Hello friends! I’m back today to discuss a super important issue regarding your commercial contracts. Okay, so you’ve booked a gig off LA Casting. It’s an infomercial for a hair product that pays $500/day, $1000 buyout…In perpetuity.
What does that mean?
“In perpetuity” means…forever. And ever. They can use your image in this infomercial FOREVER! Oh, I can hear what you’re saying “Um…so! I just want to work, and that’s $1500 bucks!”. I get it! The immediate money can be tempting. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do the job, I’m just saying that you need to know exactly what you are signing on for! Most people will sign the contract without even knowing that it’s in there, and that is where you can create problems for your future self.
Let’s say a year from now you finally land that kick-ass commercial agent you’ve been working so hard to find and they send you out for an Herbal Essences commercial. There is a very good chance that Herbal Essences is not going to be okay with you also promoting a competing brand of hair care – even if it’s only on at 1am in Tulsa. This can, potentially, cost you big bucks and you will definitely be kicking yourself.
Here’s another example: What if you did a $500 commercial for a slightly embarrassing product. Nothing crazy. But maybe a kooky tampon commercial or even an “innocent” phone chat hotline. It was a funny spot and you needed the money, so no big deal right? At least you’re on TV! But what happens, one fine day, when you finally hit it big? Now, you’re starring in blockbuster hits and there’s buzz of a possible Oscar nod. Then BLAMO! Guess who just became that tampon company’s FREE spokesperson! They get to have an Oscar nominated actress endorsing their product and they don’t owe you one dime.
So what can you do?
You’re going to need to make these decisions on a case by case basis. You just want to to be aware of what you’re getting into, before you sign on the dotted line. You must always, always, ALWAYS, read your contract!
What to look for in your contract:
If you do nothing else, just scan for the words “in perpetuity”…always. ALWAYS! Even if you are on a SAG-AFTRA commercial and they already told you that you’ll be paid residuals. ALWAYS! I would say that, at least, 40% of the time, even when a commercial I booked was not “in perpetuity”, someone sneakily buried the word in the contract anyway!!! I worked on a huge commercial with at least 20 actors working on one day, and I was the only actor who noticed that they had snuck that pesky word in. When I told other people that they needed to question it before they left, the producers were pretty sour with me. Hey, not my problem, dude!
How to handle changes in your contract.
So, you’ve noticed the two DEATH WORDS in your contract and you want to inquire about them, what do you do? First of all, do not become a know-it-all diva. Be polite but firm about the changes that you want to make before you begin shooting. Ooh that reminds me of something! SIDEBAR!
When you arrive on set, politely inquire about the contract right upfront. On many sets, they will hand it to you right away anyway so you can read it and sign. They will hover over you because they are busy and want you to hurry. Don’t let that distract you from reading everything! Politely ask them to let you have a moment to read over what you are signing.
If they don’t hand it to you right away, make sure that they get it to you before you’re done with hair/makeup/wardrobe for sure. After that, you’re on your way to set and that is just too late. They are technically not supposed to film you until you’ve signed. I’ve have 2nd AD’s ask me to sign while I WAS WALKING to set. Umm…no. I politely told them that I’ve been in hair and makeup for an hour and would have had plenty of time to review this contract at that time, if they had provided it. And guess what??? The contract had a lot of problems including a previously unmentioned “in perpetuity” clause. Ahem!
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Back to handling the changes:
If you notice problems with your contract, promptly let the 2nd AD know that you need to give your agent a call for him/her to approve it before you sign. Snap a photo with your phone if you can and send it off to them. This way, your agent gets to play bad guy and you just look like the innocent lil’ actor waiting for approval! Your agent will probably have you cross out all of the offending terms before you sign. Then, you’re good to go.
If you don’t have an agent, it won’t be quite as easy but you can still voice your concerns. You’re going to need to request that the producer or 2nd AD cross those items out for you before you sign and if they give you any problems, kindly tell them that you’re going to walk.
If this is a job you’ve booked for yourself online, then you need to be prepared for the fact that they are probably not going to represented actors for a reason, and I bet that reason often includes a perpetuity clause. You should request all that info before the shoot, and if they don’t give it to you until the day of, you’ve got a big decision to make. On one hand, you’re gonna look like a pretty big jerk if you walk off this set right before filming. On the other, this is how you hope to make your living, and you ain’t no pushover. It’s really a fine line that only you can decide how to walk. Just use your best judgement. But, really, do your best to request that information before the shoot day by asking how long of a term the buyout includes. This way, if there are any problems on the shoot day, you can reference the fact that you had tried to obtain the information beforehand.
That’s it for today! READ THOSE CONTRACTS. Next time, I think I’ll add more about other things to look for in your contracts. So, if you have any specific questions, please leave a comment!
****This post originally appeared on Msinthebiz.com****