To Volunteer or Not To Volunteer - as a Production Manager, by Deborah S. Patz

So you’ve been asked to write a budget. Great! There is, however, no pay involved. Darn. There will be times when you are asked to volunteer your production management services – primarily in the case of writing budgets for free. Here are some quick guidelines to identify when such a request is an opportunity and when it is a poor course of action.

Spec scripts contribute to a writer’s portfolio and help him or her practice the craft of writing. No one reads spec budgets of a PM, and a PM’s portfolio of budgets is really only for self-reference. So, how does a PM practice budgeting? Volunteering is a good possibility.

First of all, consider volunteering not as “working for free” but as “working for trade.” You may not be receiving cash for your services, but you must receive some other benefit from the work you do, and what you receive in return, and how you value it, can vary drastically.

When volunteering is a good thing:

1. You need to practice researching costs and writing budgets. If you have not written many budgets, you may simply need the practice. That means practice not only crafting the document, but also conducting the research and starting or developing relationships with suppliers in the course of that practice. Once done, this spec budget will be a template you can use for writing future budgets.

2. You will be the (paid) production manager if the project is financed. Basically you are working on spec and usually early in development. Ensure that you have this kind of offer in writing, because if not, then they are not serious about your becoming the PM for production.

3. You want to develop connections. You may want to develop a relationship with this producer, genre, production format or studio. Is this project moving you forward in the career path you have chosen? A spec budget here is an excellent opportunity to “test the waters” of those relationships.

4. The work will upgrade you in the industry. If you are new to production management, you need to work in the upgraded position to establish yourself as a competent production manager. This is often done initially by volunteering your production management services.

5. The script/project strikes a chord with you. Sometimes you read a script, or learn about a project and you just have to be a part of that project no matter how. Volunteering by way of writing a budget may be your way to become a part of that magic.

When volunteering is a bad thing:

1. You don’t have the time. If your work-life balance will be upset, or you know you cannot allocate sufficient time to do a good job, do not take the job, voluntary or not. If you cannot spend enough time to do a good job, not only will the budget be poor, but your reputation will suffer by producing inferior work.

2. You are tired of volunteering. Once you start volunteering, you may end up on an undocumented “volunteer list” around town and end up with more offers to volunteer than you have hours in the day. You will have to learn how to say “no.”

Volunteer work is the same effort as paid work. Just because you are not paid in cash does not mean you are not paid at all, for you are really “working for trade.” Make sure that the trade is beneficial to both parties and the arrangement will be fulfilling.

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