Signing a contract, in my opinion, is one of the most awkward and unpleasant things that two people or two groups of people can go through. Something tells me that as the sum of money increases or the services rendered become exceedingly complex, that contract signing become easier – mostly because you have people to draft and go over that sort of thing by then. But what we do until then, other than grin and bear it?
Contracts are important. Always have one. Always. It’ll be the one time that you didn’t bother (because they were your friend or because they were so nice) that you get screwed over. Perplexity Pictures has learned that the hard way and it’s one of the reasons that we buckled down and wrote a set of documents that have become our business-doing Bible of sorts. Two simple documents (among many others) form the cornerstone of our dealings but the first, a comprehensive but living client contract, is paramount for success.
Think of it this way, the contract will necessarily set the mood for the business relationship, it will define the professionalism of your production company (so it has to be thorough) but will also define how money-hungry you are in the eyes of the client (so it can’t be too thorough). If a client thinks they are signing their life way, they are unlikely to sign another contract with you. Conversely, if the contract is a frivolous waste of time, you are going to get taken advantage of.
While this is by no means legal advice, I wanted to take a moment to offer some of our insights:
Comprehensive: Our client contract is 5 pages – even for the simplest of forms. Some clauses that I think are imperative for the entertainment industry: Scope of pre-production (all the things that will happen and how long it will take), scripting (how this process works, what the clients rights are), casting and crew (we give client full final say on casting, but we have full final say on crew), budget (what does budget include and not include) , payment terms (exactly how and when the client will pay), termination (how either party can go about terminating the contract), force majeure (if something horrible happens, no one has to go through with the contract), production schedule (delivery and deadlines for everything), confidentiality (don’t share the details!), ownership and rights (who owns what).
Conversational: The running rule at Perplexity is that someone always talks through the contract with the client. Apart from this being a good business practice in general, it also allows you to get all of the terms on the table. If you can clearly state, in words, how long pre-production will be, create back-up plans for shooting dates, define what the budget includes, etc. you have a much better chance of getting on the same page. This is not a time to be skittish. They hired you as a professional production company – if you’re worried about talking through numbers, your client will walk all over you. Be honest and upfront and you’ll be surprised how much respect and trust you’ll garner.
Charming: Through all this, it’s going to be mildly unpleasant. But there are ways to make sure that the client doesn’t think that you’re just money hungry. There are, in my opinion, several ways to do this. Charisma helps a lot. Choose someone to go over the contract that knows it well so that they can rattle off facts, but also create a calm and fun environment. At Perplexity, we’ve created an oath that is in each of our contracts. The oath is simple – it just says that no matter what, it’s our promise to do the best that we can to create a process and a product that is collaborative, fun and professional. Adding this section allows us to talk about our personal mission as filmmakers and connect with clients on a more personal level.
None of these things guarantee anything. But they have helped us. Stay tuned for our new project that will delve into this topic more deeply!
About Sinjin Jones
From a very young age, Sinjin explored the creative arts through poetry, short stories, theatre and, later, film. He thrives on creating under any circumstance and looks forward to directing, writing and creating alongside his partner George and the talented folks of Perplexity Pictures.