Dear Model: Are You Getting Exposure Or Are You Getting Exploited??

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When Kylie Minogue’s professional dancers were requested to work for no pay during filming of one of her recent video clips, public outcry and widespread news coverage ensued. However, situations similar to this have, and continue to be, an issue in the creative industries – often passing by unhindered and unreported. Indeed, working for little or no pay under the guise of “exposure” is becoming endemic. Companies that turn profit (and in some cases a whole lot of it) are able to hire talent for free simply because if one person turns down the work there are a whole host of others just waiting for that “special opportunity”.

In the case of the Kylie Minogue story the dancers were outsourced, so her spokespeople was able to deflect blame. Had the dancers not reported the situation to the Media and Arts Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) then the issue could have easily slipped the radar. In this case, payment was largely reimbursed and this was no doubt due to the bad press. After all, Kylie is worth millions and she can’t even pay professional dancers who have spent their life pursuing rigorous and very costly training? It makes a good news story, and, a massive PR disaster for the singing budgie.

But, what about those other cases that don’t make a good news story? And, how about those castings and advertisements that are unspecific or even deceptive. It seems everyone is asking for Time for Print (TFP) work these days. TFP refers to work undertaken whereby creative parties equally devote their time to a project (traditionally print, but could be CD or anything else really) in an exchange of labour whereby the project can be produced. Or, put another way: collaboration.

It goes across all the creative mediums, whether you belong as a model; actor; photographer; writer; makeup artist; hair stylist; video producer (and possibly other job descriptions). If you are one of these things, regardless of your skill level, I am willing to bet my pathetically unreliable writer’s income that you have at some time or another been requested to work TFP, have possibly been misled by a job opportunity that does not in reality exist, or have been disappointed by the sad lack of actual paid work available in the world around you.

The problem is that the TFP method has been skewed in favour of companies and individuals using talent and getting around having to pay for it. Plain and simple, what you have here is exploitation. TFP work is to be undertaken explicitly for non-commercial purposes and model release forms should always be signed before a shoot that state exactly this. This means no party to the project should profit from the finished product – nothing should be “sold” as the project belongs to all who devoted their time in an exchange of expertise. TFP works brilliantly when the models, photographers and creative talent’s visions and skill levels perfectly align.

TFP functions as great method of refreshing a portfolio at minimal to no cost. It is also clearly a great option when a creative talent is attempting to build up a portfolio. And, under those conditions only does it function beneficially. You see, people can’t afford to donate limitless time, equipment and petrol expenditure (along with countless other hidden costs) without getting anything back. Although it may come as a shock to some of those of privilege in the industry, an expectation that someone provide never-ending TFP work is simply absurd.

Yes, there is mutual experience building, but there absolutely comes a point where one gains enough experience to deserve to be paid. You wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your pipes for free, so why should professional creatives be subject to the absolute rip otherwise known as “exposure”? And, the fact that someone with “stars in their eyes” (probably young, supported by their parents or less experienced) will eagerly take your place means that it’s getting harder and harder for anyone to stand their ground against the rising TFP tide.

Even if you avoid TFP for the main part, there are some other cons to watch out for. I’d suggest looking out for those sneaky “deferred payments”. You can wonder if you will ever get paid, and I’d say you’re wondering that for good reason. And, even if you do get paid, the question remains… how to survive in the meantime? Also, look out for the term “start-up”. Ask for the company’s ABN to first find out if they are indeed legitimate; check their website; Google their name plus the word “scam”; contact ASIC; try to locate or ask for their fiscal report. Keep in mind that having an agent doesn’t necessarily keep you safe from scams and the like. In fact, agencies often provide primo examples of scamming operations. Always do your research!

Just to divert a little from the main point of this article (but it would be irresponsible not to include this issue) – it’s possibly even more dangerous when dealing with illegitimate individuals than it is with shady or exploitative companies, especially on a personal level. The term “Guy with Camera” or GWC refers to a creep/criminal who is out to exploit people (yes, mainly young women). We don’t really need to go into what this kind of person would do with the images…one can surely imagine. Always trust your gut and employ common sense safety measures – just as you would do when meeting any stranger or anyone that you barely know in any situation where you could potentially feel exposed.

What to do if a company that makes a profit didn’t pay you or deceived you out of pay? You can join the union (The MEAA as mentioned previously) and make a report – just like Kylie Minogue’s back up dancers did. You can contact The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). You lodge a scam report form online. You can find information on the SCAM watch website on how to contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading authority. You can also report a dodgy company or individual to the site on which it was advertised – “Star Now” for example (who has recently somewhat improved their awareness and action on this front).

Remember to watch out for that little term “exposure”. Ensure that in your case (should you pursue the opportunity it relates to) that it doesn’t in fact mean “exploitation”. The entertainment and arts industries face enough hefty battles (funding cuts etc.) without having to wage a civil war on top of it. Employ some integrity and common sense and as a creative person protect your craft and show it the recognition and respect that it deserves. Use TFP properly or not at all. Otherwise, you risk exploiting your passion, ambition and talent and eroding the very industry that you endeavour to thrive within.

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