In this industry, people are often working for free. As a filmmaker there are times this is acceptable, such as if the work is for a charity or nonprofit organization that has no budget. However, if the nonprofit organization is run by high-paid executives, they should be able to pay for their video.
It can also be acceptable to work for free for indie productions with low to no budget. After all, this is often how people gain valuable experience. But are there other valuable ways to compensate volunteers besides money?
You bet there are. As the filmmaker, you can make the project a strong learning experience for volunteers. Sure this will slow down your production a little, but often all it takes to improve the learning experience is more thinking out loud. Talk about why you’re setting up the lights in the way you are. What motivates the choices of camera angles? If you explore all of this, you will provide value to your volunteers and it may just make you a better filmmaker. If you’re asking yourself why throughout the shoot, your project can only improve. One of the best ways to learn is to teach.
Set aside some question and answer time. You’re busy and have a lot on your mind, but you’ve just asked a group of people to give up their time. So, give up a little of yours. If you can, set up mentorship teams. For example, team a new grip with an experienced grip.
Make sure you have a good photographer on the set. Photograph everyone who volunteered and offer them images. There are lots of photographers that love to work on sets because they need portfolio work.
Feed your crew! This is one thing you must include in your budget: water for all and something to eat. People have already spent money to support your shoot by showing up. Don’t expect them to go hungry.
Put everyone’s name in the credits; that’s a no brainer. Let your people say, Look grandma there’s my name at the end of the slasher zombie movie. We all want our ego stroked to some degree and this form of recognition costs you almost nothing. You might also think about sending a personalized email to each volunteer. Make it something they can use as a reference.
So think about the people that are giving you their time. Make it a rewarding experience for them. Give up some of your time to make sure they feel valued.
Oh and if you are producing a commercial shoot and you think you can ask for volunteers, think again. The client should be billed for the work done by everyone on the set. Your client is in business to make money and you are too.