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Old May 18th, 2010, 08:53 PM   #1
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Learn from My Mistakes - My Year in Court

Hey DVInfo users!

Last year a company sued me over some films I shot and edited for them. Despite all the evidence I had they ultimately won. Instead of staying quiet about it I did what any indie filmmaker would do...I made a movie about it!

I'm going to put it all out there in a couple months but for now you can watch a sneak peek at YouTube - Baltimore Court Hell - Sneak Peek

Any feedback is MUCH appreciated. By the way the company was much like those people in this video: YouTube - The Vendor Client relationship - in real world situations . We had a great business relationship until I finally put my foot down on the freebie services. That's when they filed a lawsuit and all hell broke loose.
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Old May 19th, 2010, 12:10 AM   #2
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Bizarre. Sucks you got hosed bro. Do you have liability insurance? Sounds like they almost knew you did & just filed some frivilous lawsuit for a quick cash grab knowing your insurance would settle. I guess the lesson is remain on a per diem basis with people, and avoid getting to closely involved in any ongoing business relationships. Quid Pro Quo.


A word of advice though, don't work with minors. I know that's not what this suit was about, but when I heard about the 17 year old & being up till midnight I thought that's where it was going to go & they put the blame on you the video person with the creative control. Just figured I'd add in that precaution for you & others to heed some advice.
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Old May 19th, 2010, 08:34 PM   #3
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I didn't have liability insurance at the time of the shoots. Even if I did I would have fought it out with the company on principle.

The company owner wanted to fight me at one point...got in my face when I refused to give him raw footage. So as to not cause a fight I gave him what he wanted. When this was brought up in court the judge didn't care. Even though coercion is illegal! Of course the owner denied it...if only I had an audio recorder on me during that final meeting...

Nope, the minors don't have much to do with the case. What I think happened was the company kept getting requests from clients for more stuff and they kept passing them onto me. So I guess they were promising clients (the child actors' parents) things without my approval. When I finally said, "No, I can't do that unless you pay me" is when things turned bad.

I did everything for them that I was contractually obligated to do. Because both judges weren't interested in watching the videos to see whether they were completed or not, I had no case in that regard. Bunch of crap if you ask me.

If they would have only been awarded 1/3 of the contracted amounts on the one contract (because that's really all that was up for dispute and that I couldn't disprove) you probably wouldn't be hearing from me on this. The fact that they got to keep everything I did for them and get all their money back plus interest is ridiculous.
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Old May 20th, 2010, 03:52 AM   #4
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Oooh. I feel your pain.

Just recently ditched a 'new' web client and it was a messy PITA. Lady didn't know what she needed to, thought she did, and blamed everyone (but herself) for anything she could possibly perceive as being wrong. After a while of the way I was being treated, I couldn't get rid of her fast enough.

Life is too short for this sort of thing.

Andrew
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Old May 20th, 2010, 09:02 AM   #5
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Personally, I would be hesitant about posting the video about your unfortunate experience. Potential clients might take it wrong, it might hurt your business. Potential clients can get SPOOKED by the least little thing. People shopping around for someone to provide them a service tend to shun controversy.

Just my two cents. Even when you are in the right, you can appear to be in the wrong, and hurt your reputation.
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Old May 20th, 2010, 09:19 AM   #6
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Quite possibly cheaper than therapy, though.

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Old May 26th, 2010, 11:26 PM   #7
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Agreed on the therapy, LOL! All this has cost me so far was a court transcript, gas, a light kit rental and time. I've only been working on it when I'm not doing paid work.

These clients were not a PITA until I said no. I'm not sure if I said it already but I gave them free services such as uploading the short films to their YouTube page, adding in client sourced material and creating a slideshow. Originally all I was supposed to do was shoot a film, edit it and then put it on DVD with a simple menu.

Then they wanted to see dailies. And get the raw data (EX1 video files) and shoot with steadicam (or the cheaper equivalent like Glidecam). Also, color correct footage that didn't need color correction, original/ambience music which I would either have to make for them or purchase stock plus more elaborate graphics/titles. When I told them that it would cost them more it's like I had killed one of their children or something. The scope of the work had changed and I asked to be compensated for it.

They were also slow on getting back with me on files (photos, music, credits list) and feedback which delayed my getting them a final edit. There were minor issues with the rough edit, as there always are in all the years I've been editing...that's why it['s called ROUGH. They used all this against me in court, saying I missed the deadlines for two of the projects and pointing out two minor editing issues. I had evidence of their lateness in getting files to me but the judge didn't care!

My competence as an editor was questioned as well. The judges didn't want to watch the DVDs. The videos were up on YouTube and datestamped so that there was no way I could pull one over on the courts and make a better edit or whatever. I had a voicemail that proved they loved a project they said in court was unprofessional/unfinished. They hired a new editor and when I put his edit side by side there was barely a difference, despite their gushing over his work in court.

Still...I lost 100%. Ugh...
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Old May 27th, 2010, 06:47 AM   #8
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It would be insteresting to know the exact grounds for the judge's decision. Perhaps you lost on some point of law rather than the factual merits of the case.
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Old June 8th, 2010, 03:16 PM   #9
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Agreed,

Looking to here more background on this topic.
What aspect in court did you lose on, I don't understand.
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Old June 16th, 2010, 07:16 PM   #10
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Sounds like a small claims case. It's like the traffic court of civil justice. Judges think they've heard it all, and their prejudices tend to weigh heavily on their decisions. (Watch Judge Judy, 90% of the time you darn well she's already made her decision before she even sits down.)

Unfortunately, freelancers tend to have a poor reputation in a lot of people's eyes. I know I've been unable to make a sale because some flakey videographer in a client's past has left a bad taste in their mouth.

There wasn't much information in the Sneak Peek video about the trial. But chalk it up to experience. At the risk of sounding jaded, every business is likely to get sued at some point. It's a factor and cost of doing business these days. The more successful you appear, the more likely someone will come-a-knocking, even if you've dotted the "I's" and crossed the "t's".
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Old June 22nd, 2010, 09:54 PM   #11
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I'm not sure the grounds for the judge's decision. The original judge (there was an appeals trial, and in Maryland it's a brand new hearing) found that I only gave the plaintiff's bits and pieces to work with.

That's a bunch of malarkey though. I really think the judge just wasn't paying attention, for these and many more reasons:

The plaintiffs acknowledged their satisfaction with one of the contracts.

They acknowledged that equipment rentals were apart of my payments. In other words I had to rent additional equipment that I didn't already owned which they agreed to pay the cost of rental on. This legally they should not be entitled to have back.

They also acknowledged that they received the raw footage that I shot for them.

The only thing in dispute was whether I turned in 2 final projects that were to their satisfaction. There were 4 projects in total. They didn't pay me to edit the fourth one so I had no obligation to finish it. Again, the first project they acknowledged I completed to their satisfaction.

There's more to it than that but that's why I produced a film about it. I really hope that the video reaches fellow videographers/filmmakers and makes them paranoid about business dealings. Paranoid may be the wrong word...strict maybe? I don't know I'm tired so my word choice is bad at the moment.

Anyway, despite all of this, the judge awarded them every penny they paid me.

The case was appealed and in the end...well you'll just have to see whether there was a happy ending or not. ;-) The documentary should be out in August.
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Old August 17th, 2010, 04:53 AM   #12
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Adam,

I'm not sure if you're trying to promote a film or have us learn from your valuable experiences. If it's the later, please spare us with the teasers and as they say in Dragnet "Just the facts".

Thanks for the background and it's good to know about the 'satisfaction' aspect. I for one put in my contract that I'm given Creative Control and Final Edit. Granted I listen and try to the best of my abilities apply everything the client says, but at the end of the day I can't say with 100% certainty we have the exact same final vision (which is also why I never charge a flat rate). If you want me to go back and reedit it, i'm happy to do that, for a fee.
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