The False Promise Behind Unpaid Film Projects

When I started out making films I didn’t know exactly how to deal with the following situation: A potential client would contact me and ask: “Can you do such and such project for me free of charge and as soon as we have money we will hire you for the next “real” production? With money and budget.” That sounded like a good deal. Especially when you are desperate for jobs.

I did this a few times in the hope of getting those “real” projects but it was funny looking back. I never ever experienced that those clients would come back. Meaning to say those clients never got back to me with those “real” paid projects. Why?
I kept wondering if there was something wrong with me or if I didn’t do a good job. Till I discovered a pattern.


In this video I walk you through what I discovered about the psychology of getting free work and when there is a real budget why clients turn and don’t come back in order to do fulfill their word and give you the business. This might surprise you, or at least it did to me because for so many years I wasn’t aware of this.

Let me ask you. Does this sound familiar? What did you experience when you got a request for a free project? Did you ever get the “real” project and fostered a long relationship? Let me know in the comments. howI2

  • Nice Shmuley, yes yes and yes… perceived value zero. Thanks for reminding me to keep my eyes on the prize.

  • This is so accurate I have never worked with a client after an ordeal such as this one

  • Martin

    I feel there’s also a side issue here too, much more immediate to the exploitee, which can be generally summarised as “Being Too Good To Be Free”. I was in my “doing it for the portfolio” stage just after graduating and was making a free video for someone, and because (here be trumpets) the production values were pretty much that of a professional job, it hideously shifted my client’s expectations as to what they could get for free.

    Why shouldn’t spent a night in a club getting people dancing, or travel 30 miles to get a specific landmark in the video? Because I’d proven to them I could deliver a professional-looking video rather than the basic idea they initially had, suddenly they wanted a whole load of additional elements that would be present in an equivalent professional video…. except for free.

    After realising very quickly the direction the project was going, I just stopped replying to them. Possibly a little unprofessional, but hardly a customer lost. Customers generally pay you.

  • Was this free advice? 😉

    • Yes it was, and it was a priceless lesson into client psychology. Schmuley is building his audience the right way; with hard-won knowledge, insight and humor.

  • entrefilmmaker

    Hey guys, first of all, thanks so much for being a reader and member. I really appreciate this and you are the reason why I do this. Seriously. Daryl, the advice is simple I know, but we overlook it so often and get caught in false dreams and promises. The advice is: Don’t work for free because a client promises you the world. Many of us faced and are facing those situations. Especially when business is slower. If you want to work for free do it for one of two reasons:
    1. you can use it to further your career (show reel, new people to work with)
    2. See it as a gift you are giving and don’t expect anything in return, no matter what the client promised.
    This ensures that you keep your integrity and self respect. Because lets face it: Asking for work for free is usually a chutzpa unless everyone works for free. Does this make sense to you?


  • Dan

    That was awesome! Great production. Good thoughts, creative approach, execution; editing, cold open, graphic open, framing, lighting, audio, series name & bug, etc.

    I give you this feedback for free but I did it for me because I like giving kudos when deserved.

    There, now I can leave with my integrity 😉

    Thank you,

  • Rob

    While building our portfolios, we should only do so by offering our service to those that we want in our portfolio.

    If someone is requesting our service, then they obviously like our skills and it is only fair that they pay for them (even if we just started–it means we’re already that good).

    No one requests free accounting, or a free oil change, or free tutoring, etc. If we creatives want to be treated like all other professionals then we have to stop accepting REQUESTS for unpaid work even if it’s something cool for the portfolio.

    I think the work-for-free requests will never go away until we collectively realize and teach the newbies that we can offer our service “for the portfolio,” but they should never request. And if they do request, we have to be professional and say, “I can’t.”

    Making a film or doing a photo shoot is much more time consuming and expensive than making a hamburger. People have to stop seeing it as something that can be done “on the house.” We’ll starve in the process!

    …And then there’s the “test shoots.” If we have a portfolio that they “really like,” then they shouldn’t need to test us.

    Just say No!

    • brekanarts

      Real professionals join IATSE (or demand IATSE scale abd get it consistently). Don’t work for free. You’re dooming yourself and betraying us all.

  • You’re in the hands of the Lord now, and I’m here to serve.
    Talks about himself in the’ ‘3rd person singular or uses the regal’ “’we’” ‘and craves to
    be the exclusive center of attention,’ ‘even adulation – Have a’ ‘messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his’ “’mission’”’.

    In his article he also tells us how to decor your home and Christmas
    tree using Christmas Snowflakes, handmade Christmas decorations, Christmas Stockings, hearts,
    bells and Glass Baubles so that they look beautiful and stunning.

  • I would like to see her switch up her style and wear something a bit different.

  • Second, the risk is over relying on what consumers say to guide your strategy. Consumer feedback of any sort if only ever a rear view mirror of the world, and can only get you so far. As Andrew says need evangelists for its brands, advocating on behalf

  • Michał Środek

    Fortunately I was warned before about this pattern and have never made that mistake to accept free work. This is a real plague!
    Here in Poland there was video made about different professions treated like a creatives. It looked a bit funny when guy in the restaurant asked for reduced price for ordering a full meal, but when it came to paying “when I have money” it had gone even worse – and that is how our creative financial world works. Terrifying!

  • Michal. So true. I’m not sure why this demand in the creative world is even existing in the first place. Must be that a few clients tried to get stuff for free, then it worked and now it’s almost common practice. In the end it’s ours the creatives fault because if we let this happen then we set the expectations. No?

  • Susan Shearer

    Hey, Shmuley. It makes me smile to see you having fun delivering your video training. May g-d richly bless your endeavors here.

  • brekanarts

    The irony is I get these requests MOSTLY from fellow Jews under teh disguise of a Tzedaka project. Don’t be fooled! They will pay a non-Jew, they should pay their fellow Jew too!