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Half up front

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Shane RossHalf up front
by on Mar 7, 2008 at 7:32:26 am

This is an entry from my latest blog post, found here at the Cow, and at

Last December I was asked to edit a trailer for a documentary. This trailer would be used to solicit finishing funds. And while they couldn't pay much, they could pay. Since I wasn't doing anything in January and halfway thru Febuary, I took the job.

The client asked how they should deal with the payment I said that I would like half up front, and half when I deliver the final. That sounded fine to them, so I received half the payment and the tapes to begin editing.

I worked on the project for about 3 weeks, and delivered a rough cut. Then I waited...and waited...and waited. Finally two weeks ago I received word from the director (the guy who hired me). The producers partnership had split due to philosophical differences in the way they wanted to approach the documentary. So not only was it on hold, but it might be shut down altogether. At least the one that I was asked to edit. The producers might end up with separate docs...but for me, the project was done.

Now, I am glad that I got half up front, because the doc was DOA. I am darn sure that trying to get partial payment after what happened would be darn near impossible. Who would want to pay for nothing? This is a lesson I learned the hard way on a previous project. Getting paid is VERY important. If you don't arrange weekly payments, you need to arrange some sort of payment so that you can have something to live off of while you work."

Now, typically I work for production companies that do TV shows, so I get paid weekly, so this isn't a situation that I normally find myself in. Having been stung before (like I mentioned) I tend to do this half up front thing. How do others handle this? Do you get partial payment up front...then more when you deliver a rough cut? Final tally at the end? Because in the production world they give you a first payment for research and to start production, then more money when you start shooting, then a final payment when you deliver the final and all the production bibles. This is what I based my payment plan on.

Thanks for your input.


Read my blog!

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John BaumchenRe: Half up front
by on Mar 7, 2008 at 10:13:49 pm

I used to charge 1/2 up front, 1/4 on delivery of the rough cut, and the balance due on delivery.

If I were still self employed, I would continue with that strategy.

Good on you for at least getting half.

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Mike CohenRe: Half up front
by on Mar 8, 2008 at 1:47:59 am

oddly, we occasionally have long delays in collecting the 2nd half from big companies due to complex end of fiscal year budgets and miscommunication. I got an e-mail forwarded to me once along these lines:

Hey Mike, hold off work for now.

Joe Blow wrote:

Hey Mary Jo - I know this is late, but can you spare some funds from your department to help me pay for this project?

Mary Jo wrote:

Joe - sounds like a good project, but this is the first I have heard of it. Why didn't you get me involved during planning. Now that you've shot it there is little I can do.

Joe Blow wrote:

Yeah Mary, sorry. I really don't have all the funds I need. Can I split this with you?

Mary Jo wrote:

Well, ok, but we may have to wait until next quarter. Can you show me the video in the meantime?

Joe Blow wrote:

Sure, I'll have the video guys send it to you asap.

Mike - can you upload the edit today?

Mike wrote:

You mean the edit you told me to stop work on...

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Nick GriffinRe: Half up front
by on Mar 8, 2008 at 3:55:13 pm

Mike -

Their usual response is:

"And your point is?"

Been there, done that, got the T shirt too many times. The lesson learned is clients will be as dumb as you'll let them be. Their focus is always going to be on themselves and their needs. I've found that the best way to handle this is to always throw it back to them to come up with a solution.

"Gee, the project that you told me you can't pay for, but that you need now so I can get paid later is critical. How do YOU, Mr. client, think we should handle this?

At the very least get the agreed payment schedule IN WRITING. A small deferred payment charge would be nice, too.

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Brendan CootsRe: Half up front
by on Mar 8, 2008 at 5:43:03 pm

We have an ironclad contract that takes anywhere from 33% to 50% upfront, with no work to begin until payment is received. We also ask for the remaining balance to be paid upon delivery (no Net30) so that people can't get their video and then disappear.

The biggest problem with this entire situation, at least in my experience, is that most clients seem to think that they can pay you whenever is convenient no matter what is in the contract. The problem is, people inevitably act as though they have no communication with nor control over their accounting departments, who don't seem to understand how to process ANYTHING outside of their slow-moving Net30 world. It's a huge problem for us, because penalizing the client for breaking these rules isn't a great way to build a relationship but every client seem to break the rules.

Brendan Coots

Splitvision Digital

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Mark RaudonisRe: Half up front
by on Mar 9, 2008 at 7:48:26 pm

First of all.... have a written deal memo outlining the terms of the payment schedule.

THEN.... here's a suggestion for people that are creating a complete project. It's called "assignment of copyright". You can insert language in your deal memo that essentially says, "I own it until you pay me. Once you pay me, you take ownership of the copyright".

What does this mean? Even though most work is done as a "work for hire", this language means that if they use it and don't pay you, you can go after them for copyright infringement rather than just nonpayment. This is a much bigger battle for them to fight and I guarantee it will get you better results than to just ask them to pay up.

Unfortunately, in Shane's case, this won't help. That's why you NEVER turn over final work without getting paid. Why is it that we creative types can move heaven and earth to get the work done, but someone in accounting can't sign a check in a timely manner?


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Shane RossRe: Half up front
by on Mar 9, 2008 at 8:31:56 pm

Actually, in the case I outlined, I made out fine. I didn't shoot the footage, it was provided. All I was asked to do was edit, and I did. I made it through the rough cut and then the project fell apart. So the half up front was fine, and they have the tapes....but I keep the FCP project. All they get it the rough cut output.

Mark might be referring to another situation that he is privy to. Where I was hired by a production company to edit a show, and we went over budget due to the network moving back the delivery date and asking for many changes. The production spent WADS of cash to secure locations to meet the original deadline, and given the original delivery date, we would have been fine. But then post went three months past, and I was asked to defer payment until we received the final payment, the one we get when we deliver the show and all the production materials. Since I trusted the producer (knew and worked with him off and on for 5 years) I was fine with that.

But then I handed the tape over...and waited. Waited and waited and waited. No final payment. The show final payment. The producer said that it was because he asked for OVERAGE after we delivered the final...which is the WRONG TIME to ask for it. You ask for it at the time you need it, right when they said they wanted changes and needed to push back the date. YOu need overage to pay for this extra time. The producer messed up. He said that the final payment was delayed until they could determine if overage was due. MONTHS pass. I mean months. Delivered the show in AUGUST 2007, and I have yet to receive a dime. Producer says final payment arrived, but he needed it to survive (and he did give me two weeks pay when it did...I was owed for 13 weeks) and that he was still awaiting overage. Still.

I called the network, spoke to accounting...the bill was settled...overage and all. I contacted other people who worked on the show...mixer, composer, graphics guy, dub facility...all of us have not been paid. Still, to this date, not been paid. Needless to say we are all looking into legal action, and since we are all in the same boat, are looking to do it all under one umbrella.

I will never turn over a master tape without payment in full now. And I like Mark's idea of copyright. I'll have to have a lawyer draw up some form for that.


Read my blog!

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Timothy J. AllenRe: Half up front
by on Mar 13, 2008 at 11:13:26 pm

My rule of thumb isn't 50% up front. Or 33% or 10%.

My rule is to get a deposit that covers all of the costs to hire and pay any freelancers that I need to help me complete the project.

That way, no matter what happens with the project, I don't hurt the people I hire. That's more important to me than whether I have to eat Mac & Cheese for dinner all next month.

I haven't stuck with this rule 100% of the time, but I try my best to do so.

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Michael SyversonRe: Half up front
by on Mar 16, 2008 at 10:29:27 pm

Has anyone thought of using a super "Copyright by me not to be used" over all proofs (a watermark if you will) to avoid being ripped off by the client and then deliver the final after payment. It hasn't happened to me yet in 20 years...but you never know. I just might incorporate this into the workflow.


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