LD On The DL: Don't Work For Free


A friend on Facebook recently posted a Craig’s List ad.  Someone wants a Lighting Designer and gear for an upcoming fashion show for free.  Below is the text of the ad exactly as it appeared online:

looking for a company to provide lighting for The National Dwarf fashion Show on February 12th.

Setting must be done on the night of the 12th so everything cab ne ready when the camera TV crew arrives.

The runway is 50ft long and on each side guests will be seated

Sponsorship entails: 

- Company flyers can be displayed within our venue and we can also put them in the gift bags 

- Advertisement of logo/link on 9 well established companies's websites 

- International advertisement as we will continue on displaying your brand for our next fashion shows in Milan, London, France, Tokyo and Dubai 

- TV Spot: the company's brand will be displayed on our red carpet's backdrop in front of which our guests stars for a national TV network will be posing 

There are so many things wrong with this posting, I barely know where to begin.

First off vendors should be suspicious of any ad featuring such terrible punctuation and grammar.  The errors with capitalization, possessive apostrophes, and spelling should cause concern.  Also, the author omitted all but two periods.  Why, we may never know.  I do know that if a Producer cares so little about correctly written English, then the details of safety, insurances, professional procedures, and paying invoices will probably be approached just as casually. 

Which leads to my second point:  This gig was posted on the 8th and the load-in is on the 12th.  That leaves a whopping 96 hours to execute.  Good preproduction takes time.  Designing a cohesive plan that fits the client’s goals and budget takes discussion and planning.  Furthermore questions abound, like does this venue have any hanging points?  Or, what is the power availability?  How long should my cable runs be?  Will there be time to do a site survey?  The list goes on and on; you get the point. 

Can projects with an abbreviated time line be accomplished?  Absolutely.  However, you need consummate professionals by your side.  Guess what?  Professionals cost money.  The shorter the timeline, the more money they cost.  Gear also isn’t free.  Working gear that is cared for and well maintained costs money.  Sure, crap in somebody’s garage will be cheap, but nobody can guarantee it’ll work.  Furthermore, cheap gear also lacks any on-site support.  Say something either arrives damaged or gets broken.  If the show “rented” crap from a garage, that’s just too bad.  A full service shop, however, has the resources to make things right before showtime.  I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating:  Cheap always ends up costing more.

My biggest issue with this ad is the notion that “sponsorships” equate to future compensation.  The “Producer” is taking advantage of an assumption many in the industry hold sacrosanct; this belief needs to cease.  I have never seen, read, or heard of actual data supporting this assumption.  Let’s take a deeper look at this ad’s “sponsorship opportunities.”  You can post company flyers throughout the venue.  Unless this fashion show is being held in a college dorm, I think flyers everywhere will look silly.  You can also put promotional material in the gift bag.  What do people who attend fashion shows care about?  Fashion, not lighting companies.  Your logo will also be on several websites, with a link back to your site.  So, which sites?  Let’s see some specific names and traffic data to give this “offer” substance.  You will also garner international exposure!  Woah, that’s pretty amazing!  Who wouldn’t like to do a fashion show in the Emirates?  Nobody can pay you, but they’re mounting shows in Milan, London, France, Tokyo, and Dubai?  Right.  Lastly, your logo will be on the step and repeat, where cameras will be snapping away (presumably with your logo in the shot) at “… guests stars for a national TV network.”  Which network?  Who knows!  So exactly how many people have gotten production work off their logo on a step and repeat?  Anybody?  Anybody at all?  Yah, you won’t either.       

Finally, when someone works for free everyone gets hurt.  No matter your experience level within the profession, it devalues what we do at all levels.  Why would sketchy Producers — like the one who wrote this ad — pay anybody if they know someone out there will work for free?  This goes not just for fashion shows, but all sectors of the industry.  Why pay theatre designers?  Why pay electricians?  Why pay anybody?  Ethically dubious Producers or Directors with knowledge of how to exploit young professionals can easily take advantage.  Plus it also hurts your own future wages.  You may think working for free today is prudent to, “… gain experience.”  However that’s what college is for.  Get some self confidence and charge for your services.  Knowledge, even if limited, still has value.  If you’re really green, ask to shadow a professional for a day.  Working for free does nobody any good, and, again, evidence is scant the practice routinely leads to paying work.          

The ad closes by saying, “Contact only if you can seriously commit to the sponsorship.”  I have a better idea:  How about Producers only post ads who can offer their workers serious compensation.


Lance Darcy is a Lighting Designer and Director of Photography for The Lighting Design Group, based in New York City.  

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