Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Contracts

Contracts for actors are initially a verbal agreement. At this stage, the project, role, dates and money will be known, everything else is still to be discussed. If the discussions break down then the contract won't proceed and either party can walk away in good conscience. But the verbal agreement holds against say, a better offer coming along, in the case of an actor, or a better actor coming along, in the case of the producers. If anybody walks away under those circumstances, a row is ignited which can only be extinguished with quantities of money.
The producers have the advantage in this situation for two reasons. Firstly, they chose the actor, usually under circumstances over which they had entire control. They will have had a good long think about who they wanted and have cast the best actor they could within their budget. It is rarely the case that the budget suddenly increases at the last minute and they can fire their poorly paid first choice and employ a better-paid A-list first choice. Secondly, if it does happen then they have the budget to pay the fired actor's entire fee.
Actors, on the other hand, don't know what work choices they may have to make within any given period. They will take a job and hope they made the right choice. If they get it wrong, they cannot afford to pay for the entire production in order to get out of their commitment and you can be fairly sure that they will be sued.
Of course, this is all quite unusual. If the contract has been verbally agreed, then that is often a done deal and the rest is detail. But the detail is telling and on bigger productions, with bigger stars there are a lot of details. Billing, for instance, can be crucial and complicated with left-hand/right-hand positioning and higher/lower considerations on the posters. Stars will often prefer not to be billed at all for a cameo rather than be placed far down on the list. Theatrical productions and television series will usually bill actors in alphabetical order or order of appearance and that solves a lot of problems. Arguments can still occur over who goes first amongst the leading cast and there is little quarter given since the positioning reflects the current standing of the actor within their profession.
Other ongoing contractual obligations will cover accommodation, both on set and off, and crucially, transport. On one film that I took part in while still a teenager, my agent had not arranged any transport for me while the other actor's agents had stipulated cars, at least to and from the station. The studio was a long way from any public transport, we were filming in winter and often we did not finish shooting until seven or eight in the evening after a six am start. The assistant directors would try and arrange a lift for me, but it was out of the goodness of their hearts and their hearts were often busy bursting as they comforted yet another one of the company members who had been fired that day. It was not a happy shoot. One of the other actors took me to one side after she had seen me hanging around the AD's office yet again trying to get home. "Always sort out the transport, darling" she said in the sort of tone reserved for a particularly trying child, "Tell your agent next time." I was completely terrified and the incident made an indelible impression on me but I'm sorry to say that I never did get to grips with contract negotiations.
When my partner recently signed her own work contract for a respectable job, she took some time deliberating over certain clauses. Curious, I took out the last contract I had a copy of and compared some of the wording. When I got to Paragraph Four, I gave up. Her contract referred to some of the job requirements expected of her. So did mine. I paraphrase, "The artist will engage in such nude scenes as have been agreed in the script. Should a body double be required, the artist will be informed." I couldn't even decide which would be worse, filming the nude scenes or being told they'd rather have a body double. Turns out it's better not to read the contract at all.

25 comments:

  1. I wonder how many people actually (close) read their contracts? As I was still wet behind the ears, I did close read my contract for my first position. It turned out that they had used the same document for years and nobody had wondered about passages such as ‘everything you do during your period is owned by …’ I thought it was best to assume it meant something to the effect of ‘all the teaching material you produce during your employment with … is owned by …’ But it made me wonder just who wrote that. Someone who also mixed up months with minutes, apparently, as the term of notice was at least one month for the employee and at least three minutes for the employer. I wonder if that would have given me enough time to go and get my jacket?

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  2. Perhaps they were worried about reprisals? "You're fired. Now run..."

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  3. On behalf of all of your fans, you need to film the nude scenes yourself. Please refer the producers to us in the event of a problem.

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  4. I guess I asked for that.

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  5. Actually, while we're on the subject of nudity, did anyone else see this? http://uk.tv.yahoo.com/blog/article/416920/everybodys-talking-about-naked-office.html

    I guess there’s no danger of the nudity clause being lost in the small print on this show.

    I can’t think of any occasion when I would take off my clothes if I didn’t really have to (bathing, showering and bothering my GP excepted). For me, nudity often necessitates the application of alcohol, the blocking out of natural daylight, the acquiescence of a partner lacking other offers and nothing on the telly.

    It wasn’t always thus. I must admit nakedness is something I used to practise with a high level of enthusiasm. My mum often recalls being telephoned by a neighbour to be told: “Lindsey’s just run past my house stark naked. Again.”

    Well. I was only four.

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  6. "I guess I asked for that."

    Yeah, maybe. Just be happy I gave you the censored version and consider yourself lucky.

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  7. Anonymous, this is bad. I was supposed to have spent the day editing dull but worthy magazine features, instead I was distracted by thoughts of Sophie's nude scenes. I refer you to the lake scene in A Village Affair [stifled yelp].
    I really must stop nipping into this blog during work hours...

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  8. Yes, any lesbian who's any lesbian at all has seen Village Affair and stifled a yelp. The full movie is available at Tudou.com, though I access it through another site, and Videosurf.com has the nude scenes from Book Of Blood. Now if only we could somehow guilt her into doing a full frontal....

    Alright, enough bordering on disrespectful.

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  9. So, Sophie, how's the book coming along? x

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  10. Respect to Sophie for approving the last few posts. I don't know if you'll post mine, but these are my remarks:

    Seriously, that is not just 'bordering on disrespectful', a few of you are being extremely disrespectful. And I'm not only referring to the nudity remarks. Guys, how can you possibly make yourself refer to online (=illegal) movie ressources at the official page of the actress in question?

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  11. I try to publish everyone's comments, as long as they are not damaging to anyone else. I hadn't picked up on the illegal download issue, if that is what was being referenced then obviously, don't go there. Illegal downloads contribute to loss of legal content etc etc. However, this blog is hoping to be a sort of picaresque adventure and as such it is all my own foolishness. Thank you though, Paul, for your post.

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  12. Lazy Writer, I have been thinking about the same thing, and I checked the Cyber Reading Room. I am sorry your book refuses to be finished right now, Sophie. A writer by the name of Bjarne Reuter, who’s written about 75 books in 35 years, a handful of which have been filmed as well, also reads tons of books, himself. But I remember him saying he never reads during periods in which he writes. It will make him loose focus. I know this advice helped a couple of other writers. I don’t know if it means the same for you. In any case, it must be difficult not to read for a while, as it is part of your job….!

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  13. Oh, it's true that reading is important but also distracting. I don't really like to spend a day without a book in my hand but it is an indulgence and perhaps I should think of it like the box of chocolates that sit by my desk; a treat. I am writing at the moment but it is slow going. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

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  14. Hmm...what have I stumbled upon here? Fascinating dialogue...

    anyway, keep up the writing Sophie! Wishing you all the best with it.

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  15. Sophie is an artist and a storyteller.
    The stories she chooses to tell through her acting and her writing touch emotions and invite an emotional reaction. As sentient adults, we shouldn’t be surprised if these reactions are, on occasion, raw and honest.
    When Sophie decided to communicate through this blog, she invited her audience to join a dialogue about her profession and her own professional output. It is up to Sophie, as a mother, daughter, wife and storyteller which contributions she wishes to share with the rest of us through this blog. Sophie is the master of her blog and can publish or reject contributions as she sees fit on grounds of decency or any other criteria. I don’t know Sophie, but from the interviews I have read, she does not appear to be the type of woman who shies from reality.
    I enjoy reading this blog; it’s warm, it’s supportive, it’s funny and sometimes it’s edgy and a little bit rude. Aren’t we all?
    But, on the matter of accessing films and TV from the internet, if you haven’t paid for it, don’t watch it. Just because it’s easy, doesn’t make it right. Piracy is killing the arts.

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  16. Who are you, her solicitor? She's a grown woman who can speak for herself, Paul, and doesn't need you to defend her on the internet. Go walk your goldfish.

    But having said that, I do apologise to Sophie if I did in fact step over the line.

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  17. I don't mind nudity, in fact, it's probably the most "au naturel" approach to art, but I do object to nudity for the sake of nudity - as in, using it as another form of sexual advertising: a lot of prurient producers throw in nude shots gratuitously where the nude scenes don't even add anything to the storyline; in fact, they divest from the story (no pun intended). And truly, how often do they use overweight, unshapely actors for frontal nude shots? I bet I can count the number of movies on one hand.

    Anyway, we make too much of appearances. I think you have the most remarkable face - one that could launch a thousand words - the nude shots will be long forgotten, especially in this day and age when every actress it seems like is jumping at the opportunity to show as much bare skin as possible. That gets old. It's the indelible acting that will stay in the mind. A pence for what it's worth.

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  18. Odd thing about writing and reading at the same time: it is distracting. I think it's best to read a lot of books in a given period, reflect on them and be inspired by great literature. But when you go to write, set aside quiet time, away from everything, everyone, including books - because they, too, can impose upon your space and you have to find a way to shut out the "voices." You begin to hear echoes of different writers, styles, phrases. I guess this is to say, you must find your own voice and it can be difficult if you're too immersed in reading the words of others. Does this sound like advice? It's not.

    And speaking of reading, I'm in the midst of A Dark-Adapted Eye at your recommendation, I believe. I can't recall exactly why I picked up the book, but I'm having difficulties getting through it. The writing is good, but the way Ruth Rendell writes in this circuitous, faux-Victorian style is a little annoying. God, I thought I'd never get through the first chapter: The names were so confusing. I heard myself saying, "Just tell us what happened to Vera!" Oh well.

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  19. Anon 09:07 you are quite right, it is neither here nor there. I've done my share of gratuitous scenes; they are my own responsibility.
    Like Ann, I enjoy the good natured discussion on this blog and I don't want to censor comment. Hey, how about them Red Sox?

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  20. Anon 09:25, I was in a BBC adaptation of 'Dark Adapted Eye' and of course, I read the book then and thoroughly enjoyed it. That was a while ago, but the formidable Rendell certainly spins a great tale.
    Off to find that quiet place...

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  21. ... walked the goldfish, polished my halo.

    I only speak for myself and am perfectly aware of the fact that I don't need to "defend" anyone, and am fine that others have a different opinion. However, I still think it's disrespectful to refer to illegal movie ressources in general, and on the page of someone who is making a living from acting in particular.

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  22. "polished my halo."

    Your halo is now Polish? How very odd.
    Look, I didn't make an immediate connection that the film was an illegal upload, because I was just happy to be able to see the movie. Now why don't you just move on with your life.

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  23. And by all means, Sophie, delete my comments if they were so offensive. I won't lose a wink.

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  24. “I think you have the most remarkable face - one that could launch a thousand words - the nude shots will be long forgotten, especially in this day and age when every actress it seems like is jumping at the opportunity to show as much bare skin as possible. That gets old.”

    Sophie, I sincerely apologize for the above comment. It came out all wrong—I didn’t mean to imply that your nude scenes were forgettable, quite the contrary. I meant to say that I find it distasteful to exploit actors, making them take roles in which nudity is part of the contract or else they don’t get the part. I sometimes think directors get it all wrong about what audiences “want” when directors, as well as, writers push the boundaries of good taste to create controversy, shock value with over the top violence; these ploys, after a while, come off as contrived though I suppose they do translate to box office draw and huge ticket sales. But too much of a good thing leads to desensitization. I like nudity when it’s done naturally, as part of the story: For example, I think directors would be hard pressed to do convincingly do Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan in a loincloth these days unless it’s Disneyfied. Here I go again…foaming at the mouth. So I am going to kick myself off your blog before I make another asinine remark.

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