1st draft guidelines for unpaid postings

Posted March 21st, 2010 by Jess

So here is our first attempt at putting forward a definition of the productions that can advertise for unpaid work on Shooting People. The idea is that this would be a check box that producers and directors have to fill out before an unpaid posting is accepted. We welcome all comments and suggestions here from both producers and crew. We’d like to refine these ideas here on the blog and then put them to a vote by the members before bringing them in.

To post an unpaid job you must:

☐ for a charity/ community project
☐ self-funded (friends and family) short film
☐ unpaid staff offered profit share.

☐ Not a TV commission.
☐ Not a corporate commission
☐ Budget below caps (feature £250,000, short £60,000 and music video £30,000)
☐ The production company size below £1 million turnover.

You must agree that unpaid crew are entitled to (tick to show you agree)
☐ Insurance for shoots/ drivers.
☐ Expense agreements up out-of-pocket costs.
☐ Credit in final films
☐ Copy of final film.

Over to you all – what do you think?

  1. Daniel Cormack

    Hi Jess,

    Thanks for taking the time to put these together and for giving people a chance to express their views.

    I had some thoughts / suggestions:

    1/ What does “community project” mean? Perhaps “voluntary organisation” (specifically exempt from paying the minimum wage under section 44) should be included as well as community project.

    2/ Is “Credit in the final film” supposed to mean a credit on the opening or closing credits of the film? How would this work with music videos or very short films (eg. 0-3mins)? The credits could end up longer than the film / video itself or so quick and/or small as to be unreadable! I think there needs to be some sense of proportion / common sense. Perhaps it should be a case of a producer making best efforts, but that people wouldn’t automatically be entitled to a credit on the film or video’s actual titles. Full credits could then be made available elsewhere eg. on the film’s website or IMDb or publicity materials (where space allows).

  2. Chris Loughlin

    It sounds like a pragmatic compromise – apart from the budget caps, which seem very high to me. If someone has a budget of £59K for a short film, quite a lot of people are being paid (even if they’re hire companies etc) so it would seem to me to be very unfair to then ask others to work for nothing. Especially when it’s in key roles like DoP / Sound recording where you’re expected to show up for nothing AND bring all your expensive equipment with you.

  3. zahra

    Well I can’t believe it’s nearly 1pm and I’m the first to comment on this!

    In principle I agree with the above – BUT – the budget level (for shorts in particular) is WAAAY too high. If you have £60k to make a short I do think EVERYONE should be paid at least the NMW. But in actuality I think the same is true for the £30k music video.



  4. Cath Le Couteur

    I’d also add ‘Actors’ to the last section so you are agreeing for crew and actors what they are entitled too.

  5. Teja Hudson

    I think this is a great idea, and a strong compromise between the need to protect our industry from exploitation and necessarily allowing our guerrilla sector to flourish.

    I also think the budget caps are too high though, and would recommend that an unpaid feature film should ALWAYS offer some form of profit share and/or deferred payments because it is a commercially viable product with a solid potential for sales. Short films and music videos are much less likely to make their money back, but if a feature does go Blair Witch then I’d want to make sure the unpaid cast/crew were in place to benefit from that too. To me, that’s a clear difference between collaboration and employment; you’re all in it together win or lose, or you’re not and everyone is paid well instead.

    Perhaps adding “/website/imdb” to the end of the line “☐ Credit in final films” would be beneficial, as these credits are often more useful than on the film itself in any case 🙂

    Just my 2p worth!

  6. Ben Blaine

    I agree with Teja and Daniel about adding to the clarity of the nature of the credit.

    I can understand £60k seeming too high a level to cap a budget at but remember the key thing in that section is that you have to be able to tick *all* not just *any* of the boxes before you can post. This is not any film under £60k but any film under £60k without a direct commission being made by a fairly small company. Teja has more of a point when it comes to Feature Films because even at a low budget these have a far higher market potential than a Short or a Music Video.

    £30k would be a very healthy budget for a Music Video but it is also the sort of budget you will only get one crack at. Paying NMW on this project when no vested interest is already keen to distribute or screen it will severely cap the creative aspirations of those involved. Being part of a break through video with £30k on the screen is precisely the sort of exposure that many people I know need, whilst a couple of days at their usual rate for something run of the mill won’t make much difference to anybody in the long run.

    Don’t forget when you’re used to working on favours alone you forget quite how valuable those favours are. £60k sounds like a massive sum of money but once you start paying everyone’s wages you quickly find it leaves you with nothing much to actually shoot on.

    This must not become just a way to allow no budget productions with low aspirations to go unhindered and remain unnoticed. This is about allowing teams of professionals to take risks at their own expense whilst stopping others turning a fast profit at the expense of others.

    Crucially here, one of the issues that I have seen come up again and again that is not currently addressed in this form is equality across the production. When working at less than NMW, my brother and I have always tried to ensure that the entire cast and crew are on the same daily rate. This is perhaps not a blanket solution but I know a lot of actors are rightly furious when finding that “skilled” crew are on a wage whilst they are being paid in bus fare and sandwiches.

    Another question for me is that of enforcement. It cannot be down to Shooting People to check the accuracy of the information given but at the same time this needs to be more than just an empty box ticking exercise.

    It needs to be clear what sanctions will be taken against a project found to be in breach of this agreement… if people started losing their memberships and having their names black listed for not delivering copies of the final film to the cast and crew it would certainly change filmmakers’ attitudes.

    Or could Bectu police this? Could they be persuaded to pursue productions that sign these terms and then breach them whilst leave be those who uphold them?

    Also in terms of “expense agreements” and “profit share” will templates and standard terms be provided by Shooting People? And as far as enforcing these ideas goes is the term “friends” too open to abuse? I’d consider anyone a friend if they gave me £100k.

    As usual, too much from me. Sorry for that.


  7. Richard

    I agree that the budget caps are far too high.

    It’ll be impossible to actually define who is a “Friend” of the filmmaker. I could say anyone who’s working with me is a friend, regardless of whether I know them socially or not, and no-one would know anything different.

    The requirement to pay expenses must be kept. But this should specify a time period for when the expenses must be repaid by – say 30 days after filming wraps, or receipts are submitted.

    In my view no production company should be allowed to post expenses-only jobs, let alone especially one with a £1million turnover. A legitimate company will have the funds to pay its staff – including freelancers and contractors.

    Finally, I think that any project being made as a commercial venture – in other words, the filmmaker’s aim is to make money from the film – should not be allowed to post adverts for expenses-only jobs.

    But projects that offered a basic daily wage, repayment of expenses, and a profit share to make up the difference between the basic wage and the NWN, the worker’s day rate, or guild/union minimums, should be allowed.

    As for sanctions, simply expulsion from Shooting People if someone is found to breach them. But a black list could open SP to law suits.

    – Richard

  8. Dan Outram

    This is great. I reckon most people wanting to advertise for unpaid cast and crew are either self-funding or have budgets significantly under caps.

  9. Julia Guest

    Is there a way to establish a sweat equity entitlement to future funds, if the film created does generate an income. This could be disclosed on a web site from the outset.

    eg. Cash invested by whom + time invested and by whom.

  10. Dave

    Those boxes are going to help anyone if people posting the jobs are not honest. Someone from SP needs to see their budget first before posting any advts other wise if companies who were making a million film would say- the budget is only £1000.

    Just wanted to add what Julia said, each crew/cast should able to audit the account on the . So a clause needed to be written on the contract.

    Also when the film generates money or profit share as it called, Is cast/crew going to be paid of the first dollar it makes? Is it gross or net? Thing should be made clear from day one.

    Also the total budget should be disclosed for crew to view freely so they know how and where the money is being spent or who is pocketing it.

    SP need to make it clear as what is a industry rate(fully paid) and low paid. As most of the job advertised as fully paid, that pay only £50 is should not be advertise under fully paid jobs. This will help with the problem in the first place.

  11. Richard Unger

    Any commercial venture that intends to profit from any production should at least have a profit share or legal obligation to pay by deferred payment. This should be a legally binding contract. It should mean all expenses and cost, the worker should never be out of pocket, credit should include every worker on the production in IMDB if the production is listed there. Any project that does not seek financial gain should be except and left to the individual crews.

  12. Rick Alancroft

    All of these comments are academic now.
    The Employment Tribunals at Reading have ruled that expenses-only engagements are illegal. So anyone trying this on is going to get sued or/and fined.
    My imput is if you can pay for repographics, scripts, car and equipment hire. Pay for the actors. We have to eat, pay rent and bills.
    Rick Alancroft

  13. Chris Dolphin

    With regards to camera trainee or vfx compositor/roto artist junior trainee grades on commercial productions…

    There are a vast amount of graduates out there clamoring for places on commercial features/tv productions who are absolutely willing to gain experience for zero pay, with a large student load dragging behind them in tow. The simple fact that there are so many willing to work for experience only is what is creating and feeding this growing trend. It is also a plain simple fact that because there are so many, only a fraction taking unpaid/very low paid “trainee” places will go on through to paid careers climbing through the already low paid starting grades on their way, in other words this trainee start in the industry may end right there. So it seems to me that the present industry, especially where intensive VFX and multiple camera units are the norm, is propped up by a vast army of unpaid/very low paid roto artists, runners, 3rd ADs etc and camera trainees with hardly any voice. This has created a vicious circle which needs to be broken by far more attention being focused on it and this practice being more exposed.

    Any projects on micro budgets there should be a legal default whereby if there is that tiny chance that it becomes very successful – it can happen sometimes – and starts turning profits, each who have worked on it on expenses/zero pay are automatically entitled legally to an equal share similar to a royalty of some sort. Maybe there should be some sort of legal requirement that anyone starting a volunteer production of any sort, should make up a clause document to such effect similar to a release??

  14. Ian Seale


    There is nothing that is done for nothing, the cost is merely absorbed somewhere else down the line or by somebody else – no pay is exploitation.

    I really welcome this initiative, and would echo a lot of the comments already made, especially:

    Applicable to CAST and CREW
    Budget caps need to reflect the difference between Shorts and Music Videos and Features.

    But, in essence, it’s a damn good stake in the ground.

    Ian Seale

  15. Helen


    I am a trainee makeup artist, trying to become established in the field, which is very difficult. I very much enjoy, and get a lot out of independent projects. I find they boost confidence, add to experience, are great for networking/meeting new people in the industry, and they keep me busy when I have no paid work on. I understand that independent shorts/music videos etc, have to employ crew and actors for no money, or as someone else mentioned above, the creativity of the project may suffer due to lack of funding. I do object however, on finding out that other crew members are being paid when I am not. I don’t mind if some are paid more then others – different skills require different payment, but if one crew member is getting paid something, then we all should. I also object to independent projects who offer breakfast/lunch, and all they provide is crisps and biscuits!! It sounds petty but if I’m working for free I, I don’t want to eat crap all day.

    The last short I worked on was very good in terms of expenses – 3 days work, driving between Bromley and Islington for 2 days, Essex and Clapham for the other, purchase of fake blood, parking permit for a day, congestion charge for a day – I got the check a few days after we finished, and she’d given me a bit more than I’d asked for.

    Of course it would be so much better to be paid for these jobs, but this part of the industry would suffer as a result, I just don’t think it’s possible. But it is possible for the producers to be fair, pay all or none, provide at least one good meal (!), cover all expenses and pay swiftly following the job. I don’t think that is asking too much. I also think there should be a contract in place always where the film-maker is hoping to profit from the project, that crew members/actors should get a percentage…but then what if any profit is going to fund the next project??!


  16. Michael Walton

    These guidlines are way to complex and restrictive. My suggestion is to just publish a set of guidelines warning prospective crew that they are advised not to work for free on commercial projects, and explaining how to spot such a project. Then it’s up to the individual to decide.

    Any SP member found to be misrepresenting the nature of their project would be permanently blacklisted. Let’s keep it simple.

  17. JC Crissey

    Clearly a good initial effort by SP to set some standards in how they advertise unpaid work, but like some who have commented, I believe this well intentioned attempt may be counter productive.

    Of course we do indeed have a minimum wage law, safety and security should always be paramount, we producers have certain ethical responsibilities to our cast and crew (e.g. treating employees with respect, meeting all commitments agreed in a formal contract – especially delivering the agreed credit on final answer print, paying wages on time – withstanding this debate, insuring the shoot, providing references after contract – if deserved, etc.). I actually produced a low-budget producer ethics code of practice several years ago, which I have been touting around and sharing with my contemporaries. Anyway, following the law and a general producer code of practice is what I – and most other producers in the UK – follow, at least from my viewpoint.

    No surprisingly, I do not share the occasional portrayal of low-budget independent producers as unscrupulous exploiters of the innocent and vulnerable. To suggest producers not make a film if they cannot pay everybody is ludicrous, and we know of a famous UK director or whomever who started out doing things on a film for free and started a successful career. Is SP, that great organisation that has almost single handily facilitated the launch of so many people in the industry, going to shut that opportunity off by setting this kind of criteria? I hope not.

    What is being lost in BECTU’s viewpoint, not surprisingly, is that the risk in a production is owned entirely by the producer and his/her investors. When I attended the first Martin Spence / Chris Jones debate some years ago, I was almost booed out of the hall for making that comment. If a group of people wants to get together and make a film that is different – there are many potential business models, with different ways to share equity – to choose from. London to Brighton is a recent classic example, look at what it has done for so many of those people! However, there are still small “cottage industry” UK independent producers like myself that do the more mainstream approach. Find a good script; get what money I can; work with a team to deliver the best film possible; then market it and do everything possible to achieve a wide distribution. I believe the best thing I can do for my team is to get the film “out there” and make it a success, that is what I think most people are looking for, a producer commitment to do everything possible to ensure the film is a hit.

    Here are some things the tick list misses:

    – What about the producer who wants to offer job experience? I always try to have one or two of these every shoot – dare I say I even pay them min wage and expenses – but lets just say I wanted to take on a person without giving them a salary, it would still actually COST me time and money to train that person. Should producers have to pay for some “rookie” Spielberg’s education? I think not. Some time ago on a shoot I had a person – who I paid – working on the camera crew. Great CV, nice person, recent “top” film school graduate – good person, now trying to make a career in LA. However, the poor chap did not even know what a focus puller was – and he touted his skills as a cameraman – now why should any producer be forced to pay for that level of skill?

    – People need to discount this profit share rubbish. There is none. Ethically I feel this is wrong for any knowing experienced producer to offer this, since they know it is a lie. All this does is add further legal costs to the production that could go into making a better film. Depending on the lawyer and bank / setting up the shared escrow and the contractual first shares bit costs as much as hiring two runners at min wage. I don’t believe in profit share (except in the obvious case of top “famous name” talent, or the exec producer demands it). That is why I pay people, but other producers have other justifiable reasons for not offering profit share – even when they do not offer salary or expenses.

    Bottom line – I would suggest SP modify their criteria to include a “credit only” clause for its members. If people are not interested in that, they will not look or take up the offer. I would then also have a “expenses only” clause, and “minimum wage plus expenses” clause, etc.

    Let people choose for themselves.

  18. Sharon Cannings

    This is a great start, although I echo other’s opinions in that the budget caps are too high.
    Transparency is the key, here. If you really have to pay nothing (which I personally disagree with) then you must be prepared to be completely transparent with your accounts. You must be prepared to show them to BECTU or Equity if they request it on behalf of another member.
    Those that are in breach of Shooters rules cannot post again and are expelled from the service.
    Equity have a “name and shame” list of agents that are withholding monies and involved in other nefarious activities. Could the unions set up a list of producers along the same lines? Let’s say, the ones that pay some crew and not others, or are in receipt of funding but plead poverty? That’s what we want to stamp out.

  19. Darren L

    If you half the budget caps then that will be getting somewhere. £60,000 for a short is a ridiculous threshold for producers to only start paying their employees.

    Also format has not been mentioned in this. A 35mm short is a big difference to a HDV short for example.

  20. Mal Hartley

    This seems a good idea to make things a little clearer although I agree with others that the caps are way too high.
    Even enthusiastic well- intentioned directors and producers, funding from their own pocket, can not often fulfil promises, due to over optimism, and may often overlook common courtesy when dealing with others, (paid employees shouldn’t be treat like this, let alone those volunteering their services).
    I think also there is a trend for a company to pay a live action crew, then to seek graphic and animated elements for free, under the assumption that Animation is somehow more fun to do, and therefore not serious work. With no knowledge these people are often dictating how long a technique will take, how many will be needed to achieve it and what this should cost, from the outset. They are nearly always underestimating.

    I found this article on line that I think spells out the problem rather well in a slightly humorous way.

Comments are closed.