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Film maker Danielle Arden shares her thoughts on the ethics of payment in film making, and describes the approach she has used in applying this to the production of her current short film project.

Most filmmakers will tell you that they’ve had to work for free at some point in their careers. This would seem reasonable if you consider the opportunity as an internship, where you gain invaluable experience and make important connections within the industry. But once you have invested thousands of pounds into your education, years of dedication to gaining experience and still get asked to work for free, your perception of what is ‘reasonable’ is sure to change.

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I’ve recently begun working with Noor Lawson, an extremely experienced short film producer, to co-produce my short film Bristles and we are determined to promote a very specific method of working to ensure that nobody is taken advantage of.

The philosophy we are working to is this: invest in people, not in things.

Films cost money

No one, ever, has made a film for absolutely nothing. Whether your budget is £500 or £5 million, you make the decision on where and how to spend that money. Many filmmakers will opt to spend the majority of that money on the ‘things’ in the film; the locations, the equipment, the art department at the detriment of bringing a strong team together. But it’s worth keeping this in mind:

People need food, shelter, and clothing. Things don’t. Borrowing a camera to shoot a film is reasonable. Borrowing dinner because you spent your money on the most expensive camera you could find is not.

Creative people are collaborators

(Well, at least in filmmaking this is non-negotiable) So appeal to the collaborative inclinations of your team. Instead of saying to your art department, ‘I have no money to pay you, but here is £300 to dress the set’, try saying ‘I’m spending my budget investing in you, and together we can find a way to make this film work’. It’s amazing what efforts your team will go to when they feel personally valued and integral to the project.

Pooled resources will always offer more than you could afford alone. We collect slices of know-how, industry contacts and tricks of the trade with each job we do. If you gather a team of twenty professionals that pool of know-how, contacts and tricks of the trade will be immense! The aim is still to make an incredible film that all can be proud of, so it’s not about letting production standards slip. It really is about team management.

As actors and collaborators who have worked for free on many projects, only to turn up and see that the production team have blown the budget on one prop, or extortionate location fees, we know what happens to team morale when nobody on set feels valued. That’s why, as co-producers of our short film, we’re bending over backwards to raise enough money to pay our crew a fair wage. The support we’ve already received in the pre-production process has been overwhelming. When you approach filmmaking with a spirit of generosity and appreciation, the people around you reward you well!

We’ll keep you posted on how Bristles goes, but we have a strong suspicion that even without a high budget to spend on the ‘things’ in our film, the pool of resources from our masterly crew members will offer up riches that we could never have bought.

Let us know what you think – @Danielle_Arden and @NoorLawson.

Author: Danielle Arden

Danielle Arden is a filmmaker, actress and writer who works between London and Dubai.