Ep17: Is Taking Free Work Really Worth It? | with Alan Bell, ACE


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

Just imagine walking into an upscale restaurant and saying, “I’d love to try out the most popular item on your menu, and while I won’t pay for it this time, if I love it there’s a high likelihood I’ll have business for you in the future.” Um, that would be a big giant NO. So why is it okay for people to exploit creative talent and imagination in exactly this way?

In this archival episode from my ‘Fitness In Post’ days, Alan Bell and I discussed how to distinguish between whether or not a low or no paying job is worth the gamble for the bigger picture of advancing your career. 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 (not that anyone would ever be interested in exploiting your creative talents).

When I originally released this episode I also created a bonus document to accompany it that was an assessment questionnaire to help you break down step-by-step whether a specific job opportunity is worth it or not. Since releasing this I have received lots of great feedback from listeners who have said it helped them make the right decision with peace of mind about whether or not a potential job would make sense for their career. If you’d like to download this assessment questionnaire free of charge just visit optimizeyourself.me/episode17download.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Why I decided to leave a high paying job to go cut a low paying indie film
  • Alan’s background and credits
  • Is free work the right thing for your career?
  • There is good kind of free work out there, you just have to watch for it
  • You can’t treat every film and every job posting the same way
  • 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 Resources Mentioned:

FiP Podcast Ep40: Editing Hollywood Blockbusters

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

Job Posting Meme

#SayNoToSpec Video

Our Generous Sponsors:

This episode is made possible by Ergodriven, the makers of the Topo Mat, my #1 recommendation for anyone interested in moving more at their height-adjustable workstation. Listen, standing desks are only great if you’re standing well, otherwise you’re constantly fighting fatigue and chronic pain. Not like any other anti-fatigue mat, the Topo is scientifically proven to help you move more throughout the day which helps reduce discomfort and also increase your focus and productivity. And they’re really fun and a great conversation starter.

This episode is made possible by the HumanCharger,  a revolutionary new light therapy device made specifically for people who spend long days in the dark and don’t get enough sunlight…i.e. You and me. Simply put in the earbuds for 12 minutes a day to receive your daily recommended dosage of UV-free white light. Doing so can drastically increase your energy, improve your mood, and increase mental alertness and focus.This device has literally changed my life and I use it every morning without fail. Use the code ‘OPTIMIZE’ to get 20% off your order.

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, and the show notes were prepared and published by Jakin Rintelman. Special thanks to Krystle Penhall and Sarah Furie for helping to spread the love!

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).


Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, and the creator of the Optimize Yourself program. Zack helps ambitious creative professionals and entrepreneurs overcome procrastination, depression, and creative burnout so they can get sh*t done and achieve the most meaningful goals in their lives...without sacrificing their sanity in the process. If you’re interested in learning how to better manage your time, your energy, and develop ninja-like focus, download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”

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