Before Filming: The All-Important Contract

Once you have all your roles casted, you’ll need to get every actor to review and sign their contract. Whether they are SAG members or non-union, they need to sign a contract. Always get your agreements in writing. This isn’t just a rule for the film industry. It’s a rule for life.

If you’re unsure of how to write a contract, there is plenty of help available. Many movie budgeting software programs have templates for writing contracts, or you can find plenty of examples on the internet. You need to cover several basic things in your contract. It should state which character a particular actor is shooting for on which dates, and for how long. Try not to go over 12 hours a day, as accidents are more prone to happen when people get tired. The contract should cover how the actor is being rewarded for the role, whether it be with money or in travel reimbursement and clips of their footage, for lower budget productions.

If the actor isn’t being paid, they’re doing your film for the experience and the footage provided as material for future auditions. They’ll want this footage soon after filming (just as paid actors would like their checks), so don’t delay in getting it to them. They should get their clips before you’re out of postproduction at the very least. And remember: if an actor is participating in your film without payment, make sure it isn’t costing them anything to do it: you should be paying for their transportation expenses and any other incidental costs.

SAG contracts require a lot more paperwork, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you should have hired a producer who has experience with SAG to handle them. There are many different types of contracts that depend on your budget and distribution plan: standard, low-budget, experimental, student, etc.

One important thing to pay attention to is LHO, or “Local Hires Only” clauses. If this is in your contract,that means anyone who is not a local actor will have to have their transportation and hotel costs borne by you.

When thinking about where to hire your leads from, it might be a good idea to consider hiring supporting actors locally, but getting leads from New York or LA. These are the actors who might have the experience that will put your film on the radar, and their names could be helpful if and when you submit your film to festivals.

But above all, make sure you are extremely familiar with all the SAG regulations. Don’t assume anything. Sometimes you can work with SAG rules to get bigger-name actors even with a low budget, or get SAG actors to work on non-union projects. Read everything and stay on top of all of your paperwork.

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