Sunday, June 12, 2011

Get it on Paper. Get it in Writing. Or Get NADA!

Many times on low/no budget productions cast and crew don’t sign contracts. Usually there is no or a very low amount on money, no back end or the producer is a friend or close acquaintance. So you don’t do a contract. It’s awkward to bring up, especially with a friend. But then stuff happens.

If money is involved and a payment schedule has not been established, you get paid if and when the producer deems it appropriate. I did some editing very recently. My relationship with the producer seemed strong. They had paid me well and on time for other related work, so I didn’t feel a contract was necessary. I was to be paid the full amount when the work was done. Simple right. Well, after I deliver the edit, some things still needed to be added(things outside of my responsibilities as editor). Mostly music. Then when I ask for my pay, I discover that the producer doesn’t consider my work done and payable till the whole project is completed and mastered.

 Woah! So, I just took several weeks off work from my day job in order to complete this edit, rent is due,  I have no money and I'm not getting paid!? WTF! My first reaction is to get mad. Then I stop and think about it. I didn’t ask for a contract, in fact I never even made my expectations on when I was suppose to be paid clear. The producer had done nothing wrong. In his head, the work was not complete until the project was mastered. In my head, my work was complete when my portion of it was done. We never discussed it and I never got it in writing. This is my fault. No one is going to protect you in this world except for you (maybe your mom, but she's in INDIANA and I didn't want to tell her) It’s always weird talking money and payment. I hate doing it. But if you’re going to work in this business it’s something you must do often and it a very blunt manner. There can be no miscommunication. Then to further protect yourself you need to have it in writing. Deal memo’s and contracts are easy to do. Templates are readily available on the net.

Even if no money is involved, you still need a contract. Maybe it’s a credit/copy deal. Then later on the producer decides you didn’t fulfill the duties properly and revokes the credit. Did you? Where your responsibilities laid out? Did you perform them? Who’s to say? Maybe they added duties you didn’t agree to. Maybe they decide to credit their cousin instead. Whatever, if you have no paper, you have nothing and you run the risk of getting nothing.

I’m a believer in the better aspects of human nature. I tend to trust someone rather than not. This has led me into some bad situations before and probably will again. But, I will not sign on to any projects in the future (pay, no, low, whatever) without paper stating my rate, payment schedule, duties expected, ect…


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