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Legal Guide: Production Agreements

filmmaking guide

Legal Guide: Production Agreements

Legal advice on what to include in production agreements, legal agreements, contracts engaging children, actors and casting directors.

This guide covers legal advice on clauses to look out for/what to include in production agreements. For links to websites that provide downloadable sample contracts, see the Other Resources section below.

Engaging Actors

You will need to ensure that all the actors and/or contributors (e.g. interviewees) who appear in your film sign a contributor's release form, giving you the rights to use their performances in your film and in the related marketing. Release forms aren't necessary for anyone who appears as part of a crowd scene or fleetingly in the background of your film.

Some clauses to look out for in actors' agreement are:

Term of Engagement: Producers should be entitled to the exclusive services of an actor for X amount of days/weeks to complete filming of the part (usually referred to as "the shooting period"). In addition the agreement should set out if the actor will be required for rehearsals and wardrobe fittings. Subject to the actor's prior professional commitments, the producer may also require the actor for retakes, post-synchronisation and other post-production services.

Remuneration: The agreement should set out what monies are to be paid to the actor and when. For short films payment is often due once all services are rendered by the actor i.e. at the end of the shooting period. In feature films, payment is usually paid in equal instalments at the end of each week of the shooting period.

Expenses: This sets out what expenses the producer is providing the actor e.g. transport, accommodation, per diem allowance.

Credit: This clause should state the position of the actor's credit(e.g. front or end credits) and whether it will appear on a single card in the on-screen credits. It should also state as to whether the actor will be credited on any advertising material.

Health: Actors should give assurance that they are not suffering from any injury, illness and the like which would prevent them from rendering their services and are often expected not to engage in hazardous activities during shooting.

Filmmaker question:"My documentary doesn't show the contributors I filmed in a very favourable light. I have got all the contributor clearances but could they sue me for the way I presented them?"

Answer:See our Legal Guide: Filmmaker FAQs section

Engaging Child Actors

Any child under the age of 16 needs a licence from their local authority to perform in any film. The application for this licence will include, amongst other things, a medical certificate and detailed statement on the likely performing hours.

It is the Producer of the film who will need to apply for the licence from the child's local authority and the parent of the child will have to supply the producer documents such as the child's birth certificate and a school letter authorising absence. The licence granted needs to be kept on set at all times. There are restrictions on how child actors can be used e.g. maximum time on set. Any child holding a licence is required to have a chaperone.

If a UK child is performing abroad then a licence needs to be obtained from either their local Magistrates Court or Bow Street Magistrates Court. If a non UK child is performing in the UK then they will still need a licence and all the rules of restrictions on engaging child actors will apply to them in the same way as they would a UK child. The child is often licensed by the local authority in whose area the child is performing or living during his or her stays but a licence can also be obtained from the local authority whose area the producer has his or her main residence, or where the producer's head office is based. It is essential that you follow carefully the restrictions on using child actors in your films. These are governed by licensing regulations and are likely to be followed carefully by local authorities who are under a duty to protect children.

Filmmaker question:"I've asked one of my friend's kids to act in my film and the parents have given permission. Do I need to get the licence from my local authority?"

Answer:See our Legal Guide: Filmmaker FAQs section

Engaging a Casting Director

If your budget allows, engaging a casting director can help you secure your dream cast. Some clauses to look out for when contracting a Casting Director are:

Services: Clearly outline the responsibilities of the casting director e.g. sourcing actors, negotiating terms, assisting Producers in the contract process, provide deal memos.

Producer approval: The agreement should identify those items which must have approval of the producer before any deal with an actor can be finalised. Such items would include say any bonus payments and sign off of casting.

Use of assistants: This usually authorises the casting director to utilize the services of assistants. Payments to assistants is usually to be bourne by the casting director.

Length of engagement: Usually this stipulates X amount of weeks.

Fee: The majority of payment will be payable on the first day of preproduction.

Expenses: Make clear as to whether the fee is inclusive or exclusive of expenses and if expenses are to be reimbursed separately then these should be capped with any overages to be approved in advance by the producer.

Location Agreements

The UK Film Council website offers a range of information about filming locations in the UK. They offer links to the 12 Screen Agencies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Please note that there is separate information if you are making a Digital Short.
**Please note it has recently been announced that the UKFC will cease operating in April 2012, when the BFI will assume the majority of its responsibilities. More information about this will be included here when it becomes available.**

You should find a location manager as soon as possible. Even if they are untrained, it is good idea to find someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of finding the locations and making sure you can use them. This involves looking around your local area, finding a location that suits your needs and then finding out who owns it and whether they'll let you use it. You should always try to have a location agreement in place before you shoot on anyone's land.

Location agreements should allow you to not only film the place but also grant you the right to rehearse and take stills for publicity. In your film, you may want to call the location a different name, and your agreement should give you the right to do so. The agreement should give you the right to incorporate scenes filmed at the location in your film and the right to exploit the film in any medium throughout the world. The design team will also require the right to make additions and alterations in and to the premises (interior and exterior) and the location manager will often have to ensure that the location will be put back in the condition that it was found.

Other Resources

Ownit, the free intellectual property advice service, has a handy sample contracts section on their website where members can download sample production agreements(membership is free).

Current TV, the global digital television channel showcasing short factual films and documentaries, has downloadable video and music clearance forms in the resources section on their website.

Shooting People, the independent filmmaking community, has a resources section on the website with contracts and release forms that (paid up) members can download. Contracts include: paid cast and crew contracts; unpaid collaboration contracts and documentary, location, footage and photography release forms.

Most unions will have standard industry agreements, such as Pact and Equity.

Related Guides

For links to websites where you can download agreements or find out more about the legal side of production see our Related Links: Legal

For more information about cast and crew see our Filmmaking Guide: Cast and Crew

For useful web portals and company sites on film production and post-production, see our Related Links: Production

To check what rights and clearances you'll need to show your film in public, see our Legal Guide: Rights & Clearances Checklist

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