Here’s some food for thought. I just watched this video on A Photo Editor called, “F- You, Pay Me.” If you don’t have time to watch the entire video, although you should if you freelance, it basically says that all creatives who charge for their work should always put everything in a contract so there are never any discrepancies. You want everything on the table upfront. It’s to protect you AND the client.
In the photo industry, photographers already practice this, or they hire producers to do it for them when dealing with agencies and clients. But what about the rest of the crew? Why is it common for the rest of the crew to work on handshakes even though we’re all freelance?
It’s a tough bridge to cross and become contractual because it isn’t common for crew members to work under contracts upfront. If you’re not familiar how it typically works, the crew get’s a phone call from the producer or photographer asking them if they’re available on said dates and willing to work for X amount. You say yes, and now you’re all in. Things can change, but nothing is in writing and won’t be until you send your invoice at the end of the job. The only time numbers are put in writing with discussing your fee is when the photographer or producer asks the stylist to send a rough estimate of what things might cost when they’re in the bidding process to get hired for the job with the agency. In this case, it is based on estimated costs, nothing is finite, therefore it is far from a written contract. As a stylist, the riskiest situation is when you’re hired by out-of-towners you’ve never worked with or met before, and you’re asked to put THOUSANDS of dollars on your credit card for requested materials to get the job done. All you have is a verbal handshake with the hopes that these expenses will be covered. Luckily, I’ve never had any issues, but luck runs out and I never want to be in the position where I’m kicking myself in hind sight.
So you ask, why don’t you put everything in writing from the get go? Concerns that I’d have if I started to send contracts before starting a job is a majority of producers and photographers want a crew that can role with the punches and not nickel and dime you for every mile you drove, for example. I’d be afraid that those hiring me would see it as being too rigid and start thinking of me as someone who is less about the creative goal and more about the money. When I really think about it, that’s silly. In fact, the photo industry may be the only creative industry where everything isn’t spelled out from the beginning from everyone involved. In film and television, when filling out paperwork, I often start to feel like I’m closing on a house rather than signing a couple of papers because EVERYTHING is accounted for. In the photo industry, things are only brought up through verbal communication with the crew, where it’s easy for bits and pieces to be lost or a miscommunication to occur. Ironing out money details before the job is easy, ironing out money details after the job is uncomfortable. No one likes to be mislead or feel like they’re losing money. It’s easier to work for less if you know from the start because it’s up to you whether or not to take the job. It’s a lot touchier negotiating fees after the job is performed because the expectations of the job had changed or their was a miscommunication from the beginning about your fee. Losing the money you thought you earned becomes much harder to swallow. The thing is, contracts couldn’t hurt.
I’d love to hear feedback from industry professionals who hire crew members on what they’d think if they were presented with a contract prior to a shoot from wardrobe and/or prop stylists.