In the Entertainment Industry, You Need FU Money

In my 10th-grade drama class, my teacher would usually hand me a detention slip for "toilet humor" for breaking her rules with my drama productions. I was immature and found humor in pushing her buttons.

My teacher knew I was a good student who needed attention and the entertainment industry was dangerous for people like me. One day, she pulled me aside and said something I'll never forget: "Walid, if you want to work in Hollywood, you will need 'f*** you money' to survive."

I was kicked off stage for nearly every skit for "toilet humo,r" and then, she used that word with me? As a 15-year-old I had no idea how impactful her words would be in my career. At the time, I heard my prude teacher say the f-word. This video goes into details that could help many beginner photographers with their new businesses.

One Day, I Understood

Years later, I was in the middle of a job when a client asked me to lie to the model about payment. They asked me to lie for them. This would save the international brand several thousand dollars by paying the model only scale and avoiding any commercial usage fees. This unethical but money-saving tactic was enough to cause a high school flashback. 

Oh, this is why we need "FU Money" to survive this business. That's what my teacher meant. Now, I understand! "FU Money" isn't about rejecting a job that is a bad fit for your skills. It is about rejecting anything that may compromise your reputation, integrity, or love for your craft. 

Photographers, you are responsible for your reputation and how well your business does.

How Can You Save Enough 'FU Money'?

Personally, I've been able to save this for this special account because I've always run my business to thrive, not just survive. There have been difficult days, but my goal was to always put money aside for unplanned circumstances. 

  • I have the same camera for the past 12 years, and only now I am considering an upgrade. The Canon 5D Mark II did the job every time, and I knew chasing the latest and greatest would sink me. 
  • I understand my market value and stuck to it every chance I got. I understood that photographers should get paid for usage rights and production fees and even suggested my client upgrades that would boost the overall budget. 
  • I never turned a job away! If the client's offer did not fit my business path, I would offer to help them find a photographer who could do a great job. Why? I wanted to help my community and the client. The client remembers that, and they come back to me when there's a bigger budget. And if they don't come to me with a higher budget, I still helped another fellow photographer book a job.

I could go on and on about saving money, but I feel everyone reading this have their own tactics that work equally as well. Ultimately, I'm urging photographers to work on thriving instead of just surviving. Thriving means you keep your love for your art and your community. Thriving means you have a solid reputation. 

There will be a time you may need to decline a job because it would either contribute to your burnout or hurt another person, no matter how much you need the money. As much as it's important to save for a rainy day, it's equally important to have an FU account for terrible situations.  Overdue bills are easier to fix than a broken reputation. 

Walid Azami's picture

Walid Azami is a Photographer/Director and creative consultant from Los Angeles. He got his start working with Madonna + Co by contributing to her many projects. It was then he realized his place in the creative world & began teaching himself photography. He has since shot Kanye, Mariah Carey, Usher, Bernie Sanders, JLO, amongst others

Log in or register to post comments


Awesome stuff. So true and not chasing technology for the sake of it is a great mindset.

Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.

Walid Azami, I just watched a prior video, If I Were a New Photographer Again, I Would Do This, where you recommended doing three free shoots, before one started charging. Now you are saying don't shoot for free. Scratching my head... Which one?