Five Things Professional Creatives Need in Their Contracts

Everyone knows that if you’re in any kind of service-oriented business, you need a contract. Contracts are designed to protect both you and your client. When you’re a professional creative, contracts are also important for protecting not only you and your client, but your art as well. This is especially important for professional videographers and photographers who create work that can in essence help other companies make money. So here are the five top things new filmmakers and photographers may forget to include in contracts that they shouldn’t. These are not the only things to go into the contract, just ones that I’ve noticed professional creatives leaving out or too weak.

  • Copyrights. Have a paragraph explaining exactly who has copyright ownership of the materials you create: before and after the job is done and the client has paid. Will the copyrights be shared? Will they be world-wide or domestic use only? If the copyrights revert to the client upon full-payment, how are you able to use work afterwards (e.g. demo reel, portfolio page, etc.) Does the client get the raw footage and/or digital files? You gotta cover all that stuff.
  • Indemnity. This is one of those paragraphs that big corporation ALWAYS, ALWAYS have. It basically says to the client, “If you give me something to include in your project that you didn’t have the right to give me, and I’m sued because of it, YOU will take the heat and pay the damages.”
  • Creative Control. Who has creative control over the creation of the project? Some clients like to be able to sit over your shoulder in the editing room and tell you shot by shot how a piece is to be edited. That may work for some creatives. It’s not for me. So I want to point out exactly how the creative process works. I say something to the effect that clients may provide input, but my studio has final creative control. They are hiring you because they like your work. They need to trust that you can deliver exactly what they need.
  • Revisions. How many  revisions of the project are included in the original fee? What is the cost for editing time for any changes afterwards? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read on forums or Facebook groups about videographers dealing with clients who want so many changes it will be ten hours worth of work. If you have a paragraph like this already in place, you can refer to it when they start listing all the changes. I always give my clients an estimate of how much their changes will add to the project ahead of time. You never what to surprise a client with a huge bill after they’ve already paid you thousands of dollars.
  • Change of Scope. What happens if the client starts to add a bunch of work mid-project that increases the scope significantly? You need to spell that out. Does the contract become null and void? Does it increase in cost, and how is it determined?

I also make clients initial important paragraphs that I want to make sure they do not miss. Things like “Delivery Date.” If it’s going to take me 60 days to deliver the project, I don’t want them calling me a week later wondering where the project is. I think this is one important paragraph all you wedding filmmakers and photographers need to have initialed. Many of you have turn-around-times as long as six months. Make sure clients totally understand that.

Once you’ve written your perfect contract, you need to get it signed. You could do it the old-fashioned way and print it out, get your pen, sign it, fold it, lick an envelope, stick it in the envelope, seal the envelope, stamp the envelope, then put it out to be mailed. (Whew!) Or, you can join the 21st century and have it electronically signed. My next blog post will be how I do that. It’s totally cool.


10 thoughts on “Five Things Professional Creatives Need in Their Contracts

  1. Excellent post! These are all important items to include in a contract. I would add that creative service companies should have a lawyer draft their contract or at least look over any DIY contract. It’s OK to start with a boilerplate contract found on the internet – but there will always need to be specific customizing.

  2. Hey Ron

    Even though I’m indie how does someone like myself write up a Contacts for when I do Music Videos, and other shoots? Is there a templet that I could follow or just read? Thank you very much

    1. A contract for a music would be like any other commercial video contract. I have a contract template on the Resources page of this blog. Check it out and start there. Hope that helps.

  3. These are great. Just one more thing could be added – take the contract to an attorney and pay him/her to go over it and point out any mistakes or loopholes that could get you in trouble. It may be as simple as word-smithing the contract to accomodate local variations in the law. This is well worth the money.

  4. Great post. Happy to say when I had a Lawyer draft my contract she included all of these-except the revisions piece which I added earlier this year. You’d be surprised how many people still try to ignore that paragraph and ask for 25 album revisions. Um, yeah, no. I have every section initialed w/a final signing.
    I have had 2 potential Cluents balk at the detail in my Contracts and move and you know what? I’m glad. If someone is already thinking about recourse before they even have worked w/me, then I don’t want their business.

    The one additional piece of info I would add us that everytime you experience an issue, add it to your contract. That way you are sure to be covered when that issue comes up again.
    Great post, thanks for sharing.

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