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Working on ownership of film project

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Jake Stutzman
Working on ownership of film project
on Aug 22, 2011 at 11:53:08 am

Hello, thanks in advance for any advice you may have. I recently volunteered to be the cinematographer for a no budget indie documentary and to work for no pay which was fine with me as I wanted the experience. When the filming was wrapped up I was also asked to be the editor and told the producer I would edit but at a cost of X dollars and 30% ownership of the documentary which we verbally agreed on.

Basically I finished the edit and they said it looked really great, then they tell me they want not just the final version of the edit but the editing project files so they can go in and make audio adjustments and other changes they may want. I don't want to turn over the project file or make any major adjustments to the edit as I think its basically best the way it is and don't want someone else changing my work without my consent. Since I won't turn over the project file they decided they just want all the raw footage from me (I have the only copy of all the film's footage) and want to do the editing themselves. I assume they would not compensate me for any of the work I've done so far which has added up to be a considerable amount.

So my question is, should I hold the footage hostage until I have in writing that they'll use my edit and give me 30% ownership of the film as agreed on or give them the option of editing themselves and still require 30% ownership as I've already done the work? Or would it be unethical of me to withhold the film's footage for leverage in these situations?
Thanks for you input.


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Steve Martin
Re: Working on ownership of film project
on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:16:53 pm

Disagreements are often about money & creative control, which appear to be at the root of your problem.

This is why contracts are so important. When well thought out and well written, a good contract spells out the "what if" situations that can lead to disagreements. But since that train has already left the station, you need to focus on the situation as it is now.

Two questions come to mind:

1) Was your initial purpose in doing the project to get the experience of working on a documentary? If so, you may have already reaped (at least some of) the rewards of your labor in the form of the experience. Especially if you're happy with the end result. No amount of bickering with others can take that away from you. Being able to show your work to others may lead you to other work in that field.

2) Does this project have any serious potential to make money in the future? If so, you want to do what ever you can to maintain your 30% interest in it. And yes, getting that in writing is a good thing. Get an experienced lawyer to represent you in that to make sure the document spells out how "profits" are determined. That's a tricky game in where a film that has grossed millions can "lose money."


[Jake Stutzman] " Since I won't turn over the project file they decided they just want all the raw footage from me (I have the only copy of all the film's footage) and want to do the editing themselves. I assume they would not compensate me for any of the work I've done so far which has added up to be a considerable amount."

From the sounds of it can I assume that the relationship has deteriorated? If so, hard ball may be in order. You need to figure out what you want (and can't live without) and demand that without apology before you hand anything over.

However, if the relationship can be salvaged or repaired and that's the outcome you want, soften your approach and try to strike a deal that gives them what they want without short changing yourself.

Often times the tone of your approach is what determines the outcome, not just the substance.

Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!


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Scott Carnegie
Re: Working on ownership of film project
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:14:27 pm

"I would edit but at a cost of X dollars and 30% ownership of the documentary which we verbally agreed on."

Is the documentary going to be the next big thing? Is it worth the headache of dealing with these folks when your realtionship is crappy?

Don't force them to use your edit, that's just hubris. Get paid what you agreed upon, give them the footage and project files and walk away and start your next project, and have a contract first next time. If they choose to re-edit that is not your concern, if they tell you they don't want to pay you because they will re-edit, that is not your concern, that is theirs. You get paid, peroid, and then be done.

http://www.MediaCircus.TV
Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


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