have access to clothes and that’s great too if the project works for you as well. Worst case scenario, however, and one that comes up entirely too often is that this is a low budget project for which the photographer is being paid but they are trying to get a makeup artist who will do it for free so they can keep the money for themselves. This is what you have to determine. If you find out – or your gut is telling you – that the Worst Case Scenario is in effect, but it is a really great project that will really enhance your book then you might have to just bite the bullet. If they are already trying to take advantage of you then it may or may not be a relationship worth building but one great picture can send your portfolio into an entirely new realm. Whatever you decide, you should not bite the bullet too often and when you do, you should do so with your eyes wide open. You cannot allow yourself to get duped and then whine about it afterwards. You have to remember that you are a business as well and you have to conduct yourself as a business. Part of your business is vetting what a project is and whether or not a project is worth your time. One tip: If you have to play 20-questions to find out what’s going on, something is likely up. Keep your Spidey Senses on high and proceed with caution.
5 ) It’s The Opportunity Of A Lifetime – Don’t Be A Fool
I want to end on an up-note not just for the sake of a happy ending but because it is true and it has happened to me many times. Many of the best tears I’ve gotten and jobs I’ve done have been because of tests/free projects I worked on. This is why I believe the new mantra of “don’t work for free” that is permeating places like Model Mayhem is misguided thinking. It is particularly sad when you see these same people posting “why can’t I get anyone to hire me for paid jobs?!???”. Real Talk: I never had to ask to get paid or wonder when I should start charging. I focused on building my book and meeting people and before I knew it people were contacting me wanting to pay me. Even to this day I will still RUN out the door when an opportunity presents itself, case in point the editorial photograph at the top of this article. Here’s another shot from that editorial:
Gorgeous, right? Something to be proud of in a portfolio and trust me, I am 🙂
This tear came about by seizing opportunity. When the photographer contacted me regarding availability, I didn’t start hemming and hawing about distance and kit fees. High-end fashion is very difficult to get in California as that is not our market. This was a clear opportunity to get something of value to add to my portfolio and meet and network with a great photographer, and I jumped at the chance. Do not shoot yourself in the foot. If they are doing the caliber work that you want to be doing but are not doing yet, why are you worrying about a kit fee or mileage or whether or not they are going to pay you? One great image can land you scores of amazing jobs. Don’t be a fool! Run, RUN! out that door and do that job!
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