25 October 2015

E-Sign O the Times

We call it "The Industry". When we omit the modifying noun, it is assumed that we are speaking of the entertainment industry. While on occasion we make art that is entertaining, most of the time it's merely work. Work that we are passionate about, yes, but work nonetheless. A majority of us are self-employed, aka freelance, which means that in addition to our primary skill, we are also every other executive position within our company. It's up to us to negotiate and close the deal, while managing all of the residual paperwork that comes with running a business.

Often, we conduct our basic negotiations via a phone call, text, or email, with few, if any, of the pertinent terms specified as they should be. One the most reliable things you can do to simplify the process is to get a deal memo (which is the same -i.e. as legally binding - as any other contract. "Deal memo" seems to be used mainly as an entertainment industry term of art).

Verbal contracts, while seemingly convenient, and technically legally binding, have their drawbacks

"People remember things differently. People don’t remember. People lie. So ask your clients to sign some simple paperwork. This is business, after all, and anyone who balks at written contracts is likely to pull a disappearing act once the bill comes due."

"I said I would pay you? With money? That doesn't sound like me..."

Some of these issues are unintentional, but all are avoidable, so long as both parties have a common document with clearly defined terms that they can both refer to before the work is engaged, as well as after to resolve any confusion.
Email can suffice for this, but sometimes you'll get a harried client who will miss certain things, or respond with a "yes" when you needed a full agreement clause stated. I got tired of all of this (negotiations annoy me), so I've put together a deal memo that covers most of what I need to feel comfortable on set: rate, kit, OT, travel, and the like. Every time I get back from a gig and I end up kicking myself for something, it gets added to the memo. It's now a page and a half.

Whilst we live in a gilded age of instant grams and books of faces, many people still find difficulty in receiving, signing, and returning a document. Often, a production will be very ad hoc, and won't have so much as a table, let alone a printer or scanner upon said table, to handle your memo. Luckily, several businesses offer just the solution: electronic signatures.

Just make sure you're grounded when you cross the "t".

You can upload your own document (text, PDF, etc), insert initialling prompts, signature blocks or whatever you need, and then have that document sent to the client for signing. On the receiving end, this is very similar to filling out a web page on any e-commerce site, and, most importantly, that signature is legally binding. Once it is signed, both you and the client are emailed copies for your respective records. No more printing and scanning an entire document merely to add a John or Jane Hancock.

I personally use HelloSign. It's one of the first I had experience with, and its integration with Google Drive is extremely convenient, as I run my entire business side through Google's apps (note: I receive no compensation or consideration from either HelloSign or Google). There are many services available today; often they will offer a few signatures per month (usually 5) for free, and charge beyond that.

We will encounter plenty of challenges on set. The business side should be as hassle-free as possible, and e-signatures are one more tool for media professionals to make sure that their contracts are all sewn up before call time.