It’s called ‘due diligence’ in legal phraseology. Basically what it means is that you need to stay cautious and familiarise yourself with all aspects of the contract.
Many actors don’t even bother to go through the contract once before signing it.
As a result they have to face lots of unexpected surprises in future. They realise that they have surrendered all their rights to the producers (whether theatre, film or otherwise). To avoid such situations and to get the maximum of your performing or crewing contract, read the following guidelines and follow them before you put the pen to the paper.
1. Read The Contract VERY Carefully…
Sounds like an obvious thing to do, but many people forget it before signing a contract. Performers, who have worked their ass off to bag a contract, get hugely excited and forget to read the contract document.
Some of them even think it’s rude to read the contract document as it shows that you don’t trust the people with whom you are making the contract. Please… don’t be so polite. There are many people ready to take advantage of your naivety in show business. Make sure you read the terms & conditions before getting into any agreement.
2. Take Help of a Legal Expert
Legal documents try to cover all future scenarios and as a result they can get extremely wordy and confusing. Therefore, it’s important to get the contract reviewed by a legal expert (a solicitor or lawyer, or someone who deals in contract law – an agent should be able to support your review). They would be the best person to understand the document and explain all terms and conditions to you. They will also help you to find if there are any hidden clauses which can work against you in future. A lawyer’s fee is a small cost to pay to avoid costly repercussions in future.
That said, many contracts are fairly straight forward and should be treated in the same way as an employment contract. Regardless, if you are unsure what is being expected of you GET IT CHECKED!
3. Check for Restrictions
Many a time, producers put a clause in the contract which restricts the actors from performing for someone else. If there are such clauses, and you don’t want them, bring the issue for discussion before signing the agreement.
4. Understand Your Rights As Well As Your Duties
A contract is basically a set of rights & duties. If you have a right, someone else will have a duty towards you, and vice versa. It’s important to understand what rights you have given and what is expected from you in return. Makes sure that there is a proper balance between them. The ideal contract should benefit both parties.
5. Get ALL Promises in Writing
If you are being promised extra salary or some other perks; make sure that they are included in the written contract. If the promises are not written you cannot enforce them legally. So don’t sign a contract on the basis of oral promise and blind trust. Contrary to popular belief, a verbal contract does not stand up well in court – and proving what was said was actually said is EXTREMELY difficult!
6. Be Wary of White Spaces
If you see lots of empty spaces in the contract, there could be something fishy. Usually it is completely innocent, but… They could have been intentionally left so as to put additional terms later. Therefore, cross out any unused white space in the contract before signing it.
7. Keep a Copy with Yourself
Ask for a copy of the contract and make sure that you keep with you forever.
8. Consequences of Violation of Contract
Make sure that the contract explains what would be the consequence if the contract is violated by either party. Contract should clearly state how the dispute will be handled and what would be the fine, if any. The contract should also describe the ways in which the agreement could be violated.
9. Inquire About the Length of the Contract
It’s important to know for how long the contract will stay valid. Is it for a specific time period? Or is it for a certain number of productions? This information should be stated clearly in the contract.
10. Make Sure You Are Treated Fairly
Before signing the contract; make sure you are getting same terms as other actors of your stature. Most of the terms in the contracts are open for negotiation, so try to get a deal which works in your favour.
This was a basic checklist you should follow before you go ahead with an agreement. If have applied common sense and have done ‘due diligence’ you can enjoy a hassle free experience fulfilling your contract.