Anyone who's had to work their way from the ground up in this business will cringe upon hearing these three words: Copy, Credit, Meals.
It's what every production offers when they can't pay you. "We don't have any money, but you'll get copy, credit and meals." Or any variation of that. "There's no pay, but you'll get a DVD copy, IMDb credit, and some kick ass meals!"
When you're first starting out, it sounds like a pretty decent deal. After all, you're more in it for a chance to learn and get your foot in the door than for the paycheck. And who doesn't like a free meal?
Until you realize that the "kick ass meal" is a three inch piece of a Subway sandwich and a bag of chips, or even worse, a slice of pizza. Which usually isn't too big a deal the first time you encounter this, but after a few shows in a row? You get nauseous just thinking about it.
But no worries! At least you'll get a copy of the project! That way, you can show your family and friends that four years of film school wasn't a waste. Only, you never do get a copy and your repeated e-mails to the producers go unanswered. Or if/when they do get back to you, they say the project never got finished, they're still working on it (two years later...) or they'll say, "Oh yeah! No problem! Tell me your address and I'll mail it right over!" and then you never hear from them again.
Oh well... At least you'll get your precious IMDb credit, right? Wrong. You don't get IMDb credit on unfinished films. Or, if by some miracle the film made it all the way through editing, it never gets submitted to the site. And if it does, chances are good that they'll misspell your name and list you in the wrong department. The good thing about IMDb is that you can go in and make corrections if something is inaccurate. But after enduring all that crap from production, having to list your own name on a project is just icing on a shit taco: it doesn't make the whole thing any better.
I kid you not, I was once sweet talked into doing a freebie job for a friend of a friend who lured me on with promises of "copy, credit and fully catered meals" [emphasis his]. Apparently, "fully catered" to him meant Taco Bell for lunch (one taco per person. Seriously.) and no coffee at crafty. I had to hunt them down for a copy (nearly a year later) only to find out that the Key Grip credit I was promised was somehow spelled "P.A."
Saddly, this occurred during a point in my career when I should've known better and the film ended up doing pretty well in the festival circuit.
This isn't to say that everyone should steer clear of "copy, credit and meals" jobs. When I first came to this city, it was those kinds of jobs that got me started in this biz and eventually, whether it be from the connections I made or the things I learned, they led me to bigger and better things. I'll still hop on a project like that from time to time, but it'd be more as a favor to a friend (and not "friend of a friend") and/or there'd have to be something in it for me professionally (working with a piece of gear I haven't used before; a DP with a big name; etc).
As for the "copy, credit and meals" part? Count yourself lucky if you get one out of three.