The Contract Template You Need

This post is chock full of great stuff on the legal side of video production and the greater professional creative services in general. Over the past 13 years we’ve been in a couple of sticky situation before and luckily we had a contract in place to protect us. Had we not had a contract, we would have been in serious jeopardy of going out of business, filing for bankruptcy or maybe been sued.

However, we learned a lot from our experiences and recently consulted with our lawyer to rewrite our entire contract from the ground up. It’s solid, and we spent over $2,500 to get it there, and now we’re open sourcing it for everyone.

Signing a contract? Make sure it includes these items...

Contracts protect both parties. When producing a video both parties have something at stake, and also have the best of intentions. Sometimes there are assumptions, sometimes there are things interpreted one way but meant another. Contracts clear all this up, and more. Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Professionals use contracts, amateurs don’t.

Presenting your clients with a contract shows them that you are a professional, and you’re working with them for business purposes. We never start any work on a project without a signed contract and a deposit.

We decided to open source our contract to give back to the creative community we’re a part of. Video Production can be a tricky world, there are many variables, equipment requirements, crew members and a whole lot more, and contracts are necessary.

Our goal with this blog is to help others learn from our experiences. As I’ve said before, a rising tide lifts all ships.

 

Why You Need A Contract

Service Contracts are important for any business. They outline the parameters of the specific job and cover the overall relationship between the parties involved. This is where everyone gets on the same page and any confusion is removed.

Master Service Agreements (MSA) is a great thing to have, it adds credibility to the service provider and lets your customers know that they are working with a professional organization. MSAs are typically provided by the service providers.

When you have a contract, or Master Services Agreement, in place, should something unfortunate happen the contract is there to determine how to move forward. Generally speaking, most enter into an agreement with the best of intentions, but things do come up, such is life.

In the last 13 years of running a production company, we’ve only had to refer back to our contract twice to clear things up. Had we not had a contract in place we wouldn’t be in business today.

Convinced you need a solid contract but don’t know where to start? Download our boilerplate contract now.

A Note To Those Buying Video

Contracts are particularly important for creative projects because so much of the result, or final deliverables, is unknown. When someone hires us for a video we have no idea what the final product will look like, but we do know the process of getting there and have done that hundreds of times in the past. We might have an idea, storyboard, creative direction/inspiration and so forth based on our initial conversations, but until the lights and camera are out and the Director yells “Action!” is still somewhat of a mystery.

The same can be said for a website designer or any other creative. You might hire someone to design a website with X pages or a specific functionality (such as local search or online ordering), but at the commencement of that job, it’s hard to know what the layouts and art direction will look like.

It’s important to note that when you are hiring a creative you are hiring him/her/them for their knowledge and expertise. You were most likely referred to them by a friend or saw something in their portfolio that made you think “Ah, ha! This is the team for me.”

So, it’s important to let the creatives do their job and be creative. Hopefully, that process I mentioned earlier allowed you, the one hiring the creative, to get all your creatives to understand your thoughts and goals. If not, back up and have that conversation again.

This is why it’s important to price projects based on value, not time involved or cost.

For Creative Service Providers

If you want to be a professional outfit you need to have a contract in place for every customer, client, and job. There are two parts to our contracts:

  • Master Service Agreement (MSA)
  • Statement of Work (SOW)

Master Services Agreement

The MSA is the master contract covering everything between you and your client. It’s a detailed document that states who does what, who owns what, when things are to happen and how (such as payment).

When you’re working with larger clients they will sometimes ask you to sign their contract. They usually make the terms, too, which can be difficult if you’re a smaller company or just getting started. It’s hard to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days for payment.

This is where you negotiate. If there is language in the contract that is partial to the other party you need to explain why you need it changed and ask for edits. Without asking you’ll get nowhere and be bound to their terms for the rest of your relationship or project.

The MSA is only executed once between you and your client, so it’s important to talk about all terms at the onset of your relationship. Remember, you’re a professional, negotiation is not a bad thing.

As an aside, I’ve always felt that agreement is a better term than contract. The agreement sets the foundation for a healthier relationship with those who you work with.

Statement Of Work

The Statement of Work (SOW) is attached to the MSA and covers each project individually. This document is more job-specific than the MSA and covers what the scope is for each project.

Say you’re hired to produce a video for a client. When it’s all said and done they love it (of course) and want you to produce another video for them.

In this situation, all you have to do is create a new SOW that is tied to the MSA you already have with them and get working. Easy!

Our SOW covers what we’re shooting, where, how many shoot days, what is being delivered and when payment is due and any other additional notes that are project specific. The SOW covers the variables that change from project to project.

Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Let Lawyers Do the Talking

You should get a lawyer and contract in place before you need one or both. Having a relationship with a lawyer is always a good thing. It’s unfortunate when situations get sticky, but sometimes that happens, sometimes it’s beyond your control.

Getting to know your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run. As your business grows, having someone to call on who is familiar with your line of work will make everything easier.

When negotiating an MSA with a new client, it’s best to let the lawyers do the talking. Your lawyer will have your best interests in mind and can talk with your clients lawyer about all the touchy subjects included.

They’re very comfortable talking about this, they do it all day, every day. Plus, when you remove yourself from these situations you can focus on having a great relationship with your new client and focus on the creative at hand.

Should you be the one doing the talking with your client about anything contractual, please do this in person- never over email. Sometimes a phone call or Skype will work, but in person is always the best for this kind of stuff.

Contracts can be a tricky business and the last thing you want to do is provide a false impression at the onset of a relationship.

Finding a Good Lawyer

Who’s ever asked their friends for a crappy lawyer? No one. Everyone wants a good lawyer. Once someone has a good, life-saving or relieving experience with a lawyer they tend to keep that relationship on good terms (same goes for storytellers and video producers, just saying).

The best way to find a good lawyer is to ask around. Ask friends, people you trust, colleagues or peers in the workplace. Ask your competitors (seriously). Lawyers by referrals are just like a you getting a referral from a client. If the project went well between you and your former client, odds are this potential project will go well, too. It’s the same with lawyers- we are all professional service providers, after all, aren’t we?

If you come up short with your friends you can try lawyers who practice different areas of law. Typically the business or litigation lawyers will stick together, as will family lawyers or criminal lawyers, but you’d be surprised how big their legal networks are.

The point is to get a lawyer before you need one. Should you ever need a lawyer having one in your rolodex or someone you’ve worked with before will behoove you.

Lawyer Limitations

Remember, your lawyer can only do so much. It’s your responsibility to have him/her understand your business and/or job functionality. This limitation can be erased after a few conversations or working together for a bit. That’s why I say a relationship with your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run.

The more your lawyer knows about your business, and the more you work with him/her, the greater the asset you will have. In these conversations with your client’s legal team, you lawyer will stick up for you and help you get the terms best suited for your growth as a business.

It’s a good idea to budget for legal with new clients. Expect a bit of negotiation and the last thing you want to do is take money that should be profit and have it all go to legal expenses. So, budget accordingly for the first couple of jobs since this is where a bulk of the negotiation will occur.

Anytime a larger client delivers you their contract have your lawyer review it. We’ve received contracts that state a project must be delivered on ¾” video tape- the state of the art video format of the 1970s.

Imagine being contractually obligated to deliver a project in a format that is extinct. I doubt the sender knew what was in the contract and sent it blindly.

My point is that contracts can be old. They can be something someone found somewhere on the Internet without even reading it.

To save cost on your lawyer reading and redlining a contract you should read it yourself first. Highlight anything specific you want to review with your lawyer- remember, you probably know more about the creative world and video production than your lawyer does, so this will behoove both of you.

Watch our reel.

A Horror Story

I fully believe that everyone enters into an agreement with the best of intentions. We once had a project where we were all set to do a video for. We had met a few times, reviewed creative, signed a contract and received a deposit. Everything was good.

Until it wasn’t. Less than 24 hours before we were scheduled to shoot we got an email from our contact saying that the company was going in three different directions and that our video was no longer needed. We had no idea this was coming and there was nothing we could do about it.

It was the 11th hour. We had already made all arrangements for the remainder of the project, including pre-production, strategy, renting gear, and booking crew. We’re screwed.

The good news, our contact said, was that he was now in need of 3 (three!) videos- but they needed a month-or-so to figure it all out. Our client assumed this was an easy switch and swap, but from our point of view, it was a completely new project. Our contract covered what would happen in this situation and we began the process of getting paid what was rightfully owed to us based on the work we had already performed.

Our client saw it differently. They assumed that since we didn’t actually shoot the project they didn’t owe us anything.

Here we were, with a lot of expense- gear rented, a crew hired and all the research, strategy, creative direction, pre production, script writing completed. These attributes are project specific and cannot be transferred over to a new project a month-or-so down the line. Worse, we had hard cash spent on a lot of these.

We work with a lot of hired freelancers on a per job basis. Once these guys are booked for a day or a job, they’re getting paid no matter what. We rely on our team to complete jobs and expect them to work hard for us. Once they have committed to us they are turning down work from others, and if we cancel on them they’re out of work. Morally, I can’t promise work and pay for our crew and not pay them, it’s just wrong.

If we back out on our end of the commitment to our team do you think they’ll continue to work for us? Our relationship with our team would deteriorate and have serious negative long-term effects on our business and reputation. (Notice how many times I’ve mentioned relationships in this post?)

Fortunately, we had a contract that covered us in this unforeseen situations. And, this is exactly why you should build a relationship with a lawyer.

It took us time to get paid, a long time. In the meantime, the company laid off 15% of its workforce and guess what, our contact was one of them. So, now we had to start the entire process of tracking our money down all over again and talk with new people. It was a disaster. The supposed promised 3 videos in a “month or so” were also gone and dusted. Just another reason why we needed to get paid for work already performed.

Learn from our mistake here and make sure your contract has a clause in there to cover you in situations such as these. This has only happened to us twice in 13+ years of business. It’s never fun, but you only learn the hard way once. Luckily for you, you found your way to our blog and will hopefully prevent it from ever happening (keep reading…).

Working With Friends

It’s really easy to work with friends, right? Or worse, family! Someone who knows you, likes you, know who you do and thinks you’d be the perfect fit for this job. Great! You trust this friend and think they’d never hurt you, overwork you or use the project in the wrong way. Until they do.

It’s really easy for friends or family to assume something is easy, ask for more revisions, expect more from you and belabor you in producing much more than you should have. Or, your friend might make recommendations that you don’t have the heart to tell her your professional opinion is different based on your experience in this world.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to work with friends, but please do it in a professional manner. Many times, when working with friends on an assumed handshake projects can take a turn for the worse and friendships are broken, time is wasted and nothing meaningful is created.

I recommend having friends and family sign contracts for any and all projects. This might be a bit awkward, but it will show them that you are a professional, and your time, knowledge and expertise are valuable and not to be overlooked. This starts your project off on the right foot. I also recommend charging a fair fee, and this fee, of course, is based on the value of the project (value pricing).

SOW example

Contract Checklist

When we had our contract reviewed a couple years ago we gave our lawyer our base template and a list of about 9 things we needed to be rewritten or added. To be honest, we got this template from a former business advisor and I have no idea where he got it from. It’s legitimacy was never questioned by us, which means it could not have been sufficient should we really need to rely on it.

The 9 or so additions or paragraph rewrites we requested were notes that we had been making over a couple of years. We took note of what clients asked for clarification on, or what they asked to be stricken or rewritten. We took many notes of language that we found didn’t stand up to the project we were taking on. We had scenarios arise during projects and found out after the fact that our contract didn’t cover us in certain, precarious situations. So we needed this fixed because it was repeatedly costing us time and profit.

Apparently, the contract template we got from our former business advisor wasn’t so great afterall. It may have worked for him, but for our video specific needs, turns out it wasn’t great. Our lawyer ended up writing us an all new contract.

Want a bullet proof contract? Include these points:

  1. Services Provided: What you will be providing to your client?
  2. Deliverables: What constitutes a “final” or “accepted” deliverable? (our revisions are stated in the specific SOW)
  3. Compensation: How you will be paid and when? (don’t forget about expenses as in example above)
  4. Confidentiality: Being professional means not sharing your client’s trade secrets with the world.
  5. Ownership: Who owns what and when. The service provider should retain ownership until the job is paid in full, always. Otherwise, you have no leverage to get paid after delivering final assets.
  6. Indemnification: You should have insurance in place, but this is also good to have in your contract.
  7. Timeline: How long you expect the project to take and key dates.
  8. Termination: What happens if a project is terminated. Make sure to cover reasonable costs and commitments already scheduled.

Contracts for video professionals provide peace of mind

Contracts for creative professionals make sure everyone is on the same page. No Surprises.

Open Source Contract Template

Now that you know all about what a contract does, why you need one, how to talk about contracts with your clients, working with friends and what it should include, you’re convinced you need one. Great! But where can you find a good contract? The Internet is full of crap.

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve decided to open source our contract that we use with all our clients. Our contract has gone through several revisions and additions as things have come up over the years. So, it’s been developed over years of practice and real world situations.

However, we might be missing something, or your needs might be a little different than ours. We’re based in California, and our state might have different laws than yours. So, be sure to get this contract reviewed by a lawyer before using it.

Use our contract as a template for your business or as a starting point. Remember, we’re not lawyers, this is not legal advice, we’re storytellers, and this template is being offered as a starting point only.

Download the open-source contract template and put it to use in your business today.

How will having a strong contract help your productions? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments

  • you guys are
    so. good. to. us.
    THIS IS AWESOME.

    • You are welcome, hope it helps in your success. Good luck!

  • This article is great on its own. But to open source the contract, too. Thanks!

  • IAMVENGANCE IAMTHENIGHT

    Phenomenal, thank you!

  • Nicholas Langley

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve learned a bunch reading this but I was wondering, could you explain section 8.1 in layman’s terms?

    • Nicholas, you really should hire a lawyer who can edit this template to suite your needs. But it basically says that the client owns the work and IP once full payment has been made.

  • Carlos

    Amazing article! thank you for taking the time and sharing very valuable information. I am having a hard time finding the link to the template. Please help. Thanks

  • Dwayne Burgess

    This is great! For the project specifications which indicates the “SOW.” Would you add your storyboard and every scene by scene layout within this section? Also are these two separate documents to send individually or together to the client?

    • We don’t get that granular in the SOW section, but you should do what feels right for you. The MSA and Work Order are two separate documents sent together on the first job, then each subsequent job we only send a Work Order.

      • Dwayne Burgess

        What do you guys normally list in the SOW section?

        • Hi Dwayne,
          We typically put the general outline that we’ve agreed upon. This usually includes number of shoot days, crew, deliverables.

  • David Thė Day

    Between this and the budget template, all I have to say is: “TAR? More like allsTAR”!!!!

  • dtvcat

    Once the MSA is in place Is the SOW always refered to as Schedule 1 or does each concurrent SOW get a new Schedule # ? I would think that Schedule 1 could refer to any and all concurrent SOW’s and Schedule 2 could refer to any and all Change Orders for example. Is this correct?

  • Dan Hitchman

    The links to the various forms don’t seem to be working anymore.

    • Patrick Taylor

      Here either. Just a forced subscription.

  • Daniel Cordeaux

    I’m in the first year of business with my video production company, so even without the ‘Agreement’ (see I’m already learning) template, advise like this is crucial for people like me to get my head in the game and start being successful. You are very clever and kind humans. Much appreciated!

    • Awesome, Daniel!

      If you’re looking to grow your business you might be interested in our coaching program that we offer. Shoot us an email for details.

      -Tim

  • Brad Knox

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m finding it quite valuable. Sharing it is truly a service.

    Seems like this part is broken: “in each case of (a), (b), or (c) of this sentence ” <– There is no a, b, or c in that sentence.

    Also, "the Final Edit Version of any deliverable and ownership of all other intellectual property" appears to need some punctuation before the "and" to achieve its desired meaning.

    I was also surprised to see that the video production company retains ownership of everything except the final edit. It seems fair that if a client pays the company to film something, then the product of that filming event would be owned by the client. If, after delivery of the final edit, alternate versions of the video are desired by the client, having all of the raw materials owned by another party puts the client in a vulnerable position.

    • Check out our article on value pricing. http://tarproductions.com/2015/07/27/how-much-does-video-cost/

      I understand where you’re coming from, but if alternate or additional edits are requested by the client, and there is value in the there, you as a professional should be compensated for it. Another option is to include several deliverables in Final Edit Versions.

  • Dante Le Grey

    Does this also apply for free lance videographers? I understand a lot of the terms refer to a company.

  • Robert Berlin

    Would love to check this out. Am I the only one who can’t get the link to work…?

    • Working for us… what device/browser are you using?

      • Robert Berlin

        It works at home. Apparently the workplace blocked your email gate on PC using Win 10. Thanks!

    • Patrick Taylor

      Not working here. Just forcing me to subscribe to .. whatever.

      • Hi Patrick,
        It looks like you received it and were able to download it okay. Let us know if there are any other issues.

        • It did indeed. Looks like I was a bit impatient. My bad. Great vid!

  • Reka Forgach

    Hi all — thank you for this post and for the beautiful content you post — both written and video. Phenomenal work.

    I’m grateful that you’ve open sourced the contract and would like to review it for some boilerplate inspiration, unfortunately every time that I click either link in the post it only leads me to the top of the post. Is the boilerplate still available to be reviewed and used by others?

    Many thanks!

    • Still available. This is likely a browser setting on your end.

      • Reka Forgach

        Ok that’s right — the javascript doesn’t work in chrome, but am able to access it in Safari.

        thank you again for sharing.

  • Derek Hakkim

    This is fantastic, thank you! I spend the evening reading through the agreement and making modifications as necessary for my business here in Canada.

    I have a few questions regarding the SOW “Description Of Services” and “Project Specifications”, namely, what is the difference between the two…

    I figured it would be easier if you could please provide an example of a SOW for project you did from beginning to end, the whole shebang and that would help me immensely.

    Thanks again!
    Regards,
    Derek

  • ZN

    I subscribed to newsletter and confirmed sub but it wont let me download file, when i click the link it asks me to subscribe again??

    • It’s likely a browser setting on your end. Once you confirm your email address it will be sent immediately via email and contains a Dropbox link to download.

  • Glenn Hughes

    I’ve tried this with both Firefox and Chrome on a Mac and no contract. I get an email that says “Hey! We’re are all SO excited that you’ll be joining us. Just click the button below to confirm and you’re in!” but once I click the confirm button it just opens up the tarproductions.com homepage. Not sure how I’m supposed to be able to see the contract.

    • Glenn, Looks like we got a soft bounce on one attempt but successful on another. Hope you find it useful.

  • Glenn Hughes

    Didn’t work with Outlook (perhaps being blocked by my IT) but it did work when I resubscribed with Gmail. Thank you so much! You guys really rock. As a one-man-department for most of my career I can’t imagine how great it must feel to work with a bunch of talented individuals like you folks. Your work is stellar.

  • Leo Quintero

    Thank you so much for this resource! Any chance you can post an example of a full schedule 1 work order? Where do you put details pertaining the shoot, as in what constitutes a full day of filming (hours) and overtime rates ect

    • Hey Leo- thanks for the compliments! We don’t charge overtime since we operate projects based on value. I offer coaching, if you’re interested shoot me an email. -Tim

  • John Wilkerson

    Great article! But, when I click on the link for the contract, the article just opens up again; no contract. Which, is a real bummer because your’e article is so great! Is there any other way I could get a copy?