Monday, March 29, 2010

Working for Free - Part 1

By Joe Pontillo
BLB Guest Blogger

When you enroll in film school, people start to take you a little more seriously as an aspiring filmmaker. You still face a certain amount of skepticism from a great many people, but at least your goals -- and your intentions to achieve them -- come off as a little more authentic. People have a better understanding of how to relate to you. What was once perceived as a flight of fancy now seems more practical and attainable and, most importantly, comprehensible. When they see a "making of" special, or a magazine interview with Quentin Tarantino, they think of you.

In 2000, while I was right in the middle of film school, a friend of the family passed an article my way. A soon-to-be-released movie had amongst its producers a native of my hometown of Erie, Pa., so the local newspaper did an interview with her. The movie in question was Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, that Dungeons & Dragons -- the rather regrettable adaptation of the role-playing game starring Jeremy Irons and Thora Birch. But, quality of the movie aside, it was interesting to know that someone from my hometown was a producer, and that it was really possible for a lowly Pennsylvanian to "make it in Hollywood."

I've long since forgotten the name of the producer, and the article does not seem to be archived online. But as I recall, the questions focused on what it's like to go from a small Pennsylvania town all the way to big, bad Los Angeles, and then how one actually manages to become a producer on a movie. In the course of answering one of the questions, the producer said something that stood out from everything else in the entire article. Something that would haunt my remaining college years. Something that would stoke my anxieties about taking the dive and moving to Los Angeles. She said that when one is getting a start in the entertainment industry, a great strategy is to offer to work for free.

I couldn't believe what I was reading. Work for free? But how? How do you manage to pay your rent, or buy food, or, hell, go out to see a movie once in a while? Because isn't that why you wanted to get into this business in the first place... because you love movies? I couldn't imagine working for free in Pennsylvania, so how was I supposed to work for free in California, where the cost of living, as I understood it, was far higher?

And then I started to get indignant. Why should someone have to work for free on a movie? When it comes to money and Hollywood, all you ever hear about are these $80 million budgets and these $200 million box office returns. Are you telling me there's no room in there to toss a newbie a few hundred dollars a week to help them get by?"

"Not me," I assured myself. "Maybe this woman worked for free to get her start, but that's not what I'm gonna do. I know I have to start low on the ladder. Of course! But I'll make sure I'm earning at least a little bit of money. I have to!"

And then I worked for free.

Click here for Part 2...

Joe Pontillo previously worked in post production on unscripted television shows. He currently interns at Shadow Animation and writes scripts. He resides in Los Angeles and blogs at


  1. I'll be tuning in tomorrow to read the rest of this. Nicely written, Mr. Pontillo!!