Here Is Why You Are Not Getting Paid to Make Films

When I first moved to Seattle I used to tell my San Francisco friends that the Seattle artistic community was much more accessible than the San Francisco artistic community.

  • I meant that in Seattle I could be at a party or an opening and walk up to the casting director for one of the Equity houses and we would have a conversation about our mutual interests; but in S.F. I’d have to know the secretary of the mayor’s brother to even get in the same room as a casting director for an Equity house.
  • I meant that in Seattle I could go to a party with a bunch of painters and meet a playwright and a musician and make new collaborative working partners or friends.
  • I meant that I could post a notice on a theater list asking for writers and get a mix of playwrights, literary writers, non-fiction writers, and that the connection would keep growing and that we could meet to work together for 3 years every Saturday morning.
  • I meant that I could be cast 30% of the times I auditioned, instead of 5% in the Bay Area.

So, perhaps that was all true. But, as I think back on my time in that rainy city, there also is another side. It seems to me that there was a distinct lack of professionalism, of follow-through, in Seattle to balance the availability of resources.

  • For example, I was cast in 4 indie films and 2 TV shows that never shot.  None of them even called to say, “Don’t come to the location; we’re not shooting.”
  • Another 3 films I was in were shot but never edited.
  • Actors who worked with me on writing screenplays or stage plays to self-produce and showcase our mutual acting work flaked out every time they got a project that was further along, and eventually flaked altogether on the collaborative self-promotion.
  • A director-playwright cancelled a show the instant actors in rehearsal gave her their feedback on their characters.
  • A director extended a play script by adding a half hour from the film version to the stage script–making the play 190 minutes long; he did this so an actor could “get a few more lines and make it worth her while.”
  • A local cable TV producer called in actors for a screen test, kept them for over 2 hours; never even reading some of the actors; instead, actors sat around while the writers changed the script back and forth.
  • A commercial producer called in actors for what he called an “audition;” he taped our readings; later we found out that he edited the tapes into a pilot/pitch (using our un-paid work) to sell his concept to a sponsor; then he cast the infomercial out of L.A.

Though I recognize that many of the projects I’ve described were independent projects (only the infomercial could be considered a professional project), I still think the lack of professionalism is disturbing.

In contrast, in San Francisco, the not-yet-professional folks were driven to finish projects and not to tarnish their reputations because they wanted to make it to a level where they could be paid for their work.

Here in Seattle I get the feeling that to remain an unpaid hack is okay.


That might be true for some folks as long as they’re having fun; however, the other part of that attitude is the lack of respect shown to their fellow participants in the process.

One Response to Here Is Why You Are Not Getting Paid to Make Films

  1. Steven Gladstone August 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Not only in Seattle, happens in N.Y. as well.

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