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Independent Work for Hire Editor Contracts

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Michelle MacKinnon
Independent Work for Hire Editor Contracts
on Nov 20, 2015 at 1:04:19 am

This is my first post here at CreativeCow, but I've read many posts and I've always found the editors in the CC community experienced and willing to share valuable information. I apologize in advance for the lengthy post, but I want to make clear I'm a committed and diligent editor who had every intention of providing full time working hours for 6-8 weeks and commit to no other job in the interim.

I recently landed my first feature documentary film. The budget is low, and I agreed to a fixed amount for the total project. In my excitement, and my interest in the subject, I forgot to address the business end which includes a contract. The filmmaker informed me during our first meeting at the end of October several hours of HD footage had been shot, and 40 hours of tape yet to digitize. At that time I extend my hand and offered to do a portion of the digitizing and was met with a vague reply. The date for our first editing session was November 16.

I did not hear from the filmmaker for two weeks, and during that time I researched the subject and issue, watched recommended documentaries, and wrote up a document with all the relevant questions needed for me to understand the style and focus of the work. The filmmaker, during this time, was suppose to digitize footage for transfer on November 16. On Nov. 15 a check for the total payment amount for the job arrived. I was surprised and right there a red flag warning should have appeared. Since we had scheduled our first full 6-7 hour editing session for the following day, I didn't think the advanced payment unprofessional.

On the morning of Nov. 16 I receive an email (keep in mind, the filmmaker knew they had commitments the week of and didn't pick up the phone at any time, or email me, at least a few days in advance) stating they are unable to begin working and tied to commitments for the week. "Sorry". Though I was disappointed I wasn't' starting work, I offered to come by the next day and pick up the equipment and tapes to BEGIN the digitizing (and organizing). I was met with "I'll have to see when I have the time. Friday most likely".

My confidence began waning. I believe (and this is where I'm a junior at the business end) the production company should provide a work for hire contract with the freelance editor. I concluded the filmmaker's intention is to pay me and then string me along and turn weeks into months to finish the project. I drew up a contract generated from other contracts I'd researched. Very basic. Description of Service, Scope of Work, Schedule, Deliverables, Payment of Service, and Copyright and Titles. The contract protected the project and filmmaker more than me!

I emailed the contract and clearly stated any changes or additional clauses the filmmaker needed to include, had to be added before our meeting on Friday. I was met with a curt and angry reply. The contact came as a surprise, and a check in full amount and a handshake should have been enough. Yes. I probably would have agreed if they had stuck to our editing schedule.

So, I've cancelled the job and have sent back the check. But what I would like is for another freelance editor here in the community to chime in and maybe have a look at the contract I generated. Maybe the timeline is unacceptable for a 90 minute feature, or possibly the notations specifying the number of notes per draft is off the mark? A feature film is the largest project I've been scheduled to edit. I've edited primarily short content and web series and really had no need for a contract (though I think I'll look into providing one moving forward). Please forgive the manuscript, but I'd really like to know, looking ahead at potentially having a shot at feature work, if a contract should come from me or from the production company. And if I need to have some kind of boilerplate freelance editor agreement, what should be included?

Thanks so much to any and all editors wanting to have a look at this document and provide feedback.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Independent Work for Hire Editor Contracts
on Nov 20, 2015 at 4:05:28 pm

Sounds like you dodged a bullet, in more ways than one. I'm no fan of fixed-price contracts for this kind of work; the hours almost never line up to make it a smart deal. Too often, you're left working for less than minimum wage, if you divide the money into the actual time spent.

Your contract should define the expected amount of time, but also say something about additional fees if it takes additional hours. To keep it fair for the client, they should have to give approval to continue past the previously agreed number of hours/days. You may even want to have the overtime covered by a separate contract.

Payment up front is good: you want at least a third in advance as a down payment to get started, and the rest paid at major milestones of the project. This way, if things go bad, they only pay for what was actually done, and you get paid for everything you DID do, up to that point. More importantly, the up-front money covers your internal costs so you aren't in effect giving the client an interest-free loan.

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