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Old June 23rd, 2008, 11:40 AM   #1
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Moral dilemma (or how to say no)

Dilemma: I'm wondering whether I should do free work for a friend, a musician who wants me to make a video for her which would involve going out, a lot of shooting, (not just performance) etcetera.
There's been this fine line where I've done work for her - design mostly - but had to set boundaries and once that's done, she's always been cool about paying. I've done some brochures for her, and a basic easy performance, web-video shoot. I've had to watch it because she relies on me as someone who's much more tech oriented than her, so I end up being free computer support, etc. Which I normally don't mind and I know she would never intentionally take advantage, but I began to have underlying resentment and had to set boundaries where it was a working job to get rid of that.

She just had a new CD come out and wanted me to go shoot a video for it. Another issue, it would involve street scenes with public - soup lines, etc, which I wonder even about the legalities.

Every time she hints at the video idea, I feel guilty. I told her that I really need to concentrate my time right now into figuring out how to bring in paying work (I'm starving). I feel like the grinch when I turn her down.

I need the practice on camera, but there's a principle involved. She paid her engineer, she paid me to design her brochure, she paid for the past web video shoot, and it bugs me that she hasn't offered to pay anything toward a shoot I would do. She knows that I really need the money. I feel pressed and guilty about it because she is a good friend, I have a camera, surely she's not made of money, she's been there for me, maybe it would be good practice and I am practicing elsewhere so why not with her, etc.

Like most people she probably doesn't understand all that's involved time or work-wise, and she also waves off the legal questions when I mention them.

Am I being stingy, or am I doing the right thing?
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Old June 23rd, 2008, 12:10 PM   #2
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Been there, done that.
If she's paying everyone, she needs to get a bill from you too.
Would she give you unlimited license to any of her original songs for anything you do for free (commercials, shorts, movies...)?
Probably not.

I would tell her you have other engagements, but if she could cover your time, you can get out of those 'other' engagements... just for her... because she's your friend and all...
It's hard, but you have to do what you have to do. You might lose a friend over it, but who needs friends that use you?
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Old June 23rd, 2008, 12:32 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Kell Smith View Post
Like most people she probably doesn't understand all that's involved time or work-wise, and she also waves off the legal questions when I mention them.
And she won't understand unless you explain it to her. Why don't you just say everything to her that you just said in your post and see what happens?
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Old June 23rd, 2008, 01:23 PM   #4
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Kell,
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Originally Posted by Peter Wiley View Post
And she won't understand unless you explain it to her. Why don't you just say everything to her that you just said in your post and see what happens?
I think that's a good suggestion. From my experience, people in general (and friends in particular) usually appreciate being given the true story. If you spend half an hour or an hour itemizing the various activities (like you have started with your post here) and roughly quantify how much time everything will take, you can show this to your musician friend, and explain to her, along the lines of: "This would be a lot of fun to work on, but as you can see from this early estimate, I would have to turn down a lot of other work to make time for this job. So I'd love to do it, but I'll have to charge you for the work. After all, this is what I do for a living."

If you bring this across in a cordial way, a friend should understand and buy into your explanation. She will then have to decide if the video is worth the investment she'd have to make - if it is, done deal. If not, as a friend she should realize that it's not fair to you to ask you for free work.

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Old June 23rd, 2008, 02:55 PM   #5
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I've had a good bit of experience with this very thing over the years (both with photography and video). What I've found that works is to ask a very simple question with a honest and gentle delivery.. "What is your budget for this project". Asking the question this way lets them know you need to get paid but its not such a harsh question to put them on the spot. They can easily say something like "Well, we don't have a budget for this" and that can lead into a discussion about the "Value" of your time and expertise. If they say "We have about $200 for this" that lets you tell them what is possible for that budget.

I've had to do this with both family and friends that have wanted me to do work for them at no charge. After using the above question to break the ice and discuss it they realize that it costs me money to do my work and they shouldn't expect me to do it at a significant loss. Most of the time they come up with a budget or they look elsewhere and I don't hear about it again. So far it seems to have done a good job to prevent hurt feelings.

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Old June 23rd, 2008, 06:49 PM   #6
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Thanks everyone for your suggestions.
I did tell her there was a lot more involved but perhaps I should press the point. Her general take on it was, "whaddya mean? it'll be fun. It's just a few hours out shooting video of people. No big deal." I explained that it didn't work that way, that each shot is only a few seconds and that adds up to a lot in a five minute song and that means a lot of time and editing. She also came back with, well you say you want to get out and use your camera more. You say you want to put work out there." Etc. Which is all true, I just have been doing too many of those kind of things and I dont' want tie up any more of my time doing free stuff, and dont' want to deal with the resentment feeling goaded into free work brings.
I also said I wasn't sure of the legalities of just going out and getting video of people, that I didn't know if that required model releases, etc. She said "don't worry about that - no one will know who did it, it's on the internet." Which of course cancels out her other point now that I think about it. I also expressed concern that as a musician, she could be liable even in that case if she's using it to promote herself. She wasn't concerned about that, either, figuring no one would notice - she sort of dismissed all my points around everything.
She woudln't ask her engineer to work for free. But she would probably see him differently, more as a professional because I'm just starting out and getting my skills together. So there's a respect issue in play and I guess that's what bothers me the most. Come to think about it, this has come up with several different situations with others and it always seems to come back to this - boundaries, respect, and the temptation to see myself as less than professional because of my experience level. (I understand that in certain situations that's a consideration, but that's a different issue).

And the bottom line is learning to say no to friends. It's hard though, esp. because she has referred work to me or handed out my business card from time to time. She brings it up every few months and I feel awful saying no.


These are all great suggestions. I'm going to use them.

Thanks everyone. =)
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Old June 23rd, 2008, 11:18 PM   #7
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I think you've already proved you are a PROFESSIONAL! You've informed a potential client (even if you worked for free) that the liability involved in the project would be excessive, and recommended against proceeding with such an ill-concieved project.

"... no one will know who did it, it's on the internet." figuring no one would notice...

OK, I've worked with musicians enough to understand they aren't necessariy in the same universe as the rest of us, but that one's got me sideways... INTERNET= WORLD WIDE exposure... the whole idea of the internet is that you can in theory reach hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions of people... why is it that some people think no one will ever notice their "li'l old web page"??? The mind boggles...

And with that level of exposure, suppose your friend "hits it big"? How many people on that "casual" video might be standing in line for a piece of their "new best friend"?

Your friend is quite lucky to have you, IMO!

PS - if she's serious, why not knock out some storyboards, get some friends together and do the video the right way? Then if she hits it big, she's got a proper videographer to take along with her to the top!
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Old June 24th, 2008, 01:50 AM   #8
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I agree with Dave's last point. In fact, I had thought of it before I'd got half way through the thread.

Get her to organise some kind of party for her friends that want to be on her video, you film them (perhaps do this part for free) and then charge her for the editing. Safe compromises all round?
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Old June 24th, 2008, 10:11 AM   #9
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Find a new "friend." She has no problems asking you to work for free yet she has no interest in your professional and legitimate concerns about the production of the video.

When you work for free that's what your work is worth - nothing.
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Old June 24th, 2008, 07:01 PM   #10
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My super quick advice...
Tell her you are too busy with paying work, and she's welcome to borrow your camera for her shoot.

When she turns out crap, she'll go looking for some money to pay you to do it properly.
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Old June 24th, 2008, 08:35 PM   #11
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My super quick advice...
Tell her you are too busy with paying work, and she's welcome to borrow your camera for her shoot.

When she turns out crap, she'll go looking for some money to pay you to do it properly.
Lets just hope that doesn't turn into a damaged camera. That could end up costing you more than shooting it for free! :(

If they are a REAL friend they will understand your value as a professional. If not they aren't real friend and you are better off learning that lesson now and not when you NEED a real friend.
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Old June 24th, 2008, 09:07 PM   #12
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This is so true though.

Learning to say "no" is a very important skill in this business.

Either people are trying to get something for nothing, or they honestly don't know what the work entails.

Either way, you need to protect yourself and your time.

I say protect yourself because the people who want you to work for free are the same people who want to disregard copyright.

And that comes back to you, not them...

But, having said all of that, if you can use the footage for other purposes and can gain some experience from the shoot, I would do it, but on your terms.

You get authorization to use the material for anything you desire and you do not violate any copyrights or releases ect...

If you are going to do it for experience, at least set the terms.

Shooting live events is a unique experience and the more you shoot, the better you will be.
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Old June 25th, 2008, 02:23 AM   #13
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Some good answers here and a lot of thoughtful replies.

Personally, here's how I'd handle it.

The first is a straightforward "Sorry, but I just don't have the time to do it that way." Followed by:

"But you're my friend and I do want to support you - so I'd be happy to shoot something a little more modest that won't take so much time that I lose paying work. All you need to do is pick one or two songs and over the next two weeks, HONE them like you're gonna do a command performance for a big time agent! Really work them out so that they showcase your talent to the max. Then I'll set my camera up and do some nice basic lighting and I'd LOVE to do a simple performance video for you ! Let's call it two weeks from this Sunday at 2pm and if you're really well-prepared, we should be able to capture a great real-time performance video that will showcase your talents in just a couple of hours!"

With this approach...

First, you're HONORING your friendship with her.
Second, you're setting LIMITS on the time and effort you'll put in.
Third, you're putting her on gentle notice that she needs to put in HER effort to PREPARE to allow you to make sure YOUR efforts can ACTUALLY do her some good.

That's the approach I'd take - just one of many - but one that puts more balance back into things the way I see it.

Whenever I'm in this kind of situation, I essentially suggest solutions where I'll gladly help them - but ONLY if they put in at LEAST equal effort (if not a bit more!) - most of the time, they don't follow through.

But at least I've offered.

Good luck with it.
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Old June 26th, 2008, 10:19 PM   #14
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Thanks very much everyone!
Hey I"m curious - different question but I'll ask it here anyway - if I was out shooting outdoor scenes, street scenes, outdoor malls, street people, etc, would I need model releases, permission etcetera? Just curious. Good to know.
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Old June 30th, 2008, 06:05 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Kell Smith View Post
... And the bottom line is learning to say no to friends. It's hard though, esp. because she has referred work to me or handed out my business card from time to time. She brings it up every few months and I feel awful saying no.
What's the value in a referral? Some people offer a cash incentive for referrals. Maybe you could offer minutes.
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