I’ve heard it from dozens of producers over the years, and most of you out there know that it’s true: the quality of your pre-production dictates the quality of your production. Many producers are at their very best during prep—working the phones, securing talent and locations, and hustling for sufficient financing for their budgets.
In fact, producers during prep are so locked in on their efforts on behalf of the project, that they sometimes neglect one extremely important element: their own deals.
I am not a producer by trade. But I am an attorney, one who spent years representing creatives, and then more years representing the studios. And on that basis, my admonition to every PGA member is: Protect yourself and protect your credit. Before you start formal prep on your project or render any valuable producing services, make damn sure you have secured your own contract. (And yes, this means that your deal is in writing!)
Based on the correspondence I’ve received, this does not seem to come naturally to producers, even very good ones. A great producer, it’s widely thought, is one who always puts the project first. Momentum in this business is everything. It runs against a producer’s every instinct to do anything to slow the momentum of her project, especially over something that she has a measure of control of ... like contract details. We can work that stuff out later, she thinks, once the show is on its feet and running.
NO. Just ... no. That jumbled logic unfortunately makes perfect sense to most producers—and it’s incredibly dangerous. Again and again and again, I hear from PGA members who put at risk their credit, their compensation, and even in worst-case scenarios, their personal savings, because they serviced their project’s needs at the expense of their own. That decision leads to very smooth productions, and very brief producing careers.
This is not obvious to every producer, but I am here to advise you that your project is less important than your career. When a producer defers these negotiations, he sells himself short. You’re a producer. You’re a professional. Your time and services are valuable. Your career is worth standing up for, even if it means an uncomfortable conversation with your investor(s) before the money is in the production account.
Have those conversations ahead of time and remember the adage, "An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on!” Above all, don’t be bullied into putting yourself at risk by signing any personal guarantee of revenues, even if the project falls apart because of it. I know that’s heresy, but trust me, you’d rather be hunting for a new investor than for an affordable bankruptcy lawyer.
As your Guild, we cannot provide members with individual legal advice, but we can refer them to attorneys who have experience representing producers’ interests. If you’re a PGA member and need a referral, please do not hesitate to contact our office.