This is our friend, Marshall Jones. He’s a poet, performer, author, songwriter, and all-around badass human being. He’s also a walking example of how a strong human connection with someone is far more beneficial than any typical business connection could ever be.
Marshall wrote the beautiful words you hear in our Stillmotion reel. The narration is powerful, effective, and it’s 100% us.
We spent only a few short days with Marshall before he wrote this, but he managed to compose something that perfectly translates who we are as a company, and who we are as people.
See for yourself — here’s the Stillmotion reel:
Marshall did such an amazing job with this, but it wasn’t because we wrote him a check. We did a favor for him, and he did one for us in return.
In our experience, it can be so beneficial to go the extra mile like this to make unique connections. There is no business as usual at Stillmotion, and we’ve found that creating a solid network of people doing what they love is the best business model for us as filmmakers.
Doing what you love is no joke.
In this industry you will hear a lot of advice. Often it’s going to be helpful, and occasionally it will be revolutionary.
We really can’t stress enough how important it is to share ideas and experiences with other filmmakers. Stillmotion firmly believes that you get what you give, and we live our lives through sharing and iterating ideas.
That being said, once you actually get good at what you’re doing in this business, you might hear a lot of advice like this:
While Heath Ledger’s Joker is legendary… we’d advise you to ignore that piece of advice.
If you’re really good at making films, it’s probably because you love it.
As you continue to improve and produce more content, you will inevitably encounter some opportunities to go the extra mile and work for free (or almost free). Maybe you won’t even be asked to do it… you’ll just kind of want to.
Our advice would be, if it feels right (deep down), put yourself out there and go for it.
Show up. Hustle. Work your ass off. All for free.
Well, we’ve had some really great things come our way simply from sharing our love of what we do with others. The NFL and CBS came into our lives and changed everything, because they saw a film we’d made entirely for free.
Our amazing Creative Director, Grant Peelle, came to our company by not only volunteering his services for free – but literally paying for his own travel (we didn’t know at the time) to show up and work for free.
And – not surprising – working for free is also how we met Marshall.
We want to share Marshall’s story with you because these are the kinds of things that can make or break your company. If you listen to the Jokers of the world, telling you to limit the amount of work you produce because you’re good at it, you’ll not only miss opportunities — you’ll miss the whole point of doing what you love.
Here’s how the magic went down:
We were hired by BioBeats in February of 2013 to do the Live Your Life Out Loud spot that they would screen at SXSW, and they brought Marshall Jones aboard to write the piece.
Our friend Nadeem at BioBeats showed us some YouTube videos of Marshall performing spoken word poetry, and we instantly recognized what an incredible performer and writer Marshall was.
This performance of “Touchscreen” particularly resonated with us:
We knew right away that we wanted to film him doing what he loves.
When he flew into Portland to shoot the BioBeats piece with us, we used this as an opportunity to shoot some of his personal spoken word pieces as well. Being that he would only be in town for less than 48 hours, this meant it would be a long night. But it was worth the extra time and effort.
In exchange for the extra work we’d be doing for him, he wrote us a narration for our reel.
This trade of artistic services was technically costing us more dollars than it did him, but what the hell did it matter? We were trading our talents to help each other improve upon those very talents we were exchanging.
But we got so much more out of the experience than just trading of services.
Marshall was here for less than 2 days, and in that short time we gained such a better understanding of how we want to connect with the people we work with here at Stillmotion. And we can honestly say we became better people for having met him.
When Marshall speaks to you, he really bears his soul.
He doesn’t hide who he is underneath the layer of awkward small talk our society has designed for meeting new acquaintances. We went to dinner with him in the short time that he was here, and we shared things about ourselves that you normally wouldn’t share with someone you only just met.
He has that kind of infectious energy about him. Because he transferred that energy to us, we completely opened up and gave him the opportunity to understand who we really were in a very short amount of time.
After Marshall went back home, he gave us a call.
He wanted to re-write the piece he’d originally written for our demo. It wasn’t a perfect vocal illustration of who we are. What’s so amazing is that he really recognized that, after spending only 48 hours with us.
What’s more amazing is that he took the initiative to rework what he’d already written for us, because he knew we’d do the same for him.
This is what it truly means to invest in your work and the people you’re creating art for. He made the conscious decision to go the extra mile for us, because we made a true connection with him.
This is what we try to do on a daily basis with the people we meet.
Obviously Marshall is an exceptionally open individual, and he makes it easy for everyone. It’s not always going to be easy to get people to open up to you, but we found that Marshall’s openness is what made it so easy for us to bear our souls to him.
This means that whenever possible, you need to break down those walls of awkward and polite client communication and let them see who you really are.
When you’re trying to tell someone’s story, you need to get to the heart of who they are — otherwise, what are you doing? You’re making something that is good, but it’s not them. You’re essentially making the first draft that Marshall made for us, instead of the final draft.
And the thing that is going to take you from good to the perfect is the commitment and love you have for what you do, and who you’re creating it for.
The game changer…
JC and Esther’s wedding highlights film is another great example of the magic.
This is the film that was noticed by the NFL, the film that inspired them to call us, and eventually ask us to film A Game of Honor — which completely changed the game for us. Major stuff!
But remember, we made JC and Esther’s wedding highlights film entirely for free.
A free film?! That’s crazy talk!
We were at their wedding for a different reason entirely — the photographers, Justin and Mary, hired us to do a promotion video for their photography company.
We had just gotten our hands on two pre-production Canon 7D cameras, and we saw an opportunity to do something cool. We figured that we’d make a highlights film since we were already there at the wedding. And now JC and Esther would get a wedding film for free, just because 🙂
It was an opportunity to be as creative as we wanted to be. We weren’t working for anyone but ourselves on this highlights film, the possibilities were endless!
And they’ve been endless ever since.
Our documentary A Game of Honor went on to win three Emmys, but we never would have even made it if we hadn’t been contacted by the NFL. And the NFL wouldn’t have called us in the first place if it weren’t for JC and Esther’s film.
We put energy into JC and Esther’s highlights film. A lot of energy actually — it was made with only one shooter!
We did it expecting nothing in return, purely out of our love of storytelling and our excitement over some new cameras. Look where it got us.
Marshall Jones does a beautiful job of illustrating this concept of human networks, love, and connectivity in his 2012 TEDx Talk:
What he’s saying here is that serving someone else, even when it poses no foreseeable benefit to you, is a transfer of love and energy.
By transferring that love and energy to them, you’re creating a network — and you never know where that network will take you.
When you ask this industry for advice on “free” work – you’ll get a lot of strong responses to both sides.
And honestly, there is a time and place to charge premium for services. We certainly do most of the time.
But occasionally there are moments in life that can change everything.
Put yourself out there.
When an opportunity feels right to you…
Barter. Trade. Work for free. Take risks.
Go for it.
Really good advise. I was suggesting the opposite in one of my posts on my blog because in the small niche I’m working in people constantly ask for free films and promise you big bucks later. And I still think its true. But you guys were viewing it from a slightly different angle. If it feels right, do it. And often it comes from a different place then you would have expected. Thanks so much for sharing this.
You are a great team.
I think there’s a difference between working for free and exploitation. Occasional pro-bono work is good for the soul, the reel or the portfolio. Helping out a friend or a prospect with “free” advice is an act of kindness. Internships that require 40+ hours of work and a thick resume of skills for no or very low pay, on the other hand, are nothing more than indentured servitude. And unfortunately it’s widespread in our industry and in the arts generally. If you require someone’s talents or time, you should compensate them in some way–a credit, a fabulous reference, a bottle of wine. It’s disrespectful otherwise.
I feel the same way about spec. You’re at the mercy of the prospect who can very easily decide not to retain your services but “steal” your hard work anyway without any acknowledgement of your intellectual capital.
I am now working on a pro-bono project for which I am getting no pay but the promise of a fiscal sponsorship down the road. It’s a risk I’m willing to take for a greater goal. But I am paying the art director a stipend for his work out of my own savings. It’s the right thing to do.
I firmly believe in this. There are stories I want to tell that don’t really fit into what my employer pays me for so rather than leave them untold, and myself unfulfilled I decided to ask the people I work with the most who are not just freelancers to me, they are my friends if they wanted to help. Everyone did. I then approached an architectural salvage shop and asked them if they would give us an afternoon for which we would give them a professional polished piece they could use however they wanted. The piece wound up being featured by Etsy and now has more than 5400 plays. All because I decided this was a story I wanted to tell regardless of being paid for it. We shot our second piece like this a few weeks ago and had five shooters. all because they thought it would be a lot of fun. Ultimately if it turns into a moneymaker great, but if not I get to tell some stories that make me happy to tell and that’s priceless to me.
I think the key distinction is *when it’s right for you.*
A lot of people expect you to work for free to help promote their business or objectives. A lot of times, those people will try to take advantage of you and your time. That’s what new and old filmmakers alike need to be aware of. I don’t believe people are inherently evil, but sometimes they just don’t realize the hours and hours that go into a production when they say, “It’s just a simple 30 second video.”
Many people are fooled into thinking they have to work for free to “break in” or to get clients. Free work (of that nature) generally only leads to more non-paying work.
I always advise people, if you’re looking to build your demo reel, market your services, whatever… do a project you want to do. Make a short film, or a video for a friend or family member. I think that’s similar to what you are advocating. If you want it, if you are passionate about it, money doesn’t matter.
But if someone contacts you and says… “Hey, will you put a commercial together for my business? It doesn’t pay, but there will be tons of exposure…” Just stay away.
Thank you Andy! Great advise and dead on!
I would have never gotten into this industry if I had not volunteered as an editor at my church. From time to time, I will remind myself to work on projects that I believe can be a gift to others because the story demands that it be told! My entry to the “Storytelling The Stillmotion Way” is exactly what this philosophy is about! I commend you all on producing these educational pieces so that others can learn from your journey!
I agree with you guys… I’d rather invest some of my time to create awesome connections with the right people with good future “potential” than spend hundreds (or thousands) of real dollars on ad space on a wedding web site or magazine. Just my opinion…
My general rule of thumb is I will work for free if I want to do the project for some reason — either it’s extending myself in a new direction or adding something to my portfolio — and I ask if I can do the project. I don’t work for free if someone asks me for it. The exception, of course, would be if I saw a really big benefit to myself. But of all the times I’ve worked for free, I’ve had pretty much complete creative freedom and it seems it always leads to paid work — even if that hadn’t been the original intention. And I’ve learned a lot and added new skills to my work.
We have had the same attitude since the beginning. Instead of worrying about how much we are getting paid, we see a future “value” in everything we do and try to be proud of all our projects.
I agree with you guys on this. Its tough being self employed and taking on free work. However we have had great success in taking on the right type of “free” project that brought other business that we would have never had the opportunity for. Plus… i absolutely love just making great films regardless of the pay or lack of pay. Love you guys and your work!
I worked a lot for free, and I’m working on a WW2 movie now, just for passion.
Money is a necessity but you live with passion, not with money!
I completely agree and you guys are an inspiring team and company. I have heard about you the first time watching the Vimeo tutorials on how to do it all, to find your story, to tell it. This was super helpful and very inspiring and then after all I just watched “I’m fine, Thanks”.
Can’t tell you now how much this affects me, as I have been thinking like you for quite a while, but I can tell you that it gives me so much more energy to pursue my passions and dreams like never before.
Hope one day I can meet you all.
From the distant (not so much) Czech Republic, from a Brazilian admirer and fan of your work,
First of all you guys have change everything for me and our company. We are completely rebranding and have enjoyed changing. So thank you. In regards to the post, we have done a bunch of projects for free, only if we felt they would help the person and ourself out. Wether that be helping them tell there story, or helping bring our talents to more people. We truly have felt a big impact from “Hook’n” people up.
We know that someday we will need the same hook up from some too.
Hey there !
i’m doing all my projects for free because it’s my passion, but if the person i film wants to give me some money I say okay (all this camera stuff isn’t cheap man ..!). But, working only for money is a big problem i think : it makes us become producers and not artists. As J. Maritain says, there is the ‘finis operis’ and the ‘finis operantis’ : the final cause of the first is the beauty of the work, and the final cause of the second is for exemple money, or passion, or just loving to make something that can change peoples stare. We should know about this and keep it the good way…That’s what we have to work for !
I got into the lighting and pyro industry by working for free. I got involved with a few different company’s where I had friends working, kept going in for a cup of tea and a chat, helped load the odd truck, help fix a bit of kit while I was there.That eventually progressed to going to events with them, then to them ringing me and asking if I was free. Then while at these events I started to chat to other people from other company’s, got my name around and they started to call also.
Doing some work for free I feel isn’t a bad thing to start off with, it gets your name out there in the world. If your good, hard working and people like working with you, you start to get work.
Like it says…
Put yourself out there.
Barter. Trade. Work for free. Take risks.
I’m a collegiate student and a producer at our university’s television station. We get paid a modest hourly wage and because we’re students we’re limited to working 20 hours a week. Having a job doing what I want to be doing ten years from now is a great opportunity and my senior producers are amazing resources and are helping me start my career. To help repay them, I try to always go the extra mile and a lot of times that means going above 20 hours a week and essentially doing work for free. I approach my job as another form of education and I’m happy to put in more work to grow more as a filmmaker. Occasionally, I’ll do video work for friends too, and I do that for free for the same reasons. I make videos because I love it and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Making money beyond what I need to continue to work is just gravy. I do hope that someday all the hard work pays off and I’ll be able to make a career out of my passion and keep learning at higher and higher levels.
Hard work to learn something often pays off, even if the work is done at no charge.
To learn to fly, you must fly, but there comes a point when you have to realize that your time, talent and knowledge have a value. If you continue to not charge for your work, then it will not have value to those to whom you are working. Why would they pay when they can turn to you for nothing?
Making enough to live is just poverty. Wondering where your next meal will come from replaces the creativity and ability to create your art. I deal with the poor and homeless and their day to day life deals with a place to sleep and something to eat. I’m not saying that this will be your case, but earning more than you and your family needs allows you to share the excess. This can be your doing more pro bono work.
Value what you do and your clients will too.
We certainly value what we do, yet we stil give it away when it’s right.
For us, i think the value we place on what we do is much less about finances, and it is much more about the bigger picture and impact of where we want to grow. Giving something away is an investment in us, it’s an investment in a relationship, it’s an investment in learning. We value what we do so much that we will always look for ways to grow, learn, and connect.
While i totally see your point, i do believe that we value ourselves more because we are willing to forgo traditional compensation as a way to do more down the road.
I was told once to either work at your full rate, or for free. Never “cheap”. By working for cheap or discount, you are devaluing your abilities and people won’t take you seriously (or ever pay your full rate). I believe this to be true when you are working for yourself, though one has to be very careful how much free work is taken on. In a small business setting it’s slightly harder to stick to. Overheads mean it’s important to bring in money consistently, so projects that you may have done for free once, become harder to take on. At my business in the UK we have a reduced rate for charitable organisations. They come to us because they are in a position to commission professional work, but probably can’t afford the high end production costs. If there’s a project I feel passionately about but there is no budget, I might consider taking it on in my own time, however it’s important to have a life outside of work too, and family should always come first.
I totally agree with you, but what I can not accept, is: when you ask a new (presumed) client if you can work for him, you will get an answer like: ” Yes, but only if it´s for free “. In that case I will never ever work for him …
As a student still, working for free is the best way to learn. I feel like I have more freedom to create things I have never seen before. There are less constraints, and the opportunity pushes you towards doing your best. Not to impress anyone or to fit to a standard, but just for yourself. Just for the love of it. Sometimes, however, people like to take advantage of my “free labor” and my inability to say “No.”
Thanks for sharing your stories. They inspire young storytelling enthusiasts like me!
Thanks stillmotion for good Advise !
certainly working for free in some situation is a good thing and create opportunity for other works, but as Susan said we must avoid “art exploitation” and beware of ” lie promises ”
i had a same story with my musician friend but his favor to me was letting me to film his performance o-)
and here is the result ( technically it was my first video experience) :
have to agree. almost all of our biggest responses (both leading to jobs and industry/general response) have come from jobs we did for free. we’ve recently decided to give a portion of our profits to charity, as well as a creating % of our work at no charge, as we feel led. if we find a great story, and there’s no one to pay us to create it…then we’ll just do it. life can’t be about money. it has to be about something bigger.
It´s funny that you say “work for free”…i would say “learn for free”.
Any work you do, it always bring you some learning. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but there
is always something new you learn.
Practice as much as you can, and you will become better. Stay at home doing nothing, and you will never get a job.
I spent a few days filming this place (https://vimeo.com/64587586) for free, and i really enjoyed so much, and would do it again with no doubts.
If we really love this, don´t even worry to learn for free, college is very expensive, and we pay it…
My personal opinion is that it never works, if you do jobs for free … promises from clients like:”If you will do the first job for free, you will get great jobs later …” No!
I agree with Michael. My experience has been, every time someone requests work for exchange of a credit or lunch or great references or additional work in the future never pans out. They use you and move on. Maybe it is because this is NYC, dunno know. I even offered to do a free video for this gorgeous restaurant at no cost and was upfront with them that it was for my demo reel and their response was I had to pay them to use their restaurant when I told them they could keep the video at no cost.
I totally agree to volunteer for work but it has to be for the right cause or for a cause you are passionate about.
We definitely charge for our work most of the time, these are just some examples of times when we went the extra mile, and it turned into something awesome. We think those are stories worth telling. One thing we definitely want you to keep in mind is that these weren’t situations where someone came to us and said “please do this for free.” And you’re definitely right about doing free work for the right cause — the examples in this post of “working for free” are times when we took it upon ourselves to go the extra mile because we felt passionate and inspired 🙂
Doing work for futures is not a very good idea in my opinion. Exchanging talent at the same time is paying with your talent for their talent. Good, but won’t buy groceries if done too often.
Doing the work because you WANT TO without expected reciprocity is a different thing. Getting to play with new cameras and have unbridled creativity is the payment for the “free” promo. There is always ying and yang.
I’ve been asked to shoot weddings for friends and when I sent my rate card I always get a call. They thought I would shoot it and not charge. I always ask if the caterer is free, or if the hall is free. They either use me at my rate or try some one else, and that`s fine with me.
I do no-charge work for two charities. They understand that I will do two projects each for them per year. They too understand that I have to make a living. Communication…..it works every time.
The idea of working for free is fine and I’ll do it, but don’t ask me to work for free. I’ve been asked if I would like to volunteer my time, I have no problem with that because I can assess do I feel like it. Like all your stories it was your decision to do it, most times you initiated it which is great. Looks like a bunch of us did exactly that for your Vimeo challenge.
I couldn’t agree with you more, and I hope I have lived a life based on that. Besides the working for free issue, you more than touched on something else and that is living and demonstrating authenticity; not only with others but with ourselves also. I ran across an interesting reading this morning and would like to share two lines;
“When we bare our inwardness fully, exposing our strengths and frailties alike, we discover a kinship in all living things, and from this kinship a kindness moves through us and between us. The mystery is that being authentic is the only thing that reveals to us our kinship with life.” – Mark Nepo
Keep up the incredibly great work.
A really great post that provides great reminders if why its important to do work that you believe in beyond just getting paid. Stillmotion has been providing so many great pieces of insight, knowledge and inspiration that is greatly appreciated.
I think it was also great that you acknowledged that you were hired by the photographers to do a promo for them but then gave the wedding couple the film for free. It shows that sometimes you can achieve the best of both worlds and should not just always be looking at work from a “pay” perspective.
Thanks for sharing this with us!
I do a lot of work for non-profits and charities, and quite a bit of it is unpaid, but I don’t consider it working for free. I usually get a ‘donation in kind’ for at least part of the product donated, and I also get their gratitiude and references. All good.
One thing I ask of every client for whom I do pro-bono work is that they not publicize that they didn’t pay me cash. I offer them options if they’re asked: “Every project is different, and Rob made it workable for our budget.” “Rob was very reasonably priced, and we’re happy with the product.” And so on. It’s been working very well so far.
great stuff i would say doing free work or discounted work has gotten us exposure to more and better things!!!
are the videos you created form Marshall Jones online to view?
For those commenting about not doing free work for the client who “will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” they’re not talking about “Wimpey’s.” They’re talking about doing free work for causes, people and/or organizations wherein that work is worthwhile. It could be someone for whom the work will be a great addition to your reel. It could be a cause you believe in. It could be for a project that takes your craft to a new level. In all cases, you are getting something in return, even if that “something” is just the “warm fuzzies” that comes with using your craft to make a difference in the world.
But, like the example they gave with the wedding they shot for free, sometimes strategic thinking can yield big results.
Definitely strive to get paid what you’re worth. But don’t be so close-minded you miss out on opportunities that come from investing your talent in a project that could pay off down the road.
Well said Ron. Thanks for your contribution
I firmly believe in this & I have learned quite a bit by working for people that I admire and whom could teach me something in return. I think the experience of just second shooting with you all in NYC was incredibly eye opening and those are the experiences I love & personally look for. As artists I think we need experiences that push us and its so much easier to fail and grow when its a free project. There are no deadlines or financial worries. Its just for the love of the craft. Having said that, it really all depends on the person and project as I have gotten taken advantage of so many times. There are definitely people out that feed off of other peoples talents for their own gain, so if its for free, I am doing it my own way. Trades and barters are always awesome too..actually getting a new roof that way. :]
Absolutely. It’s been great having you along 🙂
Glad to hear we offered value back more than just compensation
These words and videos (from Marshall and Stillmotion) are inspiring…and although many experiences, opinions and connections are positive (at least for me)…there is still so much negativity in our everyday lives. I’d love to know how the wonderful people at Stillmotion …and Marshall, who both have such a positive energy, deal with negativity in the world around them.
It’s a great question John.
The negativity certainly is everywhere if you look. Even in writing this post and trying to share and help others with our beliefs, there are some that are upset by the ideas and can post negative comments. The more you put yourself out there, the more you open yourself up for that to happen. At the same time, there is also a larger potential to really help, inspire, and empower others. We are currently working on a very inspiring story of a 9 year old girl who is fighting child slavery with Lemonade. It’s an amazing story, but you can’t tell it without going to some really dark places and exploring the world of slavery itself. When we did a piece with CBS on Chardon High School and the shootings there, it was incredibly tough to walk into that environment and talk to people about what they went through. In all of these times, whether we need to see these things in the process of making our work or as reactions to the ideas and stories we share, it really helps to be purpose driven. We really believe in the power stories can have to affect change and we hold that idea front and center through the dark things as it helps to tay focused on what this is all about. We try and always stay true to ourselves, our core values, and take everything in stride realizing that not everybody loves cupcakes, but the majority do.
Hope that’s making sense and answers your question.
Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think inspiring others is why we do what we do as filmmakers…the funny thing is…we as filmmakers always seem to get inspired in the process. Thanks again for all you do!
Cupcakes it is!
I fully support the notion that you should be paid for what you do, but there are times that the “price” for doing something for free can easily be justified.
One of the first things I did when I started my videography business was to put together a video for a client free of charge. Not only did the client eventually hire me to create a commercial for them, I was able to leverage them as a reference which paved the way to paying jobs.
So, I wholeheartedly agree with StillMotion’s advice and approach. Consider the work tuition or a marketing expense.
I think what is most important is to trust how you feel. It is easy to feel like you are being taken advantage of, and in those cases it is often best to pass. Yet at other times, it often feels right to help out, lower your rates, or volunteer your time. Sometimes there is a clear return in site, and sometimes there isn’t, but i would always go back to trusting that feeling
When you give, you give creativity, craft, experience,time, you share your passion, you give a little bit of yourself. I believe giving and sharing are essentiel and very often we offer things or do it for a very low price because the project or the people are worth it. And actually, what we sometimes give (our passion, our creativity) is what people that have money want to pay for…
The question I ask myself is: what money do I need? And when I feel comfortable with it, I give the “extra mile”.
A problem is, sometimes people think that a free job is a poor job, and that the result wil be cheap. You give and you are not considered seriously…So you can do like Peter Gabriel: Make sure that you are getting paid and respected for your job. And if everything is well done, you give back what you feel comfortable with…
Thank you Stillmotion for being so inspiring
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Honestly, I can’t believe you guys were from Canada. I live in Toronto and I would have been so excited to meet you guys. I would have quit my $80,000 a year job just to intern because I can tell you guys are doing what you love. I love filmmaking but school is sooooooo expensive. I’m gonna keep looking at your blog and buy one of your books. I want to live happy too