A legal contract is any agreement that is enforceable under contract laws. Most legal contracts are written and signed, although some jurisdictions will recognize oral agreements as legal contracts. Generally speaking, it is best for a contract to be formalized in writing, especially for very valuable subject matters or for especially complex arrangements.

Legal contracts can be used by individuals as well as organizations, such as businesses and corporations. Any legal contract must be entered into in a way that is fair for both parties, and free of any fraud, coercion, or misrepresentations. 

When an actor is hired for an acting job, they are generally required to sign a contract with their employer. This may be referred to as either a contract for actors, or an actor agreement. Regardless of whether the job is for a film, TV show, commercial, or live performance, there are a number of components which are common to all acting contracts. Actors, aspiring actors, and managers alike should become familiar with these common contract components.

It is important to seek assistance from an entertainment attorney who has experience in negotiating an actor contract. An entertainment attorney will assist you in getting the best deal in your contract, and will ensure that the contract is not one-sided in favor of the producer. As you are an employee, you are entitled to certain rights and protections that should be adhered to.

What Does an Acting Contract Cover?

Each specific acting contract may contain different terms and provisions based on the needs of the circumstances. However, a sound acting contract should include the following information:

  • Compensation Rates: The contract should clarify if the actor is being paid flat rate, hourly, per performance, or percentage of proceeds. Compensation may be negotiable, and it may be appropriate for the actor to request that they receive compensation equal to the best rate being paid to other actors with similar roles. This is known as a Most Favored Nations Clause; 
  • Term of Employment: This will identify the start-dates and end-dates of the acting employment. Depending on the nature of the production, these dates may be pre-set, or contingent upon other events. An example of this would be if an actor is hired for a TV pilot. The contract may require that the actor commit to a number of years of employment if the TV show is picked-up for multiple seasons. Here, it is important for an actor to be aware of the potential time commitment they are agreeing to before signing the acting contract;
  • Whether the Contract is Exclusive: This portion of the contract may limit the actor’s rights to engage in other employment. An employer may wish to prohibit an actor from appearing in other productions during the term of the job, and sometimes even afterward. Exclusivity provisions can prevent you from performing in various commercials, television shows, films, and even Internet projects. However, it is important to note that such provisions can always be negotiated. 
    • An example of this would be how a film producer may wish to prohibit an employed actor from appearing in any commercials for a set period of time, surrounding the release of a film. If so, actors would need to carefully consider the consequences of exclusivity clauses. They may seek to limit such clauses in the contract negotiation; 
  • Whether the Actor Must Give Up Their Name and Likeness: The contract will request that the actor provide rights to the employer to use the actor’s name and image for the acting job, as well as for any other promotional or merchandising purposes. This clause is intended to record the actor’s consent to appear in the acting production as well for any other identified purposes. While it is likely that the actor must consent to appearing in the production, they could have some leverage to negotiate the terms of the use of their image and likeness for other merchandising purposes. 
    • An example of this would be how an actor in an action film might agree to allow the film producer to use their image for action figures, but only if the film producer compensates the actor with a percentage of the action figure sales proceeds;
  • Will There be Merchandising Involved? This clause is similar to the clause detailing whether the actor must give up their name and likeness. Depending on the acting job, there may be merchandising potential for the feature. This could include merchandise such as t-shirts, posters, action figures, books, etc. Although the contract may not address merchandising specifically, as mentioned above, the actor can always try to negotiate to receive a percentage of merchandising proceeds;
  • Who Will Handle Promotion and Publicity? An acting job may require the actor to appear at other events outside of the acting production itself. An example of this would be how an actor may be required to appear at certain premier events, talk shows, or other events as needed to publicize the production;
  • Whether the Actor’s Name Is to Appear in the Credits? Most acting contracts will specify whether the actor is to receive credit. This would be name recognition for their role in the performance;
  • Is Public Liability Insurance Needed? The employer may detail that they have obtained public liability insurance in order to protect the actor in the event of any accidents on-set. Depending on each specific acting job, this type of insurance may be required by law. Actors should ensure that their employer has them covered;
  • Will Your Employer Provide Food and Refreshments? Acting contracts will generally specify whether the employer will provide food and refreshments while the actor is working on set;
  • Will Your Employer Compensate Your Travel Expenses? Actors may wish to ensure that the contract specifies whether such costs are covered by the employer;
  • Who Will Provide Your Wardrobe? This clause specifies whether it is the actor or the employer responsible for providing the actor’s wardrobe. If the employer is providing the wardrobe, the actor may be able to negotiate terms allowing the actor to keep the wardrobe once the production is complete;
  • Are There Union Provisions to Consider? This clause clarifies whether the employer is signing the contract as an agent of a larger union entity. An example of this would be The Screen Actors Guild. In addition to other compensation, an actor may be able to receive perks for their acting role. Examples would be basic materials like a Blu-Ray copy of the production, or more extravagant benefits such as tickets to the production for friends and family; and
  • Is There a Remedial Clause? An acting contract should specify what constitutes a breach of the contract, and what remedial measures should be taken in the event of a breach.

What if there is a Breach of the Actor Agreement?

Some contracts will set specific fines that are to be imposed on an actor for certain offenses. An example of this would include being absent or late to a practice, performance, or other required event. However, if an actor breaches an employment contract altogether, they could lose the value of the contract entirely. Additionally, they would be liable for other expenses incurred by their employer as result of the breach.

Should the employer breach a term, the contract may specify that the actor is to bring the breach to the employer’s attention and provide the employer a reasonable opportunity to fix the issue before seeking other legal relief. However, if the employer breaches the contract entirely, they could still be liable to the actor for the value of the contract.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer for my Acting Contract?

If you are going to be negotiating actor contracts, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable contract lawyers  . An experienced and local business attorney can help ensure that any contract is negotiated to your benefit, and is legally sound. Additionally, an attorney can also represent you in court as needed, should any issues arise.