[Podcast] Ep74: When You Should Take Free Work (And When You Should Run)

In creative industries like film & television post-production, it’s extremely common to see job listings for free or low paid work, but how do you know if it’s worth it or if you should run for the hills? After all, would you ask for services for free in other industries?

» Click here to download your ‘Should I Take Free Work?’ Assessment Tool

In this episode I have a candid conversation with feature film editor Alan Bell (The Hunger Games, The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer) about how to distinguish between whether or not a low or no paying job is worth the gamble. We evaluate the many reasons that a specific job opportunity may be worth it based on the potential long-term payoffs, and we also talk about when it is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances to take on a job that is clearly looking to exploit your talents and experience.

I have also created a helpful bonus document for this episode with a series of questions that can help you evaluate your next low or no-paying job opportunity, and it also includes a list of helpful questions that you can ask your potential employer as well.

Topics of Conversation:

  • Why I decided to leave a high paying job to go cut a low paying indie film
  • Never take a free job if you’re not going to get something out of it: participation points, producing, new experience etc
  • How Alan got his start in the film industry with free work
  • Alan’s work experience with Norman Hollyn
  • How I learned After Effects by working FOR FREE
  • Free work that’s right for one person might not be right for another
  • Take stock of where you are in your career and life before deciding to work for free
  • How taking on a free web series (Bannan Way link..which site should this link to?) helped jump start my career in television
  • Building relationships is a key component to finding quality work
  • Bring your own questions to an interview! Make sure the job is a good fit for you
  • Take the work that’s good instead of taking the work that’s there
  • Questions you should ask during an interview
  • Know your own temperament
  • The best job listing in the history of job listings
  • Learn how to spot the “catch phrases” and red flags of exploitative producers
  • Be honest with yourself and surround yourself with honest people
  • Be aware of your situation and decide what’s best for you

Useful Links:

FiP Podcast Ep40: Editing Hollywood Blockbusters

FiP Podcast Ep56: “Advancing Your Career In Post” with Norman Hollyn

FiP Podcast Ep61: Do You Really Need to Go to Film School?

‘That Post Show’ Podcast with Zack & Alan

Job Posting Meme

#SayNoToSpec Video

Guest Bio:

Film editor Alan Edward Bell A.C.E., is best known for his work on (500) Days of Summer, ‘Water For Elephants’, ‘The Amazing Spiderman’, and the last three installments of the “Hunger Games” series. His resume spans 30 years in post-production, and includes a long list of credits in editorial as well as visual effects. Over the last 15 years he has been pushing the limits of what is possible in the cutting
room by blending visual effects and editing techniques. Alan currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and three sons.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, the show notes were prepared by Natalie Boschan, and this show is executive produced by Kanen Flowers. We are a member of the THAT STUDIO podcast network.

The music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Dorian Cheah from his brilliant album ARA.


Zack Arnold is an award-winning film & television editor (Burn Notice, Empire, Shooter, Glee), member of the American Cinema Editors, a documentary director (GO FAR: The Christopher Rush Story), and creator of the Optimize Yourself program (formerly ‘Fitness In Post’). He helps ambitious creative professionals like you learn how to more efficiently manage your time, energy, and attention so you can maximize your creative focus and minimize procrastination, depression, and burnout. After all, what’s the point of killing yourself for the sake of your career if you don’t have energy to spare for the most important people in your life?