While reading about the situation developing between Spike Lee, Juan Luis Garcia, and the unnamed ad agency on The Hollywood Reporter's website, I came across a comment that caught my interest:
"Now I'm looking forward to this film. I'm not going to see it, but I'll be definitely be helping promote its 'exposure' on the Internet."
It seems like Headwound is implying that they are looking forward to file-sharing the movie. In the case of file-sharing, a product gets plenty of exposure, but no money is gained.
I've been approached many times with the prospect of working for no money, but with the promise of exposure. I'm sure many artists have experienced a similar proposition. In the case of doing work on-spec, an artist gets plenty of exposure (sometimes), but no money is gained.
So how are the situations different? The major difference is that an artist can simply turn down the job, but a production company has to be extremely careful if they are to keep people from sharing what they sell. But if it's as simple as saying "no, thanks", than why do these propositions ever occur? It seems that it wouldn't exist if there weren't people out there saying "sure, I'll work for free". It wouldn't exist if it didn't work.
So why would you work for free? Of course, there's philanthropy. Charity work is a great thing to do, but ad agencies aren't exactly Doctors Without Borders. Maybe you're the type of person who likes to stay busy, but doesn't have any current projects. But if you're a creative type, odds are you have your own personal projects to keep you occupied.
This type of bait would work on someone who would like to spread awareness of what they do. Instead of working on their craft in order to set themselves apart, some people would rather focus on increasing their fame. One could turn to celebrities who didn't become famous for their accomplishments as an example of the benefits of such a tactic.
However, an artist can easily promote themselves online these days. Getting your work out there is no problem at all. But since the internet is so over-saturated with everything imaginable, it comes down to getting people to look at it for more than a second. In order to draw someone in, the product needs to be really good, which circles us back to working on your craft. I realize that not everything that becomes popular on the internet is "good" but it seems that the things that stick around are.
I think it is important to note that a lot of my friends started at their jobs as volunteers. They really like the jobs they got by doing this. I think this situation is a bit different, because the artists are the ones proposing the deal, so whatever happens afterward is in their control and their responsibility.
So why would someone work for free? Because they got suckered, I guess. If artists never agreed to it, we'd never be asked to work for free. A carpenter won't build you a fence just because you promise to tell everyone who sees it what a good carpenter they are.
The Thanksgiving Lesson: if you have something you're thankful for, whether it be your talents or the land your people have lived on for thousands of years, don't let other people trick you into giving it to them.