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Production Diary: The Power of Free

If I could afford it, I’d make only pro bono videos. The clients are just so grateful. “I can’t thank you enough for this!” You get free lunches, free tickets to their fund-raising gala. “Stand up, Stefan, John and Tricia. These are our wonderful filmmakers!” Applause, cheers, the gala audience goes wild. We’re superstars.

Alison’s viral YouTube video

After all the praise and thanks, I get a tax credit for making a donation.

My Client, She Wrote Me A Letter
Remember Alison—Alison from my local WildCare non-profit? A year ago she was “The Girl Who Played with 9:16” in my February Production Diary.

Last year she made a YouTube video that went viral—707,000 views and counting!

Now, it’s Christmas. She writes me a letter:“Merry Christmas! Sending big warm hugs all around 🙂 Unfortunately, I have some bad news. Here’s the word from on high: due to budget constraints, etc., we have decided to recycle one of the previous videos instead of making a new one.I am SO bummed!”

Hi Alison,

Sh** happens—if there’s anything I can do—like, say, knock up a free video—let me know…

My smooth-talking sales pitch works. She falls for it. We’re doing this year’s video for free!

Alison wonders why she shot 9:16 portrait
instead of widescreen landscape.

I’m Cool, So Flame Me
A few months ago, I wrote “How to Find Work” for It was in response to a forlorn post by Starman.

Here’s the gist of my piece:

Starman, you need more and better contacts. Stop thinking of yourself as a cameraman; you’re a media wrangler; you can do everything from Photoshop to WordPress web sites. Demonstrate how good you are—offer to do it for free. If you’re good, paying work will follow.

It’s my own M.O.—I’ve been doing free “get to know me” videos since way back when. Did I get flamed? You bet:

  • God, what absolute garbage. Is this a piss-take? Charging nothing is what will destroy the business of the guy you are trying to help. How many freebies will turn into paying jobs? Bugger all.
  • What a stupid column! Yeah, right! Do all kinds of incredibly easy things—things anyone could do—and do them all free! He’s gonna be busy all right. LOL!
  • I think freebies are a waste of time now—the sort of client who will accept a freebie is the sort who will pay peanuts later.

Starman and his $7,400 Panasonic HPX370. He needs
more work—even tried Craigslist.

Broadcast Museum Freebie
Ten years ago, I’m invited to a committee meeting. “How are we going to raise money for the museum?” I suggest making a video. I’ll do it for free.

Freebie finished, it’s shown at NATAS events and on local TV. That one pro bono has brought in paying, regular work and hundreds of thousands of real, bankable dollars.

How many freebies will turn into paying jobs? Bugger all.

Wrong. I have the 1099s.