More on the subject from Gentleman Villain:
I can relate what worked for me at the time that I was an assistant...Things may have changed since then...but many things are still the same
When I was in school, there were 100s of students competing for jobs as assistants so the best way to get experience was to work for free. Since there was no money involved...the relationship with photographers was very casual and polite....This allowed me the freedom to make school the top priority and work experience second...so it wasn't a big deal if I couldn't work with a photographer at a particular time...he would understand.
Once I got out of school the whole game changed. I genuinely needed a job to pay bills and wanted to devote my entire time to working in a professional studio. I didn't want to give away my services for free....and I didn't want to have casual relationships with photographers either....so I tried a few approaches and this is what worked best for me
The average assistant pay at the time was $125 to 175 day rate. That would be a lot of money to spend on somebody new that was untested....so photographers would often work with people that they were familiar with....so I had to figure out a way to get my foot in the door.
I started calling around to studios and explaining that I was fresh out of school and looking to assist. I told them that my experience was relatively limited but I was very eager to get working in a professional environment. I would offer to help out on jobs for 10 dollars an hour as a self-employed assistant and there was no minimum hour requirement. THis made it possible for photographers to just hire me fopr 2-3 hours if that's all they needed and not have to worry about paying me for a full day or half day rate. IT also meant less stress for them, since they didn't have to worry about filing a bunch of tax forms when they paid me...They could just cut me a check and that was the end of the story...I took care of all the tax stuff on my own.
This put me in hot water with the other assistants in town that didn't like being under-cut on their day rates. But F them...this is business baby...and business is war
This approach worked out really well for me. Probably2 out of 3 photographers that I approached called me to help on shoots when they needed an extra hand. Most of the time, the work was just a matter of holding a reflector or moving gear...Basically grunt work that anybody could do. I ended up cleaning a few studios like a dang maid...hey that's cool...it got me in the door.
Eventually, people got to know me and I started getting offered full-time jobs. IT took about 2-3 months of schlepping around hodge podge jobs for 10 bucks an hour to finally get a full-time job....but I was able to get a job at one of the best studios in my particular market. So it was definitely worth it.
The money I made was nothing...it was a joke...sometimes after taxes it was just barely enough to cover the mileage on the car. But the whole point to working for a small hourly rate was to get a chance to work for a few hours at a time and tget to know people...but still give the impression that I wanted to be paid and not work for free. This approach seemed to go over very well.
Just a thought. There are all different approaches to getting work. I tried to think of a way that would make my services cost money but at the same time be reasonable enough for a photographer to give me a chance...and it seemed to work well.