POV (Perspective)
How To Pay the Bills With Passion Projects
  • Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2019
Alex Hagon

Passion projects come in all shapes and sizes and can present both great opportunities and great challenges. Although it can be tough to find time for projects you may not be getting paid for, the networking and growth opportunities are worth it, especially in advertising. 

The “freebie” has enhanced my career opportunities, and I’m a better editor for it. Finding the time can be tricky, but ultimately you do have to put in the extra hours, evenings, and weekends. And over time you’ll find that you can actually use lessons from these free projects to get even more paid work. Through my experience cutting short films, I’ve been able to explore a different side of my skills and open a few doors on the commercial side as well.

Here are three ways to ensure you’re making the most out of passion projects:

Building Relationships
While not all passion projects are paid, they can end up paying the bills in the long run because of the long-lasting relationships they create. You have the opportunity to meet creatives outside of your company who share your interests. Look at every time you meet a new person as a chance to impress, since you never know what doors they could open for you. I have built some great relationships that have lasted over the years and have become friends with like-minded creatives through passion projects. 

You have a chance to work closely with creators on projects that are often very personal for them. You also get exposed to different aspects of the industry, from art direction to copywriting and various content creation processes, which can help you adapt quickly to unfamiliar setups in your future work. And, when one of your new connections is looking for someone with your particular skillset, they know exactly who to call. 

Varied Skillset
In addition to incredible networking opportunities, side projects also present a unique opportunity to play different roles that might be outside your typical job title. This will provide a more varied body of work, expanding your horizons and roster of capabilities, which will make you more appealing to brands and agencies. 

Quite a few directors I work with go out and shoot test films, shooting more performance or technical effects driven work, for example, to enhance their reels. You would be surprised how many successful directors who don’t shoot performance-led content want to do it and vice versa, or they have been writing a script that addresses something that agencies are currently looking for; more sports, more emotional storytelling, some neon lighting! Perhaps the director has a burning desire to tell a story that is close to their heart. Pursuing these projects gives them a reel to show to potential new clients and can open doors to opportunities in new industries and different types of advertising projects.

There’s an idea that older artists try to get away with not paying young artists because “they’re getting exposure,” so naturally those younger artists love to rebuttal with “exposure doesn’t pay the bills.” However, if you’re creating long-lasting relationships, it just might. These projects can come through all different routes, though for me they almost always come through previously made director relationships. 

These projects can expose you to new areas of the industry or new techniques that can make you even better at your day job. They also help get your name out there, which is especially important when you’re starting out in advertising.

For example, I’m lucky enough that a few of the short films I have worked on have received recognition at awards shows. It’s the gift that keeps on giving and always a nice boost. These projects are also another string to your bow when directors, brands or agencies are looking for an editor who has experience working on “long form” content. 

When you’re starting out, no matter the industry, you should say yes to these opportunities, and work out the details later. When you aren’t getting paid, it can be hard to give it all you’ve got, but you need to be willing to put in the work. If you have passion, you’ll become a better, well-rounded asset and the money will follow. 

Alex Hagon is an editor at PS260

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