Monday, March 26, 2007

This B*st*rd's Got to Get Paid!

Working on the independent side of the business actually has a lot of perks:

- You can often be as extreme as possible
- You get left alone to write as long as the treatment is approved and you stick to it.
- You work at home...or at the pool watching the co-eds next door as they train for Spring Break.
- You get to write for a living...

BUT -

That's if you get paid. See, as nice as the freedom of freelance writing is, you have to make money at it. It's good that a "producer/gym trainer/model/janitor" wants to produce your script , but let's face it - man does not live on ramen noodles and Jack Daniels alone. (I know, I tried it one month when I was a much younger man). You've got to get paid so those pesky expenses like rent and utilities and laundry...and oh yeah, food, get paid off and you can write some more (and better) and get paid more for less.

So yes, it's cool when someone wants to film your script, but you have to protect yourself. Believe me, I know - you have to have safeguards in place - because there are people out there who will try to screw you. They will not have a check when they say they will. They will say they are working on getting a check from their head office in another country up north which shall remain nameless. The Accounts Payable person will quit and you will have to start from scratch with a temp who was hired to look at the books and "straighten things up a bit." The check will bounce, or my favorite - they will move across town and "disappear" only to resurface under another name advertising a project based on your script.

Long story short, there are a lot of entrepreneurs in LA (and elsewhere) - some of them upstanding folks who - no matter what happens - pay their bills and honor their commitments. There are other folks out there who have a shark's smile and will "eff you in the A" because you let them. The fact is - you have to treat them both the same - professionally.

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I suggest you get one. I have one. The following are just good business practices for freelance writers breaking into the business - the minimum you can do to armor the career and reputation. When you join the Guild some of these things automatically become standard under the MBA contract, and your agent and lawyer will handle some of it in negotiation. Until then, you have to do some of this heavy lifting yourself)

1. Have the producer agree to and sign a contract. In fact, they should be the ones who suggest it, but you should have one ready. If they don't want to do that or try to put it off - walk away.

2. Make sure they pay in step payments. A certain percentage up front. ( I don't go lower than 40% up front and generally get higher). If they don't want to pay to engage your services as a writer then walk away.

3. Make sure there is a legal recourse component to the contract that doesn't cost you thousands of dollars to file.

4. Check the company/person's references if you don't know them. Ask them to provide some names of writers they've worked with. If they say they can get a script to a certain actor - have them prove it. If anything, and I mean anything sets off your "Bozo Alarm," walk away.

5. If this is a single person, not a business entity you are working with - make sure to get paid via cashier's check and not personal check. If you are working with a "friend" have an agreement in place - not just a handshake deal.

6. If this is a first timer who's trying to set up a project on their own - make sure you get copies of their driver's license and passport. They can have yours as well (which they will need for the W-9 tax form).

7. Make sure you have a lawyer look over everything before you sign it. The safest, surest way to make sure you sleep at night. If you can't afford one you're in luck - there are legal free clinics throughout Los Angeles. Lawyers and law students under the supervision of lawyers look over all sorts of documents for free.

8. If at any point, the "producer" says, "What are you trying to do - kill the deal?" Walk away.

See, if you act like it, the professionals will accept they're dealing with a pro on his way up. The amateurs will act like...well, amateurs. Stand up for yourself and make sure you're going to get paid and credit for what you've done. No more no less.

It's what professionals do...

(Edit to add: I am sure this list isn't comprehensive. It was dashed off after a day of phone calls, emails and things better left undocumented. Feel free to share your tips and horror stories in the comments...)

4 comments:

Aric Blue said...

I would also add that if the person you're dealing with uses, as their professional email, a hotmail or yahoo or google account, they are probably not for real.

If they can't afford, at the very least, an AOL account then they're probably a pretender.

wcdixon said...

All good advice Bill...I hope people are taking notes.

CAROLINE said...

I'll disagree with you, Aric. I use a gmail for my work address, mostly because it is easiest to access when I travel and the email I set up with my company name is a bitch to administer. Last time I check, I'm for real!

deepstructure said...

"If they can't afford, at the very least, an AOL account then they're probably a pretender."

that's the most ridiculous thing i've heard in a long time. and absolutely NOT true. i'd seriously question the sanity of anyone with an aol account.

i constantly deal with producers, post-production supervisors and editors with these email services.