Hi. I am an actor in Chicago, Illinois.
During the weekend of July 27 - 28, 2012, I participated in the Chicago 48 Hour Film Project (HFP). This is a film contest that requires teams to write, shoot, and edit a short film in 48 hours. A producer pays an entry fee (usually between $140 and $175), and then recruits a director, actors, writers, etc. More information on this contest can be found here:
Now, one of the rules of the contest (as specified on the website) is that the cast and crew recruited by the producer must work as volunteers. In other words, cast and crew can NOT be paid by the producer for their services.
The following is the release form that I signed:
According to paragraph 1 of this form, I agree to participate in the Chicago 48 HFP for "good and valuable consideration, the receipt and adequacy of which is hereby acknowledged." Since the rules state that actors can not be paid for their acting work, I believe that the "good and valuable consideration" refers to the following: the chance for an actor's work to be seen by the contest's judges and by the audiences at the contest's screenings, with no monetary compensation. So, I agreed to work for free, with the understanding that I was working for the purpose of creating a film that would be submitted to the Chicago 48 Hour Film Project.
Now there are usually two possible outcomes for every team: 1) a team finishes its movie and submits its movie to the contest, before the deadline; or 2) a team does not finish its movie on time and does not submit its movie to the contest. The day after the deadline, the cast and crew received word from our producers, that the producers had decided to NOT submit our film to the contest. These producers said that they were unhappy with the quality of the final product. They HAD a finished final product, and they simply decided to NOT SUBMIT the final product. This outcome was something that I had not anticipated at all.
Now I am not a lawyer, but my legal reasoning is as follows:
I agreed to work for free with the understanding that I was helping to create a film to be submitted to the Chicago 48 HFP. Since the film was not submitted to the contest, I am no longer bound by the contest's requirement that I work for free. Therefore,
under Federal and Illinois minimum-wage laws, I am entitled to collect at least minimum wage for all the hours that I worked on the project.
We're talking perhaps 30 hours of work here. So, this is not chump change.
What I would like to know from the people on this forum, is whether my legal reasoning is sound. I have not *yet* asked the producers of our team to pay me money. I *have* posed this question to various people in charge of this contest. I got a response
from the highest-ranking person, but he said only that paragraph 3 of the release that I signed, gives the producers the right to use the the footage as they see fit -- for the Chicago 48 HFP or for other purposes. This person totally dodged the issue of whether I deserve to get paid.
So, I would appreciate an answer to my question. Thank you.
I'm no lawyer (and you should consult one), but since the contract does not specify exactly what the "good and valuable consideration" consists of...and since the contract states that by signing, you're saying that you received the "good and valuable consideration" and that it was adequate...I don't think you have a case, legally speaking. (I'm not talking ethically, I'm not talking about whether you "deserve" to get paid. I'm just talking about the contract.) I think the best you can hope for is a copy of your footage for your reel.
But do consult a lawyer.
Everybody who does 48hr Film Projects understands you work for free. You don't stand a chance of being paid. You might get footage. If the film sucked you should be happy that it wasn't submitted. The last thing you need is horrible footage out in the open.
If the producers had told you they didn't finish the film on time would you think you were entitled to compensation? Maybe the film could have been good if they had another day to edit it or reshoot some scenes. In that case, no good = running out of time.
If the film had been disqualified for any reason, like the use of unlicensed music, you would be in the same spot. Welcome to indie filmmaking.
There was no contract unless they told you verbally they would pay you. You can ask them if they would offer you any money or a set amount you have in your mind to be paid. It's part of the craft; try to get the footage at least and move on... or take them to small claims if you need the money that badly..
just another actor..
But didn't the producers effectively *withdraw* the cast and crew from the 48 HFP by not submitting the film? In other words, because the film was not submitted, I don't think that I actually *did* the 48 HFP.
If the film sucked, it may, indeed, be a good thing that the film was not submitted. But the issue of whether I legally deserve pay is a separate issue. Even bad actors in bad films get pay. I became an actor to earn money. I agreed to work for free ONLY because the 48 HFP requires actors to work for free. If cast and crew were withdrawn from the 48 HFP, then we should be paid, no?
If the producers had kept working on the film until the bitter end, then the cast and crew would still have been in the contest until the bitter end. So, no, I would not think that
we would deserve compensation.
Not so fast. The email stated that the final product was not good enough. The use of the words "final product" indicated that a final product was created.
20 years after the initial release of "Star Wars", George Lucas came out with a special edition. So, do we say that the 1977 release was not a final product?
No, disqualification means that the contest organizers declare you to be a loser of the contest. In my case, the producers withdrew us from the contest.
I don't think that you need a contract to get minimum wage. If a person is entitled to minimum wage, it's the minimum-wage law (Federal or state) that creates that entitlement. In Illinois, an employee who was entitled to get minimum wage under Illinois's minimum-wage law, and who did not get that wage, would file a claim with the Illinois Labor Dept. Filing a claim with this dept. is free. There are no court costs.
Hey, Jack --
Since you're asking for opinions (Like the other folks here, I'm not a lawyer. I just play one on TV.), here's mine:
I think the only possible circumstance in which you might have a case would be if this film turned up someplace else --- someplace that would make the producers money. If they've used this film festival dishonestly, to enable them to make a money-making project without paying people, then I'm pretty sure they would be not only violating your contract, but the contest rules as well.
The difference between "not fininished" and "not finished to the producers' satisfaction" is very blurry, and difficult to argue. As I see it, your contract does not guarantee compensastion in the even the film isn't presented.
But if it turns up somewhere. That -- in my totally non-expert opinion -- would be worth pursuing.
My experience with being cast in indie films:
- Film actually gets shot - Usually
- Film actually gets edited into watchable form-More often than not
- Film gets one public screening - fortunate
- Film gets played in several decent festivals -rare
- Film wins awards, actors are mentioned by name in reviews, the result is something you can use to pitch yourself to agents - A Frick'n Miracle.
If you go into something like the 48 hour film project thinking the credit will make a difference in your career you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Do those projects as a way to gain valuable on-set experience and develop relationships. It seems like you got those things from your project. Honestly, how good can you expect one of those projects to turn out? They are written, shot, and edited in TWO DAYS! If you were in it for fame and footage you were in the wrong place.
Don't get me wrong, a few of the 1000's of 48 Hour Film Projects produced each year turn out well.
Don't mess up the "relationships" part by being a pain in the ass afterwards. Be nice, ask the producer or editor for some clips for your reel, and move on.
Did you ask the producer/director for your footage?
First and foremost, I am in the film business to earn money, to put food on the table. For the 48 HFP, in lieu of money, actors are expected to work for the chance to have their work seen by judges and audiences. So, if I can't have the "fame", then at least give me my first choice, the money.
A few years ago, I was in a short film, and I was paid some money. Unfortunately, the footage was never put together into an actual film, and the director moved on to something else. No footage for my reel, no exposure, no festivals, nothing. But, I got paid.
Relationships don't pay the bills. Also, why weren't the producers concerned about pissing off the cast and crew when the producers decided to withhold the film from the contest? The producers didn't seem to be concerned about relationships.
Sure you do. That's why you were a volunteer. There was a no agreement; especially for someone that's just bitter that the product did not meet it's intended purpose. That's why I said you might have a small claims court case where you can prove he agreed to pay period, or if it did not get submitted you would get paid. But if no one said it or wrote it down, you can't just start assuming stuff or the court system would be pretty backed up. My friend can't just come after me for 9 hours of helping me move because I told him I decided to move back home and cancel my lease..
just another actor..
Every class, every audition, every project is a downpayment on a job you will get years from now. This stuff accumulates.
I know what you are feeling and it sucks. I shot NINE projects in 2011 with NOTHING to show for them. I've wanted to publish a "shame" list to Backstage just to vent my own disappointment. However, I've never considered taking them to court over 30 hours of minimum wage.
Wait a week or two, cool off, and then make a request for your tape. If they decline, move on.
The producers enter those contests to further their own careers. They are not going to submit crappy work just to appease the crew. If the project was bad nobody would have noticed your Oscar-worthy performance. Have you ever seen a brilliant performance in a crappy movie? I know there have probably been many, but nobody noticed or remembered them.
You couldn't be more wrong on this point. This business is all about relationships.
When the producers announced that they had withdrawn the film from the contest, they stated in the same email that they wanted to refine the movie and to perhaps enter the movie into other film festivals. When I read that, I thought that perhaps they *had* used the 48 HFP to get free labor from people for a money-making enterprise. However, proving something like that will be very difficult.
The producers subsequently said that they wanted to screen the film for cast and crew and to have a discussion with cast and crew about the future of the film. I can certainly wait until I hear what the producers plan to do with the film, before I ask the producers for money.
I don't think that money is too big a deal for these guys, anyway. They bought about 10 hotel rooms and several meals for 20 - 30 cast and crew. During the shoot, they were carefully determining what they *were* allowed to pay for (hotels, meals, camera equipment) and what they were NOT allowed to pay for (services of cast and crew). I got the impression that, if they *had* been allowed to pay cast and crew, they would have done so. Therefore, asking for money *may* not be a big deal.
As for footage, the producers said that they are willing to provide footage for anyone who wants it.
What makes my situation more interesting is that there was a SECOND team that was interested in auditioning me. This second team contacted me a few weeks before the contest and scheduled an audition with me for the day before the start of the contest I don't know why this second team scheduled an audition so close to the start of the contest.
Anyway, during the week before the start of the contest, the first team auditioned me, accepted me, and held a preliminary team meeting. I liked what I saw at the preliminary meeting,
and I decided to stay with the first team and to cancel the audition with the second team. If the producers of the first team had informed us that they were such perfectionists that they would withhold the film from the contest if the film was not good enough, then I would have taken my chances with the second team's audition.
But why aren't the producers concerned about relationships? So many cast and crew worked hard and spent a night at some hotel, and all their efforts seem to be for nothing. Why aren't the producers concerned that cast and crew are going to hate the producers?
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