When an actor is hired for an acting job, they are generally required to sign a contract with their employer. Regardless of whether the job is for a film, TV show, commercial, or live performance, there are a number of components common to all acting contracts with which actors should become familiar.
It is important to get assistance from an entertainment attorney who has experience in negotiating actor contract. An entertainment attorney can assist you in getting the best deal in your contract and ensure that the contract is not one-side in favor of the producer.
This guide will help you identify what to look for in an acting contract and what types of terms you should seek to negotiate. Here are 15 common components and questions you should ask when reviewing an acting contract:
- What is the Term of Employment?
- What are the Work Dates and Hours?
- What is Your Compensation?
- Is this Contract Exclusive?
- Do You Need to Give Up Your Name and Likeness?
- Is there Merchandising?
- Do You Need to Do Promotion and Publicity Services?
- Will You Receive Credit?
- Do You Need Public Liability Insurance?
- Will Your Employer Provide Food and Refreshments?
- Will They Compensate Your Travel Expenses?
- Who Will Provide Your Wardrobe?
- Are there Union Provisions?
- Is there a Remedial Clause?
- What Happens If the Actor Breaches the Contract?
- What Happens if the Employer Breaches the Contract?
- What are Arbitration Clauses in an Acting Contract?
- Why Do I Need a Lawyer for my Acting Contract?
The "employment term" clause of the contract 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 on other events.
For example, 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.
Generally, contracts will also specify what kinds of dates and hours the actor is committing to. For example, the contract may require that the actor be available for 10 hours of filming each day and may identify specific dates and times when the actor will be required to perform. Here, it is important for an actor to consider any other jobs or commitments they have when reviewing the contract.
The acting contract will also certainly detail the actor’s compensation. Here, there are number of different methods of compensating actors, including:
- Flat-Rate for the Job;
- Per-Performance; and/or
- Percentage of Proceeds.
Depending on the job, the method and rate of compensation may be negotiable. Additionally, for some jobs, it is appropriate for the actor to request that they receive compensation equal to the best rate the employer is paying other actors with similar roles. This is sometimes called a "most favored nations clause" in a contract.
This portion of the contract is important as it may limit the actor’s rights to engage in other employment. Here, an employer may wish to prohibit an actor from appearing in other productions during the term of the job, and sometimes afterward. Exclusivity provisions can prevent you from performing in various commercials, television shows, films, and even Internet projects. There provisions can always be negotiated.
For example, 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. As such, actors should be careful to consider the consequences of exclusivity clauses and may seek to limit them in the contract negotiation.
Under this clause, the contract will request that the actor provide rights to the employer to use the actor’s name and image for the acting job and for any other promotional or merchandising purposes.
This clause merely serves to obtain the actor’s consent to appear in the acting production and for any other identified purposes. While the actor likely must consent to appearing in the production, they may have some leverage to negotiate the terms of the use of their image and likeness for other merchandising purposes.
For example, an actor in an action film might agree to allow the film producer to use their image for action figures only if the film producer compensates the actor with a percentage of the action figure sales proceeds.
Depending on the acting job, there may be merchandising potential for the feature. This could include t-shirts, posters, action figures, books, etc. Here, although the contract may not address this, as mentioned above, the actor can always try to negotiate to receive a percentage of merchandising proceeds.
In some instances, an acting job may require the actor to appear at other events outside of the acting production itself. For example, an actor may be required to appear at certain premier events, talk shows, or other events used to publicize the production.
Here, most acting contracts will specify that the actor will receive credit (i.e. name recognition) for their role in the performance.
Here, the employer may identify that they have obtained public liability insurance to protect the actor in the event of any accidents on-set. Depending on the acting job, this type of insurance may be required by law and actors should ensure their employer has them covered.
Here, acting contracts often specify whether the employer will provide food and refreshments on-set while the actors are working.
Depending on the acting job, there may be travel expenses. Here, an actor may wish to ensure these costs are covered by the employer and should negotiate to include such terms in the contract.
This clause will specify whether it is the actor or the employer who is responsible for providing the actor’s wardrobe. If the employer is providing the wardrobe for the actor, the actor may be able to negotiate terms that allow the actor to keep the wardrobe once the production is complete.
This clause identifies whether or not the employer is signing the contract as an agent of a larger union entity, such as:
- The Screen Actor’s Guild;
- American Federation of Television and Radio Artists;
- Actor’s Equity Association; and/or
In addition to other compensation, an actor may be able to receive perks for their acting role. These perks may include basic materials like a Blu-Ray copy of the production, or they could include more extravagant benefits like traveling expenses, tickets to the production for friends and family, and access to other special events.
Finally, an acting contract may specify what constitutes a breach of the contract and what remedial measures should be taken in the event of a breach. When there are remedial clauses in an actor contract, it usually specifies what duties, usually the payment of damages, will be owed by one contracting party to another should the former breach the performance terms of the contract
Sometimes a contract will set specific fines that will be imposed on an actor for certain offenses, like being absent or late to a practice, performance or other required event. An actor can always attempt to limit these penalties in contract negotiation.
However, if an actor breaches an employment contract all-together, they may lose the value of the contract entirely and be liable for other expenses incurred by their employer as result of the breach.
In the event the employer breaches a term, the contract may specify that the actor must 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 all-together, they may still be liable to the actor for the value of the contract.
Acting contracts may state that any potential legal disputes that arise between the actor and the employer should be resolved through arbitration rather than litigation. Arbitration is a faster and cheaper way of resolving legal disputes than traditional litigation. These arbitration clauses may or may not be enforceable depending on the situation.
You would need an entertainment lawyer who specialized in actor contracts because there are many times when actors are being underpaid or undervalued for the talent and performance. Many actor contracts are one sided in favor of the producer and the actor in anticipation of getting the role would sign the contract before reading the entire thing or getting help from a experienced entertainment or contract attorney.
A well drafted actor contract will be beneficial for both actor and producer and will allow actor to gain as much from the production of the film or show as the producer will depending on the amount each party contributes.
Whenever an actor enters into an employment contract, it can be very helpful to have a local business attorney review the contract and negotiate terms beneficial to the actor. This will help ensure the actor fully understands the agreement they are signing and gets the best value possible from the contract.