5 Reasons For and Against Volunteering on a Film

On your usual search for gigs and opportunities in the film industry, you might come across more than a few posts like this:

“Looking for camera operator. No budget, sorry, but we’ve got a great project!”

“Student film in need of actors. Unpaid. Copy/meal/credit.”

Depending on what stage you are in your film career, you might consider working free gigs. The thing is, not all these opportunities are created equally. Here’s a quick guide on how to decide whether to volunteer on someone’s set.

Why you might want to volunteer:

experience

  1. Completely new to film industry.
  2. Trying to move up a position.
  3. Working for a friend.
  4. It’s a good project.
  5. You need it for your reel.

If you’ve never worked on a film set before, volunteering on a few productions might be a good idea. You’ll get the experience you need while having less pressure since you’re not technically any sort of employee. Plus it’s very difficult to get yourself noticed as a production assistant in a very competitive job market without prior experience and/or a contact on the production.

Or maybe you’re already working on films, but you’ve really like to level up your skills. Maybe you’re a well-practiced 2nd AC looking to move up to 1st. Volunteering as a 1st on a project is helpful. Again, less pressure, but gaining experience.

Most of us are pretty cool for working on a friend’s project. Plus it’s a small world and people tend to like to do each other favors like this.

#4 and 5 go hand in hand. If this project looks like a good quality project, plus you’d like to add it to your reel? You’re still benefitting.

Why you shouldn’t volunteer:

exposure meme

  1. You have plenty of experience.
  2. The project sounds like a hot mess.
  3. The project asks above and beyond what they should get for free.
  4. Particular skills required. (Examples: DP must have drone/Steadicam. An actor needs to do a nude scene or stunts).
  5. “It’s only going to take four hours!” Trust me — it won’t.

You need to value yourself enough to be paid for your skills. You don’t need to do someone’s project “for exposure” especially since exposure means hardly anything. Anyone asking you to do something for exposure should be treated with caution.

A feature shooting in 4 days? All overnights? The previous crew bailed? The job poster is nasty about the unpaid situation IN the job post? These are all red flags and indicate a project best worth avoiding.

A project asking for an inordinate amount of equipment — a DP with a specific camera and lighting package, a specific drone – are also ones I say to avoid. I also keep seeing posts asking for makeup artists for free. Makeup artists are using up their materials to do your project. They at the very least need a kit fee to cover expendables.

Maybe it’s a gig that’s mashing too many jobs rolled into one (Camera PA/Media Manager). This happens on paid gigs too, which can still be a problem.

I’ve worked on enough films that I can tell you if a project says they only need you for a handful of hours…it’s likely not true, or they grossly underestimated how long it takes to put together a shoot. Always figure a 12 hour day in.

In Conclusion

Working for free is your decision. If you think it will benefit you in the long run with experience on a new skill or you want to help somebody out — that’s great. Not volunteering is also your decision. Weigh your pros and cons list on each unpaid gig you see and make the smartest decision for you.

Make it or Break it in the Atlanta Film Industry

So, you’re looking at starting out in the Atlanta film industry, and don’t know where to start?

Disclaimer: This is primarily directed at those looking at the crew side of things, but there are a couple resources that actors can check out as well.

Whether you’ve gone to school, attended a workshop or are a completely new person in the industry — you’re likely going to start from the bottom up. To better prepare you for the long road ahead, I’ve put together this post to point you in the right direction.

film school meme

I’m allowed to post this because I went to film school and still had to PA…just like many of my peers.

Be the Ideal Production Assistant

A production assistant is universally recognized as the entry-level job on any set.

What are the qualities that make a great production assistant?

A production assistant may be in charge of many tasks on a set. You might print and distribute scripts and callsheets, drive crew and actors to and from set, set up pop up tents and crafty, lock-up streets or areas to prevent people walking into set, go on runs to pick up supplies or equipment, or become a human sandbag.

I’ve been a human sandbag. Do not recommend.

The ideal production assistant is humble, eager to help and able to anticipate the needs of a crew without stepping out of the bounds of their position. You have the fortitude to withstand 12+ hours worth of production, sometimes with nothing to do for long periods of time, without complaining.

When you apply for these gigs, you will follow whatever guidelines are in the job listing. Trust me, that alone will make you stand out. Bonus points if you research the production company and their previous work.

Alternate: Be an Extra

Those with zero film experience might want to get their feet wet by working as an extra. As an extra, you’re exposed to the long hours of a film job (though not as long as the crew) and can see firsthand how things are run. You can get the feel for the job without actually running around doing PA duties.

So where should you start looking for jobs?

Job Sites

*paid subscriptions

A note on Help Wanted Hotline: Jobs for films and TV shows are posted here, and you’ll see some big names here. Certainly add this to your list of things to check regularly, but please note that I’ve not heard of anyone getting a job through here. More often than not it seems jobs are posted here later than in other places.

Stage 32 is probably better for networking because I see a lot of people “trying to break in” and not a lot of people actually hiring.

Facebook Groups

For work, advice, encouragement, hilarious memes!

  • Atlanta Film Community
  • Paid Only Georgia Film Crew Group
  • Atlanta Film Production Group
  • Production Freelancers – Producers, Coordinators, PA’s etc…..
  • Georgia Production Assistants
  • Greater Atlanta Film Community
  • Women Working in Reality TV
  • **Movie Set Memes

**You know you need a laugh during the job search.

Other useful groups for info, advice and the very occasional job: Atlanta Film Production Group, Georgia Production Assistants.

This is just a sample. Look for what you’re into and join up. Some groups are more spammy than others, so I didn’t really want to add groups like Georgia Film Industry Circle and because it skews towards being more spammy, but sometimes get lucky.

Actors and Background Facebook groups

Another way people might survive the long in-between calls is by working as an extra.

  • ONLY Speaking Role Casting Calls (Southeast US)
  • Central Casting (Georgia USA)
  • Actors Access
  • SAG – AFTRA (for those serious about this acting thing)
  • SCAD Film & Television (Please note, any gig posted on a student group WILL be for VOLUNTEER ONLY. Students can’t afford to pay and simply need the practice of working with crews/actors. Be considerate of this.)
  • Background Artists
  • Casting Atlanta
  • CAB Castings
  • Casting All Talent
  • Casting TaylorMade
  • Casting TaylorMade Miami
  • Central Casting Atlanta
  • CL Casting
  • Cynthia Stillwell Casting
  • Extras Casting Atlanta
  • Hylton Casting
  • Marinella Hume Casting
  • New Life Casting
  • Southern BG Casting
  • Tammy Smith Casting- Atlanta
  • The Extra Bad Group
  • WSA Casting

The Atlanta SAG page has a list of legit agents for actors (something you should consider if acting is your thing). You can find agents and managers elsewhere, but beware, there are many scams afoot. Legitimate agencies will not ask for money upfront (the exception is Actor’s Access, but that’s different). Places like John Casablancas will make you fork over $1000+ and are definitely scams.

Volunteering

Here’s the thing. If you’re new to the industry in general, or new to a place like Atlanta, working for free on a couple projects can actually be beneficial. Hear me out.

You need to make connections in the area, people who live here and can in turn recommend you for actual paying jobs in the future. People who might volunteer to work on your next project. It’s a give and take.

Don’t volunteer on just anything. Vet your options. If a production sounds fishy, keep your distance. I had my own protocol for what I would volunteer on and you should too.

I volunteered my services on a short film once after watching the director’s previous content and negotiating when I would work. That film ended up at San Diego Comic Con.

no pay

That being said, definitely don’t be a volunteer forever. Even if you’re a total n00b to the film industry, once you’ve gained skills through volunteering, you need to value yourself enough to be paid for your work.

Networking Events

Last year when I was fresh on the Atlanta scene, I went to a couple of networking events to start meeting people and see what was out there.

Just check out this list of networking events for film people in Atlanta! Just don’t go to Atlanta Film Hub. I’ve heard bad things about them.

Women in Film and Television Atlanta is a great way women to network. If you don’t want to pay the dues, they have a monthly open mixer. The next one is set for February 07. Non-members pay $15.

Something like Film Bar Monday is not networking per se. It’s more a casual hang out for filmmakers to do. This is held on every Monday at various bars around Atlanta, including Decatur. The rules state no business cards, no obvious desperate ploys for employment. But meet some people here, get talking and you’ll see where your next lead might come from. There’s also a Film Brunch Sunday!

Production Gear Rental

Maybe you’ve got the skills for a certain job, but don’t have the gear yet?

For those who say “I just need this one thing and I have $30.” The first two are the Uber of production rental — i.e. renting from regular people in your area:

The following are the more professional ones:

Film Industry Resource Map

This is a handy interactive resource put together by Tatem Spearman.

Click here to access the map.

What You Need to Do RIGHT NOW

  • Update your resume, website, and various job board accounts. Reflect any new additions, new skills or anything that might apply to production jobs.

Tailor your resume to the job you want. If you sometimes apply to sound gigs and sometimes to acting gigs, have separate resumes for each.

  • Clean up your social media of anything that might appear questionable to a potential employer. You laugh, but I’ve actually had employers say during an interview, “We looked at your social media and think you’re a great fit.”
  • Business cards. Maybe seems antiquated to some but can’t hurt.
  • Professional email. Nobody is going to hire ButtDeeemon13XXX@hotmail.com. No one. (Dear Lord please don’t let that be a real email address) Some variation of your first and last name or your production company name (if you have one) is fine.

But most importantly:

atl meme

No, not that.^
  • Don’t give up. 

Making it in the production world, whether in Atlanta, Los Angeles or Narnia will require a level of commitment and stubbornness not found in other professions. You might find yourself networking and putting yourself out there for months without work.

Have a savings. Have a plan. If you put your best foot forward, keep making those connections, honing your skills and doing the grunt work that does come your way, people will notice. And that’s what you want.

Did I miss anything?

If there’s anything I can add to these lists, please let me know by emailing bridgetlamonica@gmail.com. Contributors will be credited.

Contributors to this post

Tatem Spearman, Alex Collins, Arthur Groves (updates for BG Casting list).