Another ‘Work for Free’ P.O.V.

      6 Comments on Another ‘Work for Free’ P.O.V.

Here’s Adrien’s take on whole ‘working for free’ thing. I’m in Hell Week, (so thanks for the post Adrien) and I’ll be back next week after I come up for air. – KJL

(click image to enlarge)

After reading through Karen’s posts on the “Should you work for free?” topic, I feel compelled to give my two cents worth. I agree with what Karen says about this. Don’t get me wrong.

This is just another point of view.

I’ve worked for free many times. The reasons vary. I’ll run through a few of the scenarios.


I love them. But they’re harder to break into than movies, let me tell you. It was my first love. If there’s a club that you’re not allowed to belong to, this would be it. And when I was 8, I was dead set on being a comic book artist, much to my parents chagrin.

I did many, many sample pages ‘on spec’ in order to receive a pile of rejection letters with Spiderman or Superman on the letterhead. But it’s what you have to do in order to break in. I got frustrated by it very quickly and published my own books myself.

When I started at one animation studio in Vancouver, I began as a designer.

My comic book work in the early 90’s (the ones I published myself) got me the job. One thing I like drawing (and most comic artists don’t) is backgrounds, and I like to make them as researched and accurate as possible. So it was the backgrounds in the panels that got me the job.

But when I became interested in storyboarding, the owner wouldn’t let me do it without seeing samples. Fair enough. I handed in 20 pages of boards from a show we were working on. Free. But it got me the chance to do it for money.

I’ve had no schooling of any kind. If you are self-taught, you may run into the spec work more often.

The same can be said for every position I held at the animation studio. When I wanted to paint backgrounds, I had to paint some on spec.

Same with layouts.

Years later, I entered into a co-production deal with Caliber Comics in Detroit and published another set of books from the same series. This series got me nominated for a Russ Manning Award for best new talent in the comic biz.

I thought I could write my ticket after that.


Even with these books, editors didn’t think I could draw their superheroes and wanted me to do sample pages.

Free, of course.

By this time I was pretty tired of the struggle and went to work in movies a month later, and nobody asked me to work for free.

My motivation to work for free is completely selfish, and it’s got to be all about ME, ME, ME. I’m not doing anybody any favors. NO FAVORS. People, your friends…everyone, will abuse a favor. Trust me.

If you do free work, make sure that you get what you need out of it.

In film, that could mean a simple credit. That means it needs to get made. Credits on films that don’t get made don’t end up on IMDB and producers will write off your resume as padded bull***t.

Do not make presentation boards that will get used to help raise money for a film. Chances are it’s not going to happen. Interview the filmmakers. I’m not kidding. You’re the one working for free, and you have a right to know if you’re going to be working for idiots.

The other thing I tell people who I work for free is that I don’t direct the boards. I do that for a lot of Hollywood pictures because I’m being paid a lot of money. But if I’m working on a little movie for free, then that director is going to do his homework, have a shot list and sit with me…or I’m not doing the job.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I make short films. In order to do that, I need people to work for free. It’s the only way to get these things made. I offer everyone who works for me my storyboarding skills. If they’re working on their own film, or if they want to call in a favor on a film they’re working on, they can call me and I’ll do it.

For free.

But this is a good trade, in my opinion.

I give them a good credit, and most importantly, I give them the opportunity to create freely (something most people in film are starved for).

When I’m asking people to work for free, I make sure they understand that the film is going to get made and that there’s this much money to do it. I always have the thing storyboarded, so they understand I know what I’m doing and this is going to be a production worthy of their talent.

If you work for free, you should feel the same way about the film you take on.

The one thing to remember, if you work free, this is your choice. You absolutely must have the integrity to complete the job as if you were being paid. There is nothing worse for your reputation than to screw a client because you were doing it for free. There are still deadlines in the land of free work. Don’t blow them.

It will bite you in the ass.

As I get older, I work for free a lot less. I’m coming up on 40 and time becomes more precious. When I was younger, I was hungry and willing to do just about anything to prove I could do the job. Like I said, if you don’t have schooling, this is a problem you’ll face all the time. It’s a small price to skip the schooling. Being self-taught is schooling, it just isn’t accredited.

This coming summer, I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con in hopes to drum up some comic work. Things are slow in film and I’d rather try this than go back to doing what Karen is doing (but…but…cartoons are fun…*passes out from exhaustion* – KJL).

I haven’t been to Comic-con since ’98 and I know things have changed a lot. I’m hoping that my film work will at least get me past the gatekeepers so I can speak as a professional to the editors as opposed to a comic artist ‘wannabe’.

But, in the end, I’ll still need to have my 5 pages of Superman samples.

And I’ll have to draw those for free.


Subscribe to the Storyboard Blog by RSS or by email because we write this for free. Wait….what?

6 thoughts on “Another ‘Work for Free’ P.O.V.

  1. Debi

    Wow, I feel so up-beat about all this art stuff now!! ;)Just kidding…kinda.
    Your experance sounds a lot like what I’ve been up against. It’s kinda nice to hear another’s struggle with it.

    About your comment on the film being slow. Do you think that’s a direct result from the writers strike and the ongoing SAG’s contract negotations? Or even from the economic problems?

    And you stole my idea! I was about to try my hand at penciling comics again!! No fair! 😉

    Good luck at Comic Con. I went there in ’04. Great fun as a geek, but a pain in the butt as a job hunt. Almost usless unless, as you said, you can get past the gatekeepers. (Wonder if they have Stargatekeepers too?) Will we get a Comic Con blog!? 🙂

    Great post as always!

  2. Adrien

    Yes, art is hell. But then we wouldn’t be artists if it were easy.

    As far as film being slow, a lot of productions are waiting for the SAG to complete (or God forbid, strike) in June. I have heard rumblings that they’re in talks now. No one wants to start a film and have to shut it down.

    In Comic-con you have to have patience. I’ve stood in line with the hopefuls for HOURS. But really, a back door approach sometimes works better. Like showing your work around to the artists in artist’s alley. All you need is one to really like your stuff and be enthusiastic about it. You’ll be introduced to the right person in no time!

  3. Debi

    I saw Nikki Finke ( had some info on the SAG contracts/talks.

    The year I went to Comic-con, they had ditched the lines in favor of sign-up sheets. The only problem was the sign-up sheet was full the second the doors open. Hopefully they’ll have changed that by now. It really didn’t work. If they haven’t, make really good friends with the security guards so they’ll let you in early! 😉

  4. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Jan. Sorry, this comment slipped by me.

    Of course, charities are great if it’s one you feel strongly about. I’ve done stuff for the SPCA in the past because I wanted to.

    But if you are asking *me* to do this particular one for you…sorry, no can do.

    I’m up to my ears in cartoons at the moment! 🙂

Comments are closed.