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Film and Television Actors

Actors working in film and television, and those aspiring to do so, need to achieve the best possible contractual arrangement on a variety of topics to fully enjoy success in the present and achieve a long career.

Contracts are the business side of film and television entertainment and although contract provisions and law are not glamorous, they are necessary to protect an actor’s rights.

Should I Hire a Film and Television Attorney?

Having an attorney who is representing the best legal and contractual interests of actors in the film and television businesses is as vital as having an agent and manager to help you open doors to get auditions and work.

You need an attorney who is well-versed in contracts, intellectual property, and labor law to avoid the common pitfalls in contract provisions and address potential problems and issues that can arise later.

What Does A Film and Television Attorney Do?

Say you are scheduled to have test for a television pilot. You are about to face a set of legal considerations that are best decided with the guidance and work of legal counsel.

  • Type of Role — Benefits and compensation are different for leading, supporting, and extra roles.

If you are chosen for a leading role, your attorney may be able negotiate additional compensation than you are offered. Also, if the role requires nudity, you may be able to be paid an extra fee.

  • Percentage of the Profit — Some actors want to negotiate a net or gross percentage of the proceeds the film earns.

You are certain to need legal counsel to address a number of issues, ranging from the actual percentage to what happens if the film loses money. Tax issues come into play as well.

  • The test option. This is what producers use to secure your exclusive services even before you test for the role in a pilot television show or film. The test option also prevents you from demanding more money if you are offered the work and later if a network picks up the project and it is a hit.

Your lawyer will negotiate compensation that is fair to you or have this provision modified to keep your options open.

  • Pilot Option. This specifies how long the producer has until he or she commits to hiring you, but during this time you cannot test for other projects. The producer will want this time to be as long as possible.

Your lawyer will work to reduce the length of time to a few days so you don’t lose valuable time.

  • Series Option. After the pilot is filmed, this commits you to successive seasons, usually between six and seven. You also may not be permitted to appear on other shows during the length of this provision.

In negotiations, your attorney will argue that you be allowed to make guest appearances during the length of the series or perform other work such as commercials and movies. This is more easily accomplished if the actor is established.

  • Compensation. You will likely be paid something above and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) minimums.

Your attorney will negotiate increases as the series airs in subsequent seasons and achieve better results than you could on your own.

  • Guarantee. This depends on your bargaining power, but essentially it means that you are guaranteed to work on a specific number of shows during the season.

Your attorney can help you get the largest number possible, for example nine weekly shows in a series running 13 weeks.

  • Pay or Play. If you work on an episode of the series or a scene in a film and it is not used, you will still be paid under this provision.

Your attorney can ensure this provision is in the contract and is as favorable to you as possible.

  • Credits. You may like your name to appear first on the list of credits or before certain other names, or in a certain position on a shared credit.

Negotiations in this area can be time consuming and delicate. Your attorney can devise creative solutions, including negotiating with the other actors attorneys, to get the best solution for you.

  • Miscellaneous Issues. The location and size of dressing rooms, perks and catering preferences are the everyday concerns you are likely to have working on a film or a television show.

Your attorney can negotiate all of these areas and others that come up to achieve the best result for you.

  • Renegotiation. Once you are a known commodity with large fan base, your attorney can reopen negotiations on any number of the contract provisions to achieve for you a fair and reasonable new contract.
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