My book cover project is strictly TFP, meaning there’s no money in it for the models. And this appears to bring out the worst in some people—as I expected, but I didn’t expect the percentage of duds to be as high as it seems to be.
Reminds me of early last decade, when I decided to make Dating Blind, just for the heck of it and because I could. My own script; romcom with Shakespearean overtones, but nothing world-shaking; strictly limited budget ($NZ 600-sh) all of it used for equipment hire, location hire and catering. Definitely nothing for the actors or other crew.
So, I put out the word through one of my daughters, who was studying drama at Otago University, and arranged for two proper auditions at a particular, easily accessible location—nothing in Dunedin is really hard to access!—at sensible times of weekend days. 10am-4pm, I think. Had flyers distributed with the times, phone numbers for contacts, script extracts and basic plot elements for the audition available on demand. Plenty of advance notice to make sure everybody could plan their lives if they chose to be interested.
Audition proceeded as planned; mostly. Most of those who showed up were acting students, usually in heir 20s. One was in her 30s. I also had some small roles and ‘extra’ places for a bunch of other people, mostly friends, who didn’t need to audition.
Most of those showing had learned their lines and pulled off their parts with varying degrees of success. Of all of those, the very last female student auditioning—she only decided in the last moment to attend, but showed up on time on day 2!—ended up being my female lead. Probably just as well, as after her performance the others wouldn’t have gotten a looking.
That applies especially to those who showed up either late (“I thought you finished at 5” “Missed my bus, sorry!” etc etc) or hadn’t learned their lines (“I didn’t know about that!” “Just didn’t have the time to go through it.” “Can you give me a few minutes to learn it?” “Can I just read it?” etc etc) or both. You get the idea...
I bet that if this had been a paid gig, they would have displayed a different attitude. Or maybe not. Actually, quite possibly not—because some people are just weird. And dumb.
Over a decade later, we have repeat performances along the same lines—and I was reminded that when people say “I would love to take part in this project”, until they actually follow up with actions that show that they do, it’s wise to add either one or all of the following “…unless I come across something better”, “…if it’s convenient for me at the time”, “…if I have nothing better to do”.
So far, four people have given every hint that they will follow through, and that when they say they’re committed, they mean it. Three of them have made initial meeting times and they’ve actually been there and available to chat and to a get-to-know-each-other on time; helpful and enthusiastic. Their motivations differ—I always dig for the ‘motivation’ angle—but they have the intelligence and/or ‘character’ that makes them into people one can rely on. Number four—and I think I can close off recruitment at this stage—and I will meet tomorrow; but I have every confidence that she'll be on board.
All these people appear to share mental attitudes incorporating a mix of passion for what they're doing or going to do, a sense of enterprise and wanting to push into new directions, and a sense that when you say you're 'in' then you are. I love people like that. Really do. They make work into fun. And if you're not having fun, what the hell are you doing in the 'creative' universe?
And then there are the others. You know, the ones who really, really want to participate in the project, say they're 100% on board, but then suddenly become unavailable. Or the kind that really, really, really want to this and assure you that they want to push their envelope. And then you arrange a meeting time and even change your own and another potential model’s meeting time—only to be told on the morning of the meeting day, and I quote, “...is it possible if we could delay the meeting and catch up on a Friday or Monday next week? I have alot on my cards at the moment. I am definitely would love to work with you.” (Remember: “…if it’s convenient for me at the time”? That was just another way of phrasing it.)
Yeah. Whatever. We all have a lot on our cards. I was battling it out with myself, but I’ve decided to give this guy a miss. Wasn't planning to use him anyway, but then decided to give him a chance despite me knowing better. (Just not the type I was looking for. Nothing personal, but I mentioned in my initial ad that I had a vision of the characters I needed.) And I can’t work with people who do not have a sense of responsibility and follow through on their commitments. If your schedule or whatever happens in your life isn't going to make a commitment feasible, then say so.
Indeed, one of my potential models turned out to have some serious family issues to deal with that she obviously hadn’t anticipated when she first responded. And that’s fine. She told me what happened, and I’m really and truly sorry for her being in that position. There are many things in life infinitely more important than some model shoot. But she told me as soon as she knew that it wasn't going to work; we talked about it; and I was fine and we parted on terms of mutual respect. If she ever wants to have me do any kind of shoot for her, I’ll do it for free and make a time to suit her. I respect people who deserve respect and am willing to show that I do.
Now, some of you might think “What does he expect, if he isn’t paying for it?”
Fair enough, but wrong!
I am paying for it. Going back to my movie enterprise, there was quite a bit of payback for some of those who actually wanted to follow up the ‘acting’ path. They continued the work, either pro-bono or being paid pittances on a local scale; while others went on to roles in NZ TV series or other ‘entertainment’ activities. For some, participation in the making of a feature-length movie taught them more in two weeks than film school would have in two years. (Same applied to me, of course!)
That alone was ‘payment’. As was their appearance in a flick that they could put on their CV.
The same goes for someone participating in a TFP-type shoot. The photographer—and that is his/her obligation in this!—will spend hours and possibly days processing the photos and getting the best ones to the model(s). In my case, the models also get a free shoot of their own choosing modeling/portraiture theme(s), which is yet more material for their portfolios—as it is for photographer’s! And, given the ho-hum shots I see on so many FB and acting-site pages, some imagination and pizzazz might not come amiss. Whatever happened to imagination? Did it die some horrible death and was replaced by weirdo-dom passing itself off as 'creative'?
Anyway, here’s what I would like to say to models who think that anything which isn’t paid for in money is something ‘optional' that you can drop when it becomes convenient—even though you’ve committed to it!—without losing any sleep over it...
If you think that kind of behavior is OK, think again. It’s not just not-OK. It’s stupid. Because in this business the currency that will always give you a serious extra edge over those who compete with you at your level—especially when you live in a small world where word-of-mouth has power—is called ‘reputation’. Forget that and you will pay for it. Dearly.
One of the greatest asset for someone in anything having to do with the ‘performing arts’, of which modeling is a part, is a reputation for ‘reliability’. This is a business where other people’s reputation could well depend on you to sticking to your commitments. And reputation is income. Deliver crap when you’re expected to deliver quality, and your reputation takes a dive. Don’t do what you signed up to do—whether for monetary payment or not—and in the end you will learn the meaning of ‘tailspin’.
So, as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t want to do TFP and get nothing but pictures and experience, that’s perfectly fine with me. But if you sign up for it—and a verbal, texted or emailed “I’m on board with the project” in my book qualifies as a ‘sign up’. Meaning that I expect you to do what you can to stick to your commitments—unless there’s something serious, over and above mere ‘inconvenience’, stopping you—in the same way as I will bend over backward to stick to mine.
Fair exchange; don’t you think?
Now, to the photographers; the ones that recruit for TFP shoots. You also have a responsibility, and the 'reputation' thing goes doubly and triply for you! If you have booked people in for a TPF shoot, then that time is blocked out on your calendar for everything else, even if that everything else pays you thousands of dollars. You have made a commitment and other people have arranged their lives and time to suit your timetable.
So, if somebody comes to you with an emergency wedding shoot, maybe because the other photographer went AWOL, and is willing to pay you 10k, but you'll have to do it at the same time as you had that TFP shoot blocked into your calendar...
What are you going to do?
Rule 1: Stick to your commitment. If you lose the 10k, tough shit.
But maybe there's are solutions. While still sticking to Rule 1, call your TFP shoot particpants and explain. Find some way to compensate them for the inconvenience. Offer them something that makes them happy with the postponement. Offer additional goodies for a postponed TFP—and follow through with them! In my experience, there's always a solution, even if it may cost you money and time. Just use your imagination.
And if there is no solution? What if your TFP participants, or at least some of them, aren't willing to work with you on this?
Well, then its Rule 1, sorry. In the long run the good word-of-mouth filtering through the grapevine of the community will pay off more than you'd believe. Why? Because you're part of rare breed and provide something to this business that goes beyond money and strutting and "look at me!": personal and professional integrity.
Maybe some people will laugh behind your back and call you a naive and idealistic fool. So maybe you are. Or maybe not. Maybe you're smarter than all of them, because you've looked beyond immediate profit to reap the rewards later. Besides, you have to live with yourself, look at yourself in the mirror. Wouldn't you prefer to actually like the person looking back at you?