Contracts in general can be a bit of a learning curve for any Producer or Client to understand the importance of. Some Producers have worked their entire profession with a hand shake agreement. But a large majority of Producers start implementing contracts after getting burned once or twice. Then guess what??? The contract gets longer the next time they are burned, and continues to grow with their services to protect themselves, their potential clients and most of all their time involved.
If you are a Client, be weary of video production companies who fail to present some form of agreement.
- There are some acceptions to this notion including basic video camera rentals. But if a video production company does not operate with terms and conditions then chances of them being a student / young inexperienced filmmaker are pretty high!
If you are a Producer, be weary of Clients who fail to fully read & sign the video production contract.
- If the Client doesn't have any ?'s that is one thing, but if you the Producer has to constantly remind the Client to send a signed version of the agreement back to you prior to production initiation, WATCH OUT!!
All and all, there are many things that both CLIENT and PRODUCER need to look out for in every video production contract. Here are a few tips to get both sides of the spectrum thinking a bit more…
#1 - All parties are determined and authorized
It is very important to determine the different authorized roles of this production. Who is labeled Client, and who is labeled Producer? By taking this precaution, you are not only protecting your company but you are protecting your future Client's business as well. If for some reason a potential Client were to fraudulently represent a business, it is the Producers job to protect themselves with a solid contract. Here is a very strong and simple statement I use to accomplish this security.
"The parties agree and acknowledge that the undersigned are authorized representatives to execute this agreement on behalf of their respective companies."
#2 - Every aspect of video production is covered
I can definitely admit after starting my company at a young age, this task is still being refined with just about every video contract I do. More complicated and larger productions require the exact same style of agreement…. More complicated and larger amount of details.
Remember, every video will ultimately need pre production, production, post production, rendering, proper storage and distribution. In most cases the video distribution is an entirely different beast to tackle and is handled with a different type of contact than the production itself.
- Producers: I would estimate that the first 3 years of creating videos for businesses I did not include video pre production into the contract. As a production coordinator, all of my time that went into the projects we produced wasn't included and never mentioned. Pre production is vital to a video's success and involves several hours some times days to coordinate everything properly. Producers make sure to include your standard office wages for the time it takes to complete all coordination.
- Clients: Be sure to read the day of production details very carefully. It is more common nowadays for production companies to offer half days of production. Clients this is strictly half day of the producers or video crew members time. There is no such thing as a half day equipment rental.
- Producers: For the thousands of Producers out there who have DSLR video cameras being taken advantage of by businesses and producing their company videos for minimal cents on the dollar, your only wasting both your time and your clients time by thinking this is possible. After you go back and forth a few times and your client still does not have any viable video content and you are spending hours if not days longer on this one video, maybe you will think twice and separate your video camera rental from your camera operator time. There are a lot of successful seasoned camera operators that do not and never will own their own gear. The amount of money it takes to rent the right gear does not change for half days from full days. Only the hourly wages owed to the camera operator should reflect the number of hours he or she worked that day.
- Clients: It is also important to determine if the production companies half days are 4 or 5 hours, and full days are 8 or 10 hours. We all obviously know that most production crews work very long days that are not %100 officially tracked, but there has to be a breaking point for most of you cameraman, sound recordist and especially gaffers out there.
Clients do not like additional fees just as much as Producers do not like working additional time for free. Stop charging for half days and then work full days for no additional charge.
Determine your FINAL HOURLY RATE for everything involved! Rather it be a single cameraman with one video camera rental or an entire production crew filming a movie. If time goes way overboard…. negotiate the additional charges with the paying client on set as it is happening. Even if you do decide to include a full day complimentary as a first time customer courtesy, make sure they are aware of the real costs associated with the project so they do not continue to take advantage of you. As my company grew, I had to differ some of my starting clients to colleagues that could justify their time involved.
Post production is by far the biggest area of video services that are never full accounted for. Video editing, color correcting, video rendering, sound design, sound mixing, sound replacement, visual effects and mastering all for one corporate video production???? YES!!! And there is a different program and process with long rendering lengths for each! So both Producers and Clients tread water lightly in Post.
#3 - Additional foreseeable expenses
Do your Client a huge favor by mentioning storage space along with any additional expenses in the very beginning. I don't care if the final bill includes 3 extra hours of production and 3 extra days of post production, or just an additional $100 external hard drive expense…. Everyone needs to be aware of the fee's involved after reading your contract so that there are NO SURPRISES! If there are any additional fee's, bring them to your Client's attention before accruing such fee's.
#4 - Deposit requirements and billing schedule
This section of the contract usually goes by an industry standard of %50 down and %50 upon completion. But really the payment terms can get as detailed as your production itself. For larger productions, I have had to separate production coordination from production and keep both completely separate from post production. This created 2 separate %50 down and %50 upon completion payments along with one %50 down, %25 percent upon first review and %25 upon final review payment….. ALL WITH IN one lonnnnng contract!
Although writing the contract and terms might get complicated, most Clients work better when details are in place and make this process quite simple if they are holding their end of the contract up.
Example: Task A is complete, Task A needs to be paid, Task B is complete, Task B needs to be paid, and so on and so forth.
#5 - Payment processing fee's
A lot of independent production companies do not have the luxury of eating this additional fee. This kind of puts some of those companies in between a rock and a hard place. The bigger clients want to use credit cards and frown upon additional payment processing fee's, but the expense of offering merchant services is very high unless the demand is comparable. This forces a lot of production companies to use services like pay pal so that the convenience of a credit card is available to their clients but not necessary for them to operate their business.
If you are a Producer eating these cost, I bet they are starting to add up.
If you are a Client that is using a credit card and you noticed these fee's were not included in the production contract, make sure to ask the Producer what his or her process for accepting payment truly is.
- Producers: As any producer grows, they learn why budgets are always considered "under budget." But at the same time, companies always do have an available amount of cash flow devoted to this project they might hire you for. So although you are trying to cover your time involved across the board, you do not want to over value this estimate and loose the potential gig. Noone wakes up rich after one job, so be conservative!
- Clients: Have you ever had a really bad experience with a video producer getting upset and not finishing the job? Remember that most of the talent behind the lens is artistic and not business. Therefor a majority of independent producers do not have business sense to avoid confrontation. If they do not like how things are working, they simply just won't deliver. A combination of understanding how much time is involved for the Producer and their role in this production is absolutely crucial.
I said it in #2 and I will say it again… Clients do not like additional fees just as much as Producers do not like working additional time for free.
Be sure to grasp the time involved for both parties and appreciate the learning curve it takes when you are putting way more time into a project you aren't being paid for.
It takes several years of never turning anything down to understand the power you attained from working overtime for free. I will truly never stop working overtime, as most entrepreneurs are always "clocked in."