Monday, April 14, 2014
HOLAwave: Contracts for Actors 101
[HOLAwave represents a series of guest blogs by industry insiders giving informative and educational tidbits for the Latino performer. They can range from acting and auditioning advice, tech tips, legal advice, marketing, producing tips, and so on. Get caught up in the wave– the HOLAwave.]
Here is a really quick, very basic primer on what contracts are and what you should know about them. I provide this information for educational purposes on behalf of HOLA. Nothing in this blog is to be construed as specific legal advice. You and I do not have an Attorney-Client relationship by virtue of you reading this blog.
First things first: if you are a member of the performer unions SAG-AFTRA or Actors' Equity Association, then you are represented and the baseline terms of any agreement that you will have with a producer has been negotiated (assuming it is a union production). The union has your back, so refer any questions to them. They know what they are doing.
WHAT IS A CONTRACT?
A contract is an exchange of promises for which all parties involved receive consideration.
In Court to prove that there is a contract between individuals the elements are as follows:
Offer: I will hire you for a play that will run 2 weeks for 15 shows and pay you X amount of money.
Acceptance: I accept your offer.
Consideration: Actor works/producer pays.
Mutuality: Both parties understand the offer and what each has to do under those terms.
The first thing that most people will notice after reading the above is that I didn’t mention anything about a signature or even that it has to be written. That’s because technically it doesn’t.
An Oral Contract is every bit as valid as a 20-page written contract that has been signed and notarized by the Pope.
HOWEVER, if it is not written, proving the exact terms in a Court of Law then becomes much more complicated and can make the difference between getting justice and getting had. You want your contracts written, that way you don’t have to rely on the memory of the person paying you as to what the exact terms are. If your agreement is not written and the other person doesn’t pay you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t collect or sue, it just makes it much harder, and most lawyers avoid hard cases so you may have trouble holding the other party responsible.
So basically don’t do Oral, so moving on....
READ YOUR CONTRACT!
Whether you are brand new and up for your first gig, or whether you are a vet, READ THE DAMN CONTRACT. If only to get a read on the kind of people with whom you are doing business. I know what you are thinking. “I am not an attorney. I barely understand anything in here. Reading this is just some pantomime.”
If that’s the case then make it the best damn pantomime ever. But seriously, if you want to be a treated like a professional actor, you have to carry yourself like a professional. That means politely asking if you can read it over before you sign it.
The first time I read any kind of contract that I haven’t seen before, I am almost as lost as you are, but that’s the point. I have become an expert at reading contracts how? BY READING CONTRACTS. There is no reason why you can’t become an expert at reading actor-performer contracts.
If you see a clause in the contract that you don’t understand, ask a question. Remember it’s much better to look like a rookie then to look like a dummy. Signing a contract without reading it makes you look like a dummy.
I hope these really basic concepts either enlightened you or reinforced some good habits that you have already developed. I will be posting a few more blogs about some general legal topics that may interest or educate you, however, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me via e-mail here and I will help you in any way I can. Chances are your questions or problems are ones that many other actors want answers to, and I can in the future use a blog post to answer a few common questions that I get.
Juan C. Restrepo Rodríguez, Esq., is a civil litigation attorney at Pellegrini & Associates in New York, specializing in commercial litigation, labor and employment law, as well as entertainment law. He serves as both Treasurer on the Executive Board of HOLA and General Counsel. He has been a guest lecturer at several local colleges on legal topics and volunteers his time in various political and social campaigns. He was born in Medellín, Colombia and has been a proud New Yorker for over 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail by clicking here.