“Let’s make it and work out the details later” The importance of contract negotiation.

How many of you recognise the sentiment of that title? We know we shouldn’t, we are aware that we should be more organised and yet we have all done it at some point. We have seen a project we really want to be involved with and just jumped right in.

One of the dangers of being in the creative industries is that they are, as you would expect, full of creative people. Overall that’s wonderful because the talent for some exciting new venture will be bursting with the creativity that probably got them into the industry in the first place and that means buckets of enthusiasm and rapid development.

To be fair, it is perfectly natural to want to get on with it and bury yourself in the planning and development. Not, only are you champing at the bit to get out there with your new H.D. kit to film that amazing nature documentary, get the words down on the page for that indie feature or start work on those digital flying effects, but there is also an understandable reluctance to worry about the details. It’s understandable because they are a bit, well, boring compared to the zombie, ninja, alien/platypus invasion project you are involved with. The problem is that this creativity can end up rushing you headlong into a project without asking ‘have I been thorough with the contracts’?

The issues start to arise later. Once the initial enthusiasm wanes you begin to ask yourself the difficult questions. How long is this project actually going to be running each day? Am I really responsible for some of the things I am being asked to do? How much will I be paid exactly and more to the point when?

It is vital that you settle on terms from the beginning. The chances are that you are working freelance or through your own company structure which means that the buck stops with you. It is pretty unlikely that there will be a human resources department to come to your aid if things go wrong and sadly things do go wrong with an unsettling regularity. Often when things go off the rails it is simply because the people involved approached the project with different expectations. It’s rare that someone is knowingly dishonest (we all know how fast word spreads if you are) but it is fairly common for simple misunderstandings to occur.

Getting a specialist to advise you on your negotiation, or letting one negotiate on your behalf, could prove to be a very solid return on investment. Someone who will know the rates, know the expectations and know the potential pitfalls will also know what should or should not be in your contract. Everyone should respect and understand the need for clear, contractually defined, ground rules. It’s not about thumping desks and enforcing obscure rules and regulations it’s about allowing you to make the choice in an informed way.

So next time you are in the position where you have a contract to be considered it’s common sense to make a quick phone call to see if we can help.

Oh, and if anyone is actually doing zombie, ninja, alien/platypus, I am interested in working on it.