“If I choose to work in a nonunion film (one that is not SAG-AFTRA), what key contract terms or clauses should I look out for to protect myself?”
Here’s something that any working actor can tell you: there are many more nonunion roles than there are SAG-AFTRA roles. So, actors, in a quest to build their credits, gain experience, make themselves visible and hone their craft will take on a nonunion role if they find it in their interest to do so. Whether they should or not is another story but assuming they do there are some things an actor should look out for to protect themselves from unscrupulous or sleazy producers.
• Put it in writing. While it is true that oral agreements are enforceable, if it’s not on paper, your job to prove you were promised something for your work in a production becomes that much harder. So make sure that anything you are promised winds up in the document you sign. If it’s not, then don’t sign until it is.
• If the contract has a clause that your image or work can be used in whatever form for perpetuity understand that that means they can do anything they want with the images they shoot of you. Forever. Ask that it be limited to non-pornographic purposes or to be used ONLY for the production or the marketing of that production. If they use it for some other project, you should be paid for that, in my opinion.
• In addition, producers tend to add clauses that state that your work or image can be used in “any medium known or unknown throughout the universe” (or something like that), which gives them the right to use your work or image in any medium without having to pay you extra for it (besides any aforementioned compensation or residuals, if any, already stated in the contract).
• Also beware of any audition release forms that give a producer the right to use your audition footage in whatever way they wish. It’s one thing to have the acting you did for a movie appear in a trailer (which is to be expected), but your acting for an audition is less polished and more intimate which means you might not want that footage released to the public.
• Pay attention to clauses that limit what future work you can do because of a conflict. This could come up in cases where you work in a commercial for a particular product/service and the clause is put in there to prevent you from working for a competitor product/service. Even though you might not be able to change this clause, at least understand that it means you can’t work for a competitor’s commercial. However, to be fair, this clause should be limited to a certain time period and geographical area.
• If the script calls for sex or nudity, check to see if the contract provides for a clause with restrictions on who can be on the set during the shoot, how the footage is to be used and whether or not nudity/semi-nudity is required.
When it comes to contracts, the first thing is awareness; actors need to know what they are signing. The second thing is whether or not the actor can get something changed or removed from a contract. The truth is that an actor’s ability to have clauses modified or removed comes down to how much leverage the actor has. Famous actors, actors desired by producers to play a specific role and actors demanded by certain investors for a role all have leverage and can get their way if they ask for it. However, even if you don’t have that kind of leverage, if you feel strongly about something, don’t be afraid to speak up. You’d be surprised to know how much a director or producer is willing to address your concerns. And if they don’t, then at the end of they day, you don’t have to sign the contract. It all depends on how much you want that role.
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