Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Stuff: Get It In Writing

Get it in writing

So, you're making a $7,000 feature and you ask your sister's boyfriend if you can shoot in his office for free. He's says sure. So, you plan your shoot around that fact and send him constant reminders only to show up and he's nonetheless forgotten, changed his mind, forgot to get permission or some other excuse that adds up to a lost location. And lost time/money for you. Maybe even bigger headaches.

This might not have happened if you had his commitment in writing. Not always, but putting things down on paper often holds people to a higher level of commitment. It has a way of solidifying the terms in a way that, alas, a verbal agreement or simple handshake cannot (these days, anyway). It doesn't need to be a formal contract drawn up by expensive lawyers, just a detail of the commitment that is being made that you both sign off on. It doesn't matter what it is, crew services, craft services, animals, locations, equipment, etc. By putting it down on paper, it begins to make it real for both you and them. It also clarifies exactly what is expected from you both. Often times, simple communication issues can create disappointment on both sides of the coin.

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Now, I realize it is a sticky situation to ask for everything to be put in writing. Some people get really weird about it. And in the situation I presented above, the guy's doing you a favor, he's a friend (or at least an acquaintance) and you don't want to freak him out by making it all too "businessy". But would you rather find out he's going to get cold feet at the agreement stage or when you show up with a crew? Often times, just asking people to put their promises/commitments/agreements down on paper separates those who will stand behind their word from those who are making empty, thoughtless promises.

The way to ask people to do this is simple: Tell them it is standard. You need these agreements for your record-keeping and if the production ever gets audited (which is not entirely untrue). You can say this to anyone - no matter who it is - your mother, sister, sister's boyfriend, boss, or some friend of a friend of a friend, etc. and they will understand it. It suggests to them that there is more at stake than you just being an anal-retentive paranoid (even though we know it is not too much more than that). In the end, having things down on paper has a strong psychological power as opposed to a legal one - although, in some worst case scenarios, any paperwork can't hurt. There will always be those who will let you down no matter how many pieces of paper they sign. But getting things down on paper puts the odds in your favor. The idea is to clearly know what resources that have been promised to you are for real and dependable and which ones are just a big cloud of smoke blown up your bum. Then, you can realistically plan your shoot and experience fewer nasty surprises.

1 comment:

  1. jacques, thank you so much for the tips which have been really helpful. putting things down on paper is extremelly important mainly over here in Brazil. Thanks for sharing your insights, points of view, etc. with us. You´re right, being a filmmaker demands passion, commitment and transpiration. A hug, Rach.