Last week I addressed my videography brethren and talked about the pros and cons of hiring editors to help you with your video editing. This week I want to cover the topic of contracts. Assuming you decide to go the independent contractor route, it will be important for you to have a written contract in place that spells out what you expect from the contractor and what he/she can expect from you. It can be very easy to overlook this process, especially if you have a huge load and you want to move quickly. However, in the long run, you’re better off taking the time to cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s” with respect to creating a formal agreement with your contractors.
DISCLAIMER (you know there had to be one): It goes without saying that I am not an attorney. The information in this article is based on my 6+ years experience in this business specifically, and my 14+ years experience in business development generally. As always, consult your attorney for definitive answers, particularly as they relate to laws in your state or city.
ONE-OFFS vs. UMBRELLA AGREEMENTS
You can either create a contract on a per project basis, or if you know work will be pretty steady, create a blanket agreement for all projects. We do the latter with our subcontractors. There are six to eight subcontractors we deal with on a regular basis. It would be an administrative headache if we drew up a separate contract for each of them every time we gave them any kind of editing assignment. If you go with the umbrella agreement idea, make sure you keep the section about payments flexible and stipulate that payment can be mutually determined in writing on a per project basis. To set expectations, give a possible range of payment for particular editing jobs. Lastly, have the umbrella agreement expire at the end of the year, or maybe every six months. You don’t want either you or the contractor feel like you’ve committed yourselves to one another forever. You’re not getting married.
Below is a list of key points I suggest you include in your contracts:
- Payment: how much you plan to pay the contractor. Make sure you include how you plan to handle revisions. Whether y0u stipulate in the contract, or decide via email, determine beforehand how much you’ll pay the contractor for hourly work done on your project after the first draft is completed.
- Timeliness: stipulate how and when you make payments to contractors. We pay final payments at the later of 15 days from final delivery or when the contractor formally invoices us. In some cases, you may pay a retainer or deposit up front. That is perfectly okay, and even encouraged. Give the contractor confidence you’re serious. If you have a long-standing relationship with an editor, you may not need to pay a deposit/retainer up front.
- Taxes and insurance: stipulate that as a subcontractor, he/she is responsible for their own taxes and insurance.
- Work for hire: it’s good to formally state in the contract that this is work for hire. That’s a legal term that basically says you’re hiring them for a job to produce a certain work(s). As such, all they produce for you belongs to you.
- Copyrights and ownership: specify that you retain copyrights and ownership (where applicable) for any work they do for you. This includes projects files they create in the execution of the job.
- Promotion: stipulate that unless you give permission to do so, none of the work created by the contractor can be used to promote the contractor’s business. This part is tricky. On one hand, you need to protect the fact that this is your job. Ultimately, YOU are responsible to your client. It’s YOUR company’s name on the video, and you are paying the contractor to edit it for you. So, it’s yours and they shouldn’t be allowed to compete against you with your own work. This is an issue because many of the editors you hire may very well be in the same competitive market as you, vying for the same clients (e.g. brides, corporations, etc.) However, on the other hand, you don’t want to be a jerk. Like you, many editors are just small business folk trying to make a living. So, be flexible in this area. Some editors specifically only do contract work for other studios, so they’re not competing with you for the same jobs. In essence, they are full time “wholesale” editors (whereas you’re the “retail” editor marketing yourself to the customer). When all else fails, just remember the golden rule: he who has the gold (i.e. You), rules. Just kidding. Really, treat your editors the way you’d want to be treated. Protect your business, but when possible, make it easy for your editors to grow their businesses too. What goes around comes around.
- Confidential information: stipulate that any information the editor is privy to as a result of the job should be held in strictest confidence.
Lastly, before you assign any job to an editor, set expectations. Spell out in writing precisely what it is you want the editor to do, how much time you want to give them to do it, and how much you plan to pay them. The payment part may not be in the first email if you have to negotiate. But, as soon as you do agree upon a rate, get it in writing in conjunction with a full description of the assignment.
When describing the assignment, make sure you mention approximate number of hours of raw footage is involved. Editing a 5 minute video from 2 hours of footage is much different than editing a 5 minute video from 20 hours of footage. To give a fair rate, the contractor needs to know everything they’re dealing with. If possible, give the editor samples of work you’ve done in the past that is most like what you’re asking him/her to do now.
As your business grows and you take on more and more work, you will inevitably reach a point where you need to hire help. Be smart and fair. Don’t be afraid to say what you want and expect exceptional work. Treat your contractors right, pay them a fair rate, and always be a Lovecat.