Should I drop this freelance project?
Okay, I know I did a stupid thing by taking on this project but I just started in this business and I was desperate for work.
Basically, I was hired to do an assembly edit and I was told it would take 5 days. I am being paid by the project. After they delayed the project by 2 months and once it started, they crept in the idea that they want me to do the whole edit, and not just the assembly. I didn't want to flip them off on the spot given that I was desperate (but I realize that it's the wrong choice now no matter how desperate I am). It's been a month now and I'm still working on it because of the revisions that the director and the producer are constantly making. Me, being dumb, didn't ask for a deposit upfront, so they haven't even paid me a cent yet. I'm earning below minimum wage at this level. I am going to meet with them in a few days to make some changes but it's quite possible that them being them, they will make big changes, making me waste more of my time. I'm fed of this project and I just want to walk off but I'm not sure if that's the best decision.
What would you guys do?
And if I were to drop this project, is there a way I can do this without burning a bridge?
Did you have a contract? If so, is there an out?
If not, can you demand a rework of the relationship based on radical scope explosion?
If not, be up front in saying that the project scope has radically changed since you accepted it, and you can't afford to do the project on an agreed upon scope that no longer exists.
You might want to suggest someone else to take over. But no gaurantee that they will do it for the same price.
Or maybe you can explain you have run far over the anticipated project timeline and can no longer commit to the project due to other priorities.
Either way, your reputation with this client is likely hosed.
Protect yourself in the future with a contract that defines scope, time and pay. It can just be an email, but do it. Define what happens when significant changes gets made that are client driven. Walk away from clients who won't agree to that.
For example, get a project plan up front that says that given a 3 to 5 minute film about x, you will define a script and expect to shoot 3 days and edit 5. If the client decdes to shoot for ten days, you have legitimate reasons to either demand more money, or walk away. If they decide to redo the editing and you run 10 days, either eat the loss, because you need the project more than the money, or demand the extra editing costs or bail. It all depends on your need for a relationship with the client, now and in the future. It's standard project management stuff. Clients, like the government do it all the time. Not to exceed contracts protect them from you, no reason not to protect you from them.
Next time, perhaps take a project like this in phases. It gives you time to decide what to do if the concept is not fully thought through. At the end of phase one, you can rework based on known decisions made together.
nope, don't have a contract. that was another mistake on my part. they said they don't have a lot of money for this project, I believe them, but it is going to be broadcasted on tv and I doubt everybody else on the team is working for half of minimum wage.
it's not a high quality show. mostly talking heads and even though I'm getting paid peanuts, I'm afraid they'll find another desperate film graduate tofill my sitshoes.
Eric, do you have other projects on hand? If yes, drop it. If no, complete it, and put it on your showreel. Who knows, maybe the director will call you for future work, and you can renegotiate your terms better.
Ask them for some money, but don't be too hard on them. If they refuse, continue 'working', but look for other projects. Drag your heels if you can, and find excuses for missing deadlines. If they don't pay you something now, they deserve it.
Hope this helps.
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I don't have other projects at this moment. The director has said he might have other projects but they are all low-paying and even if I were to take it, it's only for a paycheck and nothing more. Perhaps I can negotiate better terms for future projects but at this moment, future projects are only future projects. I'm only focused on the current project and he's gipping me big time.
Get out any way you can, and soon. It isn't worth your time. And it isn't a bridge you should want to keep. If all of their productions are going to be this cheap...is it worth it?
One of the classic scams "grinders" (That is what these people are...they grind you and grind you and pay you little to nothing) is to say "Hey, do this show for me cheap and when the next one comes along, I can pay you more." RARELY does that come through. It's a classic case of dangling a carrot in front of your nose.
Should you quit and have some other starving student take the work? Well, you will be out from under this...can find a job that pays better...and THEY will be suffering, not you.
I DESPISE people who pay little, and demand a lot...thinking that they can just give notes and notes and revisions and revisions. Because there is no money restriction, they can try lots of things. When you are on a clock, and paid by the day or hour...every revision costs money, so you are either careful about what you do...or you need to live with what you have.
This job is pure poison...and the producers are no one you will want to work with in the future...so don't worry about burning that bridge. Find a better one.
Get out. Get out now.
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Thanks a lot for all your advice. And Shane, your post gave me the confidence that I need to tell them whatever it is that I need to say to them. At this point I really feel scammed. If they told me right from the start that it was low-paying and I accepted the gig, I would have nobody to blame but myself. I'm just upset that initially it was supposed to be an assembly edit and yet they covertly demanded that I do everything for them.
I am cutting this on FCPX and I haven't sent them any of the files. I guess that's a good thing. I'm going to the office tomorrow to show them what I have and talk things over. I am not handing any of my project files over if I don't get what I want. An off-topic question I have is, is there a way to prevent the files from being duplicated onto their computer? I am curious because they would probably ask for my project files tomorrow and I want to gracefully make an excuse to say "sorry, but I can't give them to you because..."
Another question I have is,
I've been showing them my rough edits up to this point. If they do decide to replace me, I'm afraid my replacement is going to edit exact to the video that I have sent them, even though I haven't handed over any project files. Are there are copyright protection laws for editors that prevent them from them copying cut per cut?
No...they can replicate it all they want. Often, people turn over the project files (as it was done on a client computer) and the next editor takes it from there.
If they pay you...then I recommend turning over the project files and media. If they don't...then don't turn over anything. They would then have to start all over again with the next person. It would be worth their while to pay you. And I'd demand the full amount, as the original agreement was an assembly edit only...and you've done that, and more!
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Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def
Honestly, even if they pay me the full amount. I don't think I want to turn it over unless it's more than that.
I was told $1000 for assembly edit and I would be given editor credit. Even $1000 was below my standard rate but I took on the project for the credit.
But that $1000 has stretched a one-week project into over a month and I won't be getting any credit if I drop out now, so I don't think I should just take the $1000.
Shane, what do you think?
Get out the best way you can. You have leverage by having the cut and footage...use that to get paid the original amount. Cut your loses, take this as a lesson learned and move on. You'll be hard pressed to get more from them. This is from my personal experience.
Forget about credit on the project. Get out.
Wait for others to chime in with their thoughts...see if the concur or have other suggestions. best to get out as clean as possible, and get paid.
Little Frog Post
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def
Take the money, hand over the files and walk away.
Media Production Services
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
My parents aren't in this field but basically they are saying I should suck it up and just keep doing the project until it is finished.
My biggest concern is, the project can run for an additional several weeks, maybe even a month.
I don't want to brush my parents' opinion off simply because they have no experience in the field, but right now, I'm really confused.
Don't worry about credit. Getting 'credit' is usually worthless with jobs like these.
I would be upfront with them about how you haven't gotten any money and would like to in order to continue editing. Lie and tell them you got rent due or another paying company has job for you so they are gonna get priority. Hopefully they give you something. Then tell them they get one more revision and then you'll need to re-negotiate the project. The last revision I'd give them a watermark or SD version maybe?
But this sounds like a huge pain, take what you can and get out. The experience you've learned from this project is probably more valuable then whatever you make anyway.
You don't owe these people a finished product, you owe them an assembly edit. Deliver that with watermarks and ask for immediate payment.
It's up to you whether you finish the job for free or for whatever extra cash you can get, but I would suggest walking away. Do not give them your edited footage without watermarks until you have been paid and the cheque has cleared and if they ask you to finish, tell them you want a basic contract putting in place for payment versus time.
The people in charge of this project will happily take advantage of you as long as you let them. Don't!
My 2 cents.
It seems to me there were three things you were trying to get by taking on this project.
A. Videomaking Experience
B. Business Experience
So lets look at each.
You've done pretty well accomplishing A - at least in terms of having produced work that's satisfied a customer who's seen your "in progress" work. By working on this thing, you've learned more about your software and increased your skill level. Since the project is in mid stream - you haven't learned FULLY how to complete and deliver a finished project, but that's up to you to set as a value benchmark. So well done in A.
Like it or not, you're getting a decent education in B. Mostly how hard it is to qualify clients. These clients appear to be one of two types. Either they are classic grinders who know what it takes to deliver this kind of work and are just messing with you to extract the most value they possibly can with as little effort as they possibly can (other than to allow you to show up and show them the results of YOUR efforts - without putting any skin in the game from their side)... OR they are just inexperienced and clueless and their project is largely pie in the sky "cool, we found somebody to make us a cheap video to support our unrealistic, insupportable business plans" types. The world is FULL of both kinds of "producers" who work underneath the honest professionals all of whom have realistic expectations of what it takes to make solid videos that drive business results and understand that only by compensating people for their time, can a pro ever hope to develop relationships with competent folks that they can depend on -over time - to work with them on profitable future projects.
Both A and B are flexible and optional. In that while you're learning, you can fudge either and keep progressing from "starter" team membership up to better teams.
But C? Ah C. C is the inflexible MUST HAVE in order to keep going. If you can't get people to put MONEY on the line for results, projects will NEVER EVER be completed and you will STOP learning.
So you have to have ONE clear focus when you talk to them next.
Get a committment for MONEY from them. Period. Money NOW. And every additional bit of work has to be contingent on that happening. To a degree, how much and how soon is flexible and totally up to you. But you simply can't do another single thing or take another meeting with them unless they agree to start paying for it. Period. Full stop. If you're happy taking a single $100 bill so that you can buy yourself and your best friend a nice dinner with the $80 bucks after taxes that you can spend - and that balances for you to keep involved in this project to keep learning - then fine. The AMOUNT and timing is up to you. But the FACT of getting paid is NOT up for grabs.
They have to start pushing at least some money to you NOW - or you're being abused.
(and next time, make sure the point where every client has money in the game moves UP farther in your work process.
That's how it work.
Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.
Eric. You have managed to do every last wrong thing possible all in your first job; you may want to do a George Kostanza and start doing the opposite of whatever your initial instinct is:-)
This is not a career-making or career-ending project. Ask for the money that was initially promised, today, in cash... and do no more work until you get it. They own the raw materials, and you must surrender those if asked, but the project file is your intellectual property, I would always resist giving those up, just give them the raw footage and a copy of your current master, preferably watermarked with time code.
The true cost of what you did is all tied up in the project file. Anybody else would have to start cutting more or less from scratch without that project file, or settle for small shortenings of the master you've already generated. That file represents every hour of creative decision making and applied skill you put into the work.
Now I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. But I know from personal small claims court experience and watching "The Paper Chase" that a contract is not valid if you don't have an agreement on the terms and you never got consideration (money or physical material goods) in exchange for your contribution, especially a mere verbal agreement. So don't feel bound to just roll over and hand over your project files if they have not paid a cent. Let them yell. Let them threaten. If you got paid a few bucks but not the full amount, the issue is much less clear, ask a lawyer then.
Start drawing up a deal memo for continuing any more work, list the terms and the price an the schedule for getting paid, usually in progress payments of thirds, paid at each of three major landmarks of the project. You don't start without a third up front as a deposit, and you don't do more work until the previous third has been paid. Have the deal memo notarized before you begin more work.
Thanks for posting your story; it will be an object lesson to all that follow you, at least. Good luck, don't blink, and while waiting them out, go find and read the "Grinders" article by Ron Lindeboom, here on the COW.
Thanks for everybody's comments. I really really appreciate it. So, I had a talk with the director/producer about this. Let's just say he's not happy. Bridge is most likely burned, which is the most unfortunate thing about this whole thing. But, things are still in the talks. I keep you guys updated.
Be resolute. You are only asking for what you've already earned. The project file/ master is your only real leverage here so guard it with your life.
In any negotiation, the other guy has to believe you are willing to walk away, rather than accept a bad deal. If he doesn't believe it - if YOU don't believe it by caving right away... they own you. Always.
Let them yell. The louder they yell, the quieter you repeat your demands. Loudness equals them losing control. You stay in control, use only polite language. They "fire" you, you don't have to just accept it, since you don't really have a contract in the first place....
Just keep showing up until you get your money, but simply don't do any more work on it until then. They are going to test your resolve, which they believe is weak, based on your performance up to now. They think you are a rube, a bumpkin. But you got wise. Even if you decide to cave, give yourself an extra day before you announce it. You may find that after all the bluster, they magically cut you a check and act like everybody is all friends again.
Don't believe it.
As soon as they can arrange it, they are going to get rid of you. Get used to the idea. Think of it as the bittersweet first crush in grade school that can never go anywhere. You'll love again some day.
Go, cash the check first. Then get back to work. But only after you have hashed out a deal memo and signed it using a notary public. It should have objective language, actual numbers, provable items. Not subjective statements which may be a matter of opinion. There needs for example to be a limit on re-edits before additional new agreements and fees happen. Actual deadline dates for key milestones. Rates and pay dates.
You may get fed the line that you'll only get paid after they get paid, and nobody gets paid until the edit is done. Ask yourself if you can buy groceries this way. No, you can't. if they can't pay, there really is no project, just a dream. If you're going to do charity work, know that it IS charity work, but you are a pro, and pros, by definition, get paid. QED.
Ignore his threats, do not finish this project without pay.
You are being professional by refusing to work for the pay that you were promised.
In the future, put a contract in place, but don't worry about this job - your career isn't going to be threatened by a client who can't/won't pay you for an agreed rate.
Sometimes I'm just afraid of burning a bridge because the industry is so small and word can spread fast. He's been in the business for decades and he goes out to ruin my reputation, his word has more weight in social circles than mine.
The rep thing works both ways. Subs dish about their primary contractors and who's good and who is bad, all the time. When a guy that's always late paying calls for help on short notice, everybody's booked. When the guy that pays well and fairly is in a jam, folks come out of the woodwork like George Bailey's Christmas Homecoming, eager to help out. That's what I've observed.
If he's so long-experienced, frankly, what's he doing hiring a noob like you for this very important project, versus more pro talent? Could it be over the years he's burned a LOT of bridges and worked his way thru the film board's phone book of editors, and none of them will work for him, for his price? They all demand advance payment?
And why the scope creep, if he's so experienced? Not paying your subs reliably and promptly is, for me, a dead give-away of a non-pro or grinder. On my private projects, the help all gets paid before I do, up front; in case the project dies, none of them are out any money.
Sometimes, people acting "big" are bluffing, and the folks that carry the most weight are exceptionally soft-spoken about it, they don't need to say much at all. When they DO say something, people jump.
Stay the course with this guy, you're in the right and you have time on your side. Deadlines only hurt him at this point. The longer you hold out, the more desperate he has to get. If he was good enough to ruin your career, frankly, he wouldn't have hired you for this in the first place.
“Don’t bargain for fish which are still in the water.” — Indian Proverb
I sincerely suggest that you complete the entire project. You might hate doing it, but this will become a good habit for you. Also, dumping a live project is unprofessional and might earn you a bad reputation. This might not matter now, but might affect you in future.
Do ask for some kind of deposit in case you are going to continue.
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