Actor Contracts 101, Part 2

Actor Contracts

It’s been said that common sense is far from common. So stick to the basics and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary issues.  For instance, there are basically three things you need to keep in mind when you are booked on a gig and faced with signing a contract for the use of your performance, voice, image, or likeness. 

1) AVOID signing contracts that include the term in perpetuity.

Both union and nonunion contracts have used this terminology in a variety of settings with greater and greater frequency over the years, often under circumstances that would warrant greater pay or reuse fees. 

If in perpetuity does appear on a contract at the end of a session you’re on, without any prior communication and you don’t want your employer to have unlimited access to your performance, then discuss this in advance of drawing a line through that statement and initialing and dating it. If an agent booked you on the project, be sure to call him BEFORE signing the contract and let him know the situation and your preference. You need his input and advice here. If you were hired directly by the producer on the project, inform him you can’t agree to unlimited use (in perpetuity) regardless of how “standard” they may claim this verbiage is today on a contract. 

A good deal is only a good deal if both sides are satisfied with what each will benefit from the arrangement.

2) If the contract you are given is incorrect, then DO NOT SIGN IT!

Seems simple enough, but you’d be surprised what you might do to “keep the peace” at a session and because you “don’t want to cause trouble.” You need to speak up and correct oversights and trust this can be done without making a scene. It’s usually a very simple adjustment. The onus falls to you whether the information on any contract you sign is accurate, so if the contract reads only “one commercial spot” and it should say “three,” you need to bring this to the attention of the producer (and your agent) to make the correction. If the producer seems extremely busy, which they often are, get your agent on the phone, but refrain from signing this contract until this issue is cleared up. Otherwise, they’ll be obligated to pay you for only one spot when you in reality did three. You’d get paid only for a third of what the job is worth, and that’s not okay. They’ll have a tough time correcting that later—if at all.

And don’t think this can happen only in nonunion circles, this can and does occur at every stratum of the industry. So be watchful and make sure your contacts read correctly. It’s ultimately your responsibility, your livelihood, YOUR business.

3) Be sure to archive a copy of each contract for your records.

Even if you do a remote session (in other words, you’re patched into the session with the client in a studio located in a different state) you will likely be e-mailed or faxed your contract. Keep a copy for yourself and maintain a file for yourself as to the jobs you have done. This is the best record of what you did, when you did it, what the agreement was, and what the job was worth. It gives you an accurate reference and helps you maintain a list of your clients, whether the client is a producer, director, corporate client/producer, or the agencies these individuals work for and the clients they represent, such as Best Buy, Oscar Mayer, or Maytag. If you can’t keep in touch with them, they certainly will not be able to remain in touch with you. Again—it’s YOUR job to remain available to the work. If they used you before, there’s a greater chance for them to use you again, provided they are kept in the loop on how to reach you.

At SOUND ADVICE, we generally recommend you LLC (rather than incorporate) to legitimize your expenses as a start-up business and as a working talent. This can be done fairly easily and affordably on LegalZoom.com. Doing so also protects your identity by keeping your Social Security number private, especially when dealing with numerous clients that have yet to prove themselves. Plus, it legitimizes your write-offs. 

If you are in the first six to seven years of your business, this is still your start-up business. It generally takes at least five years to get any business off the ground.

Treat this business as a business and it will most certainly become your primary source of income.

The information offered in this and our various blogs from SOUND ADVICE are often excerpts from our book, THE SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voice-over & the Business of Being a Working Talentby founder and casting director, Kate McClanaghan.  Click here to purchase a digital or ‘analog’ copy for yourself through our website: http://voiceoverinfo.com/services/encyclopedia

Kate McClanaghan, Inc. © 2013 All rights reserved.