Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's Not Professionalism


It would be an irregular month if I wasn't contacted via Facebook to "participate in a queer community" film, performance, party, etc. I love that people are making projects here. I love that I am invited so frequently. However, this is a fragile utopia and A GRIP NEEDS TO BE GOTTEN. 

For the purpose of clarity I will speak only of the most recent Facebook message I received so as to prevent a rant and also simply honor it as the standard approach to asking for free labor under the guise of "queer community project."

The unsolicited message I received merely stated: We want you as a drag queen in a bar scene. The shoot is a probably XX date. Attached was a list of characters and names upon names after which there was government funding logo. 

Obvious problems: They fail completely to mention the location, whether or not they can arrange for my transportation or reimburse me. They fail to mention how long the shoot might take. 2 or 24 hours, beats me? Nor do they acknowledge the budget within which they work, or if I might even be able to request a monetary amount for taking time off work to participate. I responded: 

Hey, thanks so much for thinking of me! I usually work Saturdays... So I have to ask is there a budget to pay me? My drag fee is 50 euros... If the shoot is longer than 3 hours I ask for an additional 10 per hour after that. Sorry I used to be more able to do free cameos for filmmakers but now really need to make money. I can't afford to take unpaid leave from my jobs. Let me know what you think. I hope things are going good!

I received no response. 

Experiential baggage problems: At the end of every queer film project I've ever worked on there is someone who plans to collect screening fees. Do they plan retroactive payment as well? Drag is not free. Make up is expensive. Never in all of my film cameos and unpaid performances has anyone followed up with a tube of lipstick or a gift card as a thank you. In fact, many projects years after shooting have failed to be realized. The directors fail to offer photography stills for me to use on my CV nor do they follow up with a tentative schedule for completion. In my experience, they take my free labor and assume it belongs to them to discard or use later at will. 

My dear queer cultural producers who utilize free labor as a tool in production: you owe each participant time. You owe them the time it takes to follow up with details about completion, tentative screenings or further manifestations of the project. They deserve to see what you create with their images before you screen it to a public. You owe them the time it takes to really listen to their experience with your model of production. 


I am not a confused white person who feels entitled to payment for everything I do. I'm not offended by their failure to offer me monetary concern. I'm not surprised by their inability to articulate what my character would be (dead hooker? RuPaul's Drag Race cliche?) or why specifically I should be there instead of some other body. I understand film scheduling is always in flux and therefore a concrete date and time is optimistic if not impossible. But, if you message someone asking for their time... to take time off of paid work and they respond--regardless their response--if you felt entitled to an afternoon or a whole day of their time, shouldn't you at the very least respond saying: 'Thanks for getting back to me... I understand your concerns about money...' 

This is not professionalism, nor is it a formality... it's gratitude. It's acknowledging that we are all trying to get shit done and if you're too busy to write a brief thank you in response then you are completely incapable of managing time in a way that honors the weight of free labor. 

Alas, venture capitalists utilizing 'queer community' (read: social positioning) to jump start their careers is so common place I can't even be mad about it. Rather than working as a community to re-envision resource usage, art market strategy and 'careers' as a concept, you expect me to drink some hippie-dippie Kool Aid stink of social status upgrade as payment and then barf out poorly written script lines to other unpaid wanton starlings while you're bound to misrepresent and alienate us at best, because disconnecting value from labor is grounds only for revolt.