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Handing over AE projects....?

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Mark BurnstienHanding over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 4:44:24 pm

Hi there

I have been working with a production company creating a huge animated sequence for them. I am supposed to be delivering a single movie at the end for them to use. I have had an email from the director now requesting all my source files - by which I think he means project files.

This is outside of my comfort zone. This wasn't agreed and I don't like to hand all this stuff over - all my working knowledge from 9 years designing, animating and using the software. Why? Well I am aware that there is a junior at the company who uses After Effects. I have a well founded fear that they will not ask my in to do all the changes on the project and cut me out of the picture.

So moral dilemma time. Do I just roll over and hand over these (in the interest of keeping the client sweet), or do I doggedly hang on or do I offer to sell them.....?

I do not want to seem like some kind of prima donna - but at the same time I don't want to hand over the Colonel's Secret recipes!

Your thoughts clever Cows please....

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David Roth WeissRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 5:23:20 pm

My thought is that you "very casually" respond to the director with something that should not serve to inflame the situation, such as:

"Hi ______,

Jeeze, you really want me to deliver the recipe for my secret sauce? My project files contain all of the ingredients I've worked hard to perfect over the last ten years and I'm not really comfortable giving that info out. May I ask, why do you need the project files now? Is there a fix or something additional I can do for you?"

That's my 2-cents...


David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.

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John BaumchenRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 5:28:32 pm

If your agreement was for a final clip, I would call the director and discuss it with him and remind him in a diplomatic way that the agreed services didn't include source files.

If this is a regular client that offers a possibility of future work, you might want to negotiate a higher, much higher, like 5-10-50 times the original price. It's your talent, vision, and experience that enables you to produce the kind of end product they want to use. Giving up the project files is giving them you secret sauce.

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Aaron NeitzRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 5:57:08 pm

I've seen more and more of this happening in commercial post. And it's happening with BIG clients and BIG facilities. Clients are trying to save $$ everywhere and think they can stiff the senior artists by getting juniors to amend projects. I've even seen Inferno archives handed over. (also have seen a handful of discreetly sabotaged project files from disgruntled artists. juniors are too green to figure it out and make a mess of things)

Is the client worth keeping, have they paid you yet, are they happy with your progress? It's a tough line to toe because work is precious right now and you don't want to burn a bridge, but your skills and experience make you valuable.

David and John offer the best advice for sure

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Todd TerryRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 7:21:41 pm

This doesn't help much at this point since this is after the fact... but just reiterates the importance of spelling out clearly in advance to you client what they can and cannot have.

Similarly, just yesterday we had a client request some raw footage from a project we had shot for them. Upon pointing out that under the terms of their contract they were not entitled to it (at least not for free), they were fine with it.

As for the After Effects project... maybe that's the way more and more of these jobs are working. We usually do everything here in house ourselves, but recently due to workload constraints we did sub out an AE project to a very talented young guy in Chicago (whom we met right here on the COW, by the way). When he delivered the finished pieces of animation, he also provided us with all of the elements as well as the After Effects projects themselves (which we didn't even ask for). I sort of gathered from him that was the normal M.O. for the big clients he is used to working for. Maybe that's more the norm these days, who knows?


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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John BaumchenRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 8:47:40 pm

The norm is what we make it. There are a lot of people who, despite what the copyright law states, thinks it's the norm to hand over all the raw footage and rights to the client without a work-for-hire clause in the agreement.

If people in the industry start handing over the source and project files for their compositions, making it the norm, then the whole industry is going to begin the slippery slope of declining prosperity. The lowballers win and everybody looses.

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Mark BurnstienRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 9:02:14 pm

Thanks Bulls...

Food for thought... I shall chew the cud and act tomorrow.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jun 30, 2009 at 10:30:01 pm

Maybe project files should automatically be destroyed upon project completion... you know, "this message will self-destruct in sixty seconds, good luck, Mister client". Then you can't hand over what you no longer have. Makes re-edits a pain though, OTOH, you can bill more time for them...

This question has come up here before regarding FCP project files, you can search out the opinions from that thread for more perspective.

Probably the guess is right that the client has a nefarious scheme in mind to re-do work on their own based on your generated project files. This would be akin to a traditional stills guy handing over his negatives, instead of getting paid for making new prints.

If they mean to rip you off or stop using you, ask yourself what's to lose in fighting, since they've tipped their hand already. If you need them so badly that you're going to cave on this, well, admit it to yourself that they own you, yet they are planning on *not* owning you, soon. Once you give away the project files, you've given away all your leverage and they no longer need you for anything.

I thought about that for a minute or two and either way it works out, it stinks for you. So maybe best to put on the poker face and say "No, that's not in the written contract and we normally keep proprietary work product in house. You want to amend the contract, we'll haggle on a price for the files (that reflects lost work opportunity on my side)".

Your client relationship unfortunately looks like it is already dead; the body just hasn't stopped walking long enough to notice it yet.

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Tommy D'AngeloRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:45:26 am


This is a tough situation. I'll echo the others by saying unfortunately this is happening more and more in our industry due to companies trying to cut costs etc. I also agree that if possible this kind of stuff should be agreed upon before the project starts.

What I've seen in my experiences at places, when this comes up when an agreement hasn't been hammered out before hand, usually the response to the client "Yes, we can get you a drive/zip/tape with the files but it will cost x amount of dollars extra". Obviously there are risks to this depending on your standing and relationship with the client.

I've always found that if you honestly explain to the client your reasons for not being able to give them the files or charging them extra, most of the time a good client will understand. They are in business too and they know how the game works.

Good luck

Tommy D'Angelo
Punk Rock Kid
NYC by way of Westchester

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grinner hesterRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 1, 2009 at 2:49:44 pm

Throw it on a disc with a smile, man. When they have their intern call with questions refer to your consultation fee.

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Chris PoissonRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 1, 2009 at 7:09:03 pm

Under work-for-hire conditions, everything you do for a client is owned by them UNLESS you agree in writing up-front on what you can keep. I'm not a lawyer, but this is a fact of our business.

If this was work you did on your own and they offered to buy it from you, that is an entirely different situation. Then you are in control of the terms and details.

Have a wonderful day.

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Ron GerberRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 1, 2009 at 8:41:32 pm

I heard a great analogy today when a similar situation came up:
"It's a lot like taking your car to a mechanic and after he's done fixing it telling him you also want his tools."

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grinner hesterRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 1, 2009 at 8:47:11 pm

They are not asking for his copy of AE. They are asking him for the project they purchased. This is an opportunity, not a delemma. make em happy. And again, let them know your consultation fee. Never have I sent a client a comp without them paying to have some dude call and pick my brain. This does not cannibalize, not if you do things they can't. Their next project will be different. They'll call you, assuiming they have no beef with you for not sending a disc they don't know what to do with.

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Timothy J. AllenRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 2, 2009 at 5:30:44 pm

I agree with Grinner on this one. They may not even have nefarious motives. I once requested some animation project files from a company we subcontracted with and they handed them over with a smile.

It's been five years now, and we've never even touched the files - we don't even have the software in house to open them. I knew we didn't have the software to open it when I asked them for the files.

Meanwhile, we've continued to use their services fairly often, for both revisions and other jobs.

So, you may ask, why did we even ask for the files if they were just gonig to sit in a vault? Because, as a prime contractor on a job, we had an obiligation to manage the project and make sure it was wrapped up tight and archived well when it was done. If the other business closes up and we need to go back, we already have the files. Or maybe not... they may have just given us garbled data. ;-) The world may never know.

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Mark BurnstienRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 2, 2009 at 9:03:32 pm

Ok Fellas another twist in the tale....

That hurdle has been crossed I didn't give them the project files and they accepted that.

Here's problemo number two.

At the beginning of the project I had to quote for a two minute film. The script was never two minutes despite the director saying he would get around to editing it it always read at 3.30 I was told to continue with a story board which in order to get every image to read on the time line ended up being 3.30 Alll the way along the director said I know this is the wrong way to work - but I want to put the voice to your picture.

No I have purchase order* on with a 2 minute duration.

They have made a 3.5 minute film under their orders.

Now I have to deliver so I say I want to have a written promise that they will undertake to pay for the additional work.

The director is saying well the CEO is paying for it and the budget was set at..X and I am saying well I need X plus 75% for the additional time taken to create the additional minutes. The director is saying I will get you more money ..... wait for it .... on the next project.

Using your combined wisdom and tact and considerable wit - how do I tackle this one - bearing in mind I am supposed to be delivering the finished film tomorrow.

*I am in London

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grinner hesterRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 3, 2009 at 2:17:46 pm

It sounds like you know what to do. If you want to work with them again, you'll eat this one and bid better next time. If not, you'll add so much to the invoice that you don't get paid at all.
Be careful. Think it through. Take a good long weekend to have fun before making your decision.

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chadwick ChennaultRe: Handing over AE projects....?
by on Jul 7, 2009 at 2:16:07 pm

I'll throw this out: Rarely have I been paid off "next time."

The only times I have been paid off "next time" has been when working with people I have an established and healthy working relationship.

However, Grinner makes a good point... at this point in the game, it's too late to do much about it. The only leverage you have is holding on to the final product until they pay what you want. This is a pretty good way to ensure that you get paid nothing. Learn and grow.

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