One of my favourite photographers, Zack Arias, was discussing a philosophy for whether to take a job. The philosophy wasn’t one that he came up with, but it’s one that he likes.
There are three values; Good money, good people and good work…every job has to hit two of these values before it’s worth doing. The last two months have seen a really big increase in the amount of work I’m doing through my own business, and so suddenly I’ve had to look at my philosophy for doing work, if I can’t do it all, I need to know what to say ‘yes’ to and what to say ‘no’ to.
About a month ago I was approached to do a job with a family friend, Don Palmer. The job was not as a photographer or editor or anything that I was working towards…but more as a location scout and general gopher for the shoot. We were going to be shooting for his organisation Malpa, there was a DOP (cameraman) on the job called Mark Tipple and the talent for the job would be Uncle Jack Charles. The money would be exactly $0.
So I put the philosophy into action:
Good money – Negative…but then again they may simply be getting what they pay for.
Good people – I’ve know Don for nearly 20 years…and Katie has known him her whole life. He’s just a thoroughly decent person who I would happily donate my time to whenever he asks. The DOP (Mark Tipple) is insanely good with both stills and video, and Uncle Jack Charles is well…Uncle Jack Charles.
Good work – The video we were shooting was for indigenous kids who had been chosen to be taught traditional and western medical practices that they could take back to their communities. Which is a pretty amazing cause.
I haven’t worked on a video shoot where people who actually know what they’re doing are in charge for a long time…and I haven’t worked with an actual actor for even longer. Plus, if I bring along my camera there is every chance I’ll be able to get a few photos in between takes.
So no money, but brilliant people and amazing work…I said ‘yes’ to the job.
Heart vs wallet
Working in a creative field is always a bit weird when it comes to getting paid. I can’t imagine many people would say to their electrician ‘I’ve got this great idea for a house…but I haven’t got any money for it…could you do the electrical work for me, and then everyone will see how great you are as an electrician and so you will get lots of work from referrals?’ But if you do something creative people tend to think that seeing as you’re enjoying yourself, then you probably don’t really need to get paid. After all, they hate their job…that’s why they get paid.
At the same time, a lot of really great projects will simply never get off the ground unless people chip in to help out. So where do you draw the line? If you only go where the money is you will be creatively suffocated…if you only go where the lovely ideas are…you will be out of business within 6-months.
I’m sure you’ve seen this…but it applies nicely to photography and video work as well
So with the beauty of hindsight, did I make the right call?
I got to watch a really good DOP in action which was a bit like getting a two hour masterclass for free.
I got to watch a world class actor in action. Speaking as someone who spends most of his time filming either politicians or people who are not used to being in front of a camera. It was a revelation to watch someone who can nail a script time and time again, who can read with the pacing, inflection and timing that makes you feel as though they are speaking to you, rather than reading someone else’s words, and who brought so much energy to what he was doing.
I got to introduce Josh to the world of being on a film-set. There is a weird alchemy that occurs on a film set when the cast and crew are happily working towards the same goal, and Josh got to live that first hand…and meet Uncle Jack Charles who had seen in ‘Pan‘ just the week before.
I got to take advantage of someone else’s lighting set up and take photos of someone as engaging and enigmatic as Uncle Jack Charles.
I missed swim squad…and suffered like a dog the next week.
The Gillian Welch song ‘Everything is Free‘ (a song about artists giving away their work because “we’re gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay”) rebounds in my head every time I’m asked to do a job for nothing. But I would hate to become the sort of person who passes up the opportunity to work on an amazing project like this…and with people like Don, Mark and Uncle Jack.
Some experiences are priceless.