I Worked for Free, Now Where's My DVD?

I Worked for Free, Now Where’s My DVD?

Imagine this: after going back and forth for days, you've finally been offered your first film gig and feel like you're taking a step in the right direction for your film career. But there's a catch -- there always is, isn't there?

You aren’t getting paid. At least not in money. Instead, you’re being paid with “copy, credit, and meals” — basically, food, a line on your resume, and a DVD.

It’s not ideal, but it’s one of the few times where that trade-off is worth it. Like my experience with Ghosts Don’t Exist, it’s worth no-pay to get the invaluable experience of being on a film set and working with a professional crew.

Just don’t be surprised if you never end up with a copy of the film.

A Lost Cause (And a Lost DVD)

Of all the movies I’ve worked on for free, I’ve only ever received a copy of one of them on DVD.

If you count all the projects I’ve worked on ever, I still only own three of them (and one of those is because I had the editor send me the file.)

It’s confusing to me no matter the budget of the film:

  • Low budget films can easily burn DVDs at a minimal cost — even just a disc with the file.
  • Films with a modest budget lucky enough to get DVD distribution should expect to pay for the cost of a certain quantity of DVDs as they promised (and this should be itemized in the budget before production)

The only exceptions are commercials and industrial videos where you have no interest in obtaining a DVD (unless it’s for a demo reel; which is a whole separate issue). And, of course, when you aren’t promised a copy of the movie.

I guess the whole no-DVD situation irks me because of the incredible inbalance in the equation that exists. The production gets your time, your life, your skills, your tools, and your efforts for 12-hours a day over X amount of days. In exchange, they feed you, they vouch for your experience, and they supposedly give you a copy of the movie.

While that relationship — when its at its best — is beneficial to both parties, it certainly benefits a production much, much more than a crew member. Free work, no matter how few strings are attached, has a cost.

And part of the expected payment is a copy of the film.

So if you’re still waiting for a copy like me, it’s appropriate for us all to ask “where’s my DVD?”

And if you’re on the hook for giving your crew DVD’s, the answer better be “in the mail by next week.”

  • Ria van Montfort

    My experience is quite different, but I only worked on one movie yet. Without asking they gave me three copies the day after the premiere, so I could send them up to potential future jobs as an addition to my resume. I guess I shouldn’t expect that kindness the next time.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I’m glad you had a good experience! That was very nice of them. Were they just straight discs or did they have nice packaging and whatnot too?

  • Op

    Most of the movies and tv shows I shot I had to download from a torrent site to see it, show it to my friends, and use it for a reel.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      It’s sad that it comes to that! Because often you get a better quality from an HD rip anyway

  • Heillight

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, Evan!

    I don’t even want to look up how many DVDs I’m being owed, because it’s depressing.
    And I would already be satisfied, if I could download the respective files somewhere.

    Maybe we should file a class action lawsuit? ;-/

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hah — not worth it! It’s just easier to never watch the production

  • Justin

    i’ve just been sent download links. I mean they’re higher definition than a dvd and who really wants a disc anyway

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      I’d like that too, but haven’t been offered. And one of the productions I worked on got picked up by a DVD distributor, so file-sharing the HD copy would probably go against that contract.

  • Mark

    I’m wondering, Evan, if you asked for the DVDs you were due, and then didn’t receive them? I understand the frustration, but let me give you a producer’s perspective, (at least one producer’s perspective). First, I should say, I never use the line “copy, credit, meals”. I guess for me, that’s understood, especially if you aren’t getting paid. In fact, I’ve gone way beyond that to try to help those who have worked for me for free. I realize there are slimy producers, but on my films, I make a point of treating the crew with respect. Working 12 hour days, feeding them a good meal, paying them on time, reimbursing expenses, etc. But here’s the part that maybe most people don’t understand. At least with my films, they’re self-financed, and incredibly risky. I’m not paying myself (obviously), and often work on them for years, without getting any money back. I’ve spent now nearly 5 years on my latest film, and although it has been a success by most metrics–winning awards and receiving great reviews–I am basically going to lose my ass financially. My art department intern, on the other hand, who did such a terrific job that I gave him an Art Director credit, is now a union prop master. He was one of the prop masters on “Entourage.” He had just moved to LA from Canada when he joined our crew, and made the connections there to work for pay on the next gig, and is now making quite a good day rate. In that time, I haven’t been paid a dime producing. Now, I don’t say this all whoa is me, and I certainly don’t expect your readers to cry for me, but I just wanted to give everyone a little perspective. BTW, I’m always happy to send a crew member a DVD of the film they worked on, or a Quicktime for their reel, or whatever they need. But often, my film is just another job, and they move on (and up), and they may not even care to ever see it.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hey Mark — I appreciate that perspective. It’s great to get your side of things. And I totally understand where you’re coming from. On most of the occasions, I asked about getting a copy a few weeks after I heard the shoot was over, but never heard back from producers. Like your Art Director, I just sort of said “eh, oh well” and moved on.

      I’m generally cool with paying to see shoots I’ve worked on whether that’s via On Demand, DVD, or tickets to festivals, especially if I know it will benefit the people I worked for. They way I figure, the more support they receive, the more likely they are to keep making films.

      But then there are times where I don’t have those options to purchase the film. It may not get distribution and so I have to go through the producer or somebody to get a copy.

      In the end, it’s really not that big of a deal, but it is nice to see the work you’ve done.

  • slateboy83

    Here in Europe it’s just the same and actually sometimes it’s even worst (if they don’t put “copy, credit and meals” there is the actual possibility that the shooting is BYOM, bring-your-own-meal). And the DVDs… In most of case, I’m still waiting for them, but you know hope never dies ;-)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha hope doesn’t die it just gets sent to the corner :P

  • Pingback: I Worked For Free, Now Where’s My DVD??? | FilmmakerIQ.com

  • Marco

    C’mon, are you really ranting about not getting a DVD??? Have you just been hurt and now you’re offended because of nothing.. Who cares about a DVD, as long as you get the credit, and made some good contacts, experiences, great, but if a DVD is your main concern you probably haven’t taken any real value out of the production anyways and maybe should look for another profession??? DVD is dead, get a hi res copy, shared on dropbox or whatsoever… what are you gonna do with the DVD anyways?? Rip it and, store it on your harddrive and eventually throw the disc itself away – now, isn’t that realistic??

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Well, first of all, I wouldn’t really qualify this post as a rant. I would consider a rant something that’s emotionally driven and full of anger. I felt like I was pretty reasonable and quiet in my discourse.

      Second, the DVD is not my main concern. After over 400 posts on this blog about filmmaking, this is the first time I’ve raised this issue. There are many posts I’ve written before this one about networking, experience, and the professional skills you earn on shoots. I whole heartedly agree with you that if the DVD is your main concern, you shouldn’t be working in the industry.

      The reason I raise this issue is because even though it seems like a small and minor gesture, it is an indictment on a production to not follow through. Yes, not getting the DVD isn’t that big of a deal (I don’t lose sleep over it), but when you work for free and put in x amount of hours on a shoot and you’re promised a copy of the film, I think the production should give you a copy.

      Third, I’m not tied to the format. It’s more about receiving a copy and I haven’t been offered a download either. I’d much rather have a file sent to me in HD because it’s more convenient.

      I’m not sure why you’re so flabbergasted by this post — really I’m just trying to say that a production should stick to its word. Not receiving a DVD hasn’t ruined my life and I took away great things from those shoots that are better than a copy of the film.

      But when you work 12 hours over 20 days for free, are told you’ll receive a copy, and then have to buy it for $20.00 on Amazon, well, it’s a little unfair don’t ya think?

    • Jordan

      LOL you obviously never paided your set dues and/or have zero sense of humor.

  • Bill

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Evan. I’ve worked on 3 features and got nothing. I’m not angry just would like to see my work for free. I’ve produced several shorts and each time I made sure I came up with a DVD copy for everyone involved because that’s what I promised and I know they can use it for their demo reels.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Exactly how I feel, Bill. There’s no anger, just a disappointment. And I’m glad you made things right with your crew. They may not have said so, but I’m sure they appreciated it.

  • brett.

    i very much think that crew should always get a copy, but i also understand that sometimes producers sign away the ability to hand out copies. either because part of a talent’s stipulation is that they have control of what is put out, or perhaps the stock footage is not licensed and thus the film cannot be distributed beyond film festivals, etc. a producer is not likely to put themselves on the line by giving out copies that can be uploaded or distributed publicly if a stock agency says that the footage being used is not for distribution beyond private screenings, etc.
    the best that a producer may be able to do is organize a screening for the whole crew, which is also the least they can do, if the film is even finished.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      True, I could see that happening. But if that’s the case, I would hope the production would reach out and explain that. Or if the show gets a DVD distribution deal, that the producers could afford to just buy the DVDs for their crew.

  • http://twitter.com/stingers_cam Neil ‘Stingray’Irwin

    I know that feeling! I had to watch one of the films I’ve worked on online as I knew I wouldn’t be getting a DVD anytime soon. It’s unfortunate…

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      The funniest I’ve heard is people who have had to torrent movies they’ve worked on. Now that’s ridiculous!

      • Joseph

        Well, I’m an actor and a promise is a promise. I want a copy of my work. Plain and simple. Is it really that hard to make a copy and drop it in the mail?? I went to the audition and the callback. Drove to the location, brought whatever wardrobe was asked to bring, did the rehearsals and performed whatever was asked of me by the director. Never complained, ate as little of the food as possible because I know the crew are working on the cheap. Just send me my copy!!!!!!

  • Jamie

    Even worse than not receiving the DVD copy you were promised: 1) the wrong credit (eg. ‘Camera Assistant’ instead of ‘B Camera Operator’) or 2) having your name spelled wrong in the credits. Paid gig or not, you’re putting your heart and soul into the project. The least folks could do is show a little respect and appreciation by getting the little things right!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      This happens way more often than it should. In fact, just heard about a friend who was wrongly credited for Lincoln. Sorry to hear that happened to you!

  • Marco

    Got a DVD today! After some angry mails to the person in charge… had some tears in my eyes (joking). I was the gaffer on this German short and my team worked hard and now color grading, editing and sound are really bad. So maybe, I would be proud of the short, if I have never seen it. (Sorry for the bad English, not good in writing) Thanks for your website, it’s great!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Haha! So getting the DVD backfired?

      And no worries about the English: Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch, aber auch nicht so gut.

  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    I can understand the frustration over a production not following through with their end of the “food, credit, copy” approach, but in general, I don’t find it to be that big a deal.

    Don’t get me wrong, from a legal standpoint, the company (or person) producing the project screwed up, but I would take the offense more seriously if I wasn’t paid versus not having received a copy of the project. And, unless the people working on it signed a contract stipulating that they’d receive a DVD upon project completion, it’s hard to stand on a verbal agreement and I don’t think working crew-people would spend the time to fight for something like that in court. Done, on to the next one, to quote Foo Fighters.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Well, yeah, it’s not the most important issue. It doesn’t keep me up at night. As I said above, this post is more a principled stance than it is a call to action.

  • Lauritz Max Neu

    Worked for free as a Grip in LA. They said they’re going to send me a DVD and give me IMDB Credit. Guess who has still no DVD after 2 Years and had to add himself to the film on IMDB.
    (So if anybody from Filigrana Films reads that: Please send me a copy.)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hah I can’t say I’m surprised! It may seem small, but it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.