Why You Should Pay Your Actors And Have Them Sign A Contract

Why You Should Pay Your Actors And Have Them Sign A Contract


Like most small indie filmmakers, I made short films and music videos where Actors didn’t get paid and no one signed a contract. In this article, I’ll explain why this is a bad idea.

Get everyone to sign a contract

If your film is a promotional project to promote your work, put that in your contract and also any further royalties that come from your project belong to you and your production company. If you ever do get to make a larger budget film and it’s based upon some of your earlier promotional work, guess who will show up and ask you for money. That right, the nice Actor or Actress that loved working with you and just wanted to be in a film, may suddenly start talking about a verbal contract you had with them in a prior project.

People can get weird when it comes to money and or a shot at fame. Always use contracts to protect yourself and your company.

Also, if you work with a band, make sure their management and recording company, if they have one, signs contracts. When the lead singer smiles and says, “I can sign for the band or their Manager does the same thing, don’t fall for it. Make sure everyone in the band and everyone connected to the band signs your contract. If you don’t do this, you may end up losing the rights not only to the use the music but the entire video. Suddenly, your great video is not allowed to be shown by you and it’s being distributed monetarily online by the band’s management and they have the copyright on the song and the bands image. Don’t fall for the game of, “you will be the one shooting our next bigger budget video when we get signed.” Chances are you won’t be because most recording companies already have music video Directors they like to use and work with and you won’t be on that list. Newly signed bands have little influence with recording companies. What if the YouTube video you developed, shot, edited and directed takes off and goes viral, you will want your name and production company attached to it. You don’t want an email from YouTube telling you, that you have violated a copyright and the video is coming down. Make sure everything is in writing.

Actors can play the same game. Suddenly, one of your Actors gets on a TV show or in a movie and you’re being asked to stop showing your low budget film with them in it. It was for fun and they never agreed to you distributing it. Get a signed contract from everyone, cast and crew.

Spend the money to hire a good Contract Attorney

Don’t use free contracts that you find on the Internet. Find a really good Contract Attorney and get them to come up with a contract that you want, that protects you, your production company and your art.

I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough and it’s the difference between being a professional and someone who is a hobbyist.

Last but not least, Pay Your Actors and Crew

There are ways to do this for low and no-budget projects. In your contract, state that you will be compensating your crew for their time by providing them with gas for their vehicles (if they drive to shooting locations) and you will provide drinks, snacks, and lunch. You can even have someone cook the lunch for you and bring it out to your location. You can do this for your Actors. You’re giving them something for their time and effort. Plus, you will get more from people when they think you value their time and talents. If you have a budget, pay your Actors and crew. You can settle on an amount to be paid for the project.

You might want to protect your project by adding to the contract that no Actor is allowed to change their hair color, shave (if they have a beard) or add any visible tattoos or piercing during the production of the project. You never want to try and re-shoot your money shots. Get a good Contract Attorney and educate yourself.

Here are a couple of great books that every small Indie Filmmaker should read 

Clearance & Copyright, 4th Edition: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television by Michael C. Donaldson and Lisa A. Callif

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas A. Crowell Esq.

Check out my other website, Hip Flicks, as an indie filmmaker, it’s got some great obscure, unconventional, well-made films that can teach you a lot.


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