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Old July 7th, 2011, 02:05 AM   #1
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Possible problem with out of state production company

I'm trying to start my own business as a freelance videographers for weddings and other events, corporate and social. Sometime in May I was contacted by the owner of a production company in another state (I won't mention it for now) and asked to video-record a dance recital at a school on June 4th. The arranged pay wasn't too great, $350 for a 3 hour recital, but I wasn't going to have to do the editing, just record the recital and then mail this company the footage. I said I would do it for that price with the condition that I could use the footage to promote my business, both on my website and on disc. The owner of the company said that was fine.

We didn't sign any contract, in fact until a few days earlier I thought it wasn't going to happen because I had not received any email or call from him to confirm. But 3 days earlier he sent me an email with the information, part of which said:

Payment Terms: $175 was just sent, balance will be paid when tapes have been received by [company name]. (I also mailed return envelope to you for tapes & program)

He had forgotten that I had told him I recorded in AVCHD, not tape, hence the tape reference, but I reminded him over the phone that day and he was fine with that. He said on the 2nd that he was going to send me an external hard drive to put the files in. The next day I received the first check for $175.

So on the 4th I recorded the recital and everything went fine. I even put up samples of it that I edited myself on my website, but I didn't link to them from the samples page, it was a URL that I only gave to him and nobody else knew. Even though I had an arrangement with him that I was going to use the footage on my website for promotional purposes, as a courtesy I asked him on the 6th if I could go ahead and link the footage from the samples page on my website. Two days later he replied that no, that he wanted the parents to get their DVDs first.

Back then I thought that wouldn't take long, but he took two more weeks to send the hard drive, which I received on 6/17. Since I was a sick with a bad cold at the time, I couldn't go to the post office right away (he had sent me another prepaid return envelope, but I wanted to take it to the post office myself rather than just put it in the mailbox on the street), so I took it to the post office on 6/22, and it was a Priority Mail envelope and postage, so being just a few states away, he should've gotten it two days later. On 6/25 I talked to him and asked him if he had received it but he told me he had not gone to the Post Office yet (the return address was a P.O. Box). However, I have to assume that he got it on 6/27 or 28. If he didn't, it's not my problem, since I sent it and it was there on 6/24.

On 6/26 I sent him an email urging him (in polite terms) to allow me to put up the footage on my website because I was planning on sending presentation letters to many schools with my business card and putting in that letter my website's address so they could view the samples of the recital.

For over a week, he didn't reply. Since I had a throat infection and I couldn't speak without exploding in horrible cough attacks, I preferred not to call him, so I waited. But over a week later I still had not received a response from him, so I resent him the text of that email asking him if he had received it because I had not received a response from him yet. He replied the next day, 7/5, saying that it was his bad, that he had gotten the first mail but had not responded it yet. He also told me not to post the footage yet, that he was going to tell me when. Since he made no mention of the second check and I still haven't received it, I replied to that email asking him if he had sent the check. That was on 7/6 at 8:30 AM and so far he has not responded.

So by now I'm pretty upset by this situation. Either this is the most laid back guy in the world, not confirming the shoot until 2 days before the recital, then taking two weeks to send that hard drive, and now who knows if he sent the second check, or he's so busy that he doesn't have time for this. Either way it's not my problem. I had an arrangement with him that I was going to use the footage for promotional purposes, and that he was going to pay me the second half when he received the footage, which has arrived at the address specified by him almost two weeks ago, and that's because he took two weeks to send the hard drive in the first place, minus two business days that are on me because I was sick. The arrangement was that I was going to use the footage, but he never said it was going to take over a month for me to be able to do so.

So by now I'm thinking I'm just going to go ahead and put the footage selection on my website linked from the main page, and telling him that we had an arrangement that I would do that. Granted, it was a verbal arrangement, and I would have made a contract, but until two days before the recital I didn't think it was going to happen. So here's question No.1: can I get in legal trouble by posting the link to the footage on my website? My common sense tells me no, since I was the one who shot the footage, so in theory I should have the rights to it, but I thought there would be people here that might know about this better than me. Legalities aside, would it be considered unethical for me to do this, or do you think I would have the right to do so because he and I had an arrangement? My big problem with this is that every day this guy doesn't allow me to post the footage I'm losing potential customers, and therefore, money. I did a great job recording that recital, and I can show something of very good and professional quality that can bring me customers. But for those customers to come, I need to have that footage up on the website, and it's been over a month since I recorded it. I didn't think it was going to take this long.

Second question: I get a feeling that this guy may be playing me and not planning on sending that second check. After all, I shot this over a month ago, and I still have not received the check and he hasn't replied to my email about it. So my plan if another week goes by and I don't get the check is to call the dance institute that produced the recital and tell them that I can offer them the Blu-ray version of the recital for $50 a copy, since as far as I know this guy only plans on offering them a DVD version. This is a dance institute in a rather wealthy area and I'm sure many of those parents would prefer to have a Blu-ray version rather than a DVD, which would look mediocre even on a dual layer since it's a 3 hr recital, so it couldn't have 9 Mbps. Of course under normal circumstances I would never do this because it would be unethical, but if this guy doesn't pay me then I'm not going to sit tight while I'm getting screwed. So the question is, again, could offering the parents a Blu-ray version bring me any legal trouble? Take into consideration that the video production company is in another state, so any legal matters would have to be in a federal court.

And finally, I would like to hear your opinions on this. Am I right to be upset about this? Or is it normal in this industry that a production company would take weeks to do every single thing? Do you think this company is acting in a professional manner, or not? I think not, but I could be wrong, which is why I really need the know the opinion of other videographers with far more experience.

I downloaded a template for a wedding contract, I think it was from this website, in which it says that the second half is due a week before the wedding. Do videographers usually demand that, to have full payment a week before the event, whether it's a wedding or other type of even?

Thanks, and sorry for the length of the post.

Last edited by Sebastian Alvarez; July 7th, 2011 at 02:45 AM.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 04:32 AM   #2
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

I think you need to go over all this with a lawyer. IMHO, you're toast and need to cut your losses, walk away, and chalk it up as a learning experience. Right now he seems to be in breach of contract by not paying you the balance owed. But retaining the footage and offering it to the parents would make YOU the one who has breached the agreement.

Just because he is another state doesn't mean you have to sue in Federal court. Fill your case for non-payment in your local small-claims court. But don't sell or dispose of the footage until a judge rules that it is your property to dispose of as you wish ... since you accepted the first check I believe you've closed that door.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 07:17 AM   #3
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Not sure what attorney's charge in your neck of the woods but I would never consult one for $175 for what could be described at this point as a "late payment." It's quite easy to spend that amount having an attorney just write a letter.

Do NOT contact the dance recital company with your $50 Blu Ray offer because as soon as the $175 check shows up, who now looks to be acting in an unethical way? Rest assured the production company WILL find out about what you are attempting to do because more than likely the person you need to contact at the recital company is the same person who is working with the production company that hired you.

On 6/26 you said you were politely "urging him to allow you to put up the footage" and he was slow in responding. Really? It sounds like you are attempting to use the footage he half paid for to compete directly against him. I can see where he may be a little slow to respond and if you don't have a written release from him allowing you to use the footage, then don't.

It wouldn't be too hard for him to turn this around to look like you were hired to do a job and you misued or abused that relationship for personal gain.

Slow pay customers are problematic, just don't compromise your integrity in trying to get them to respond.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 07:55 AM   #4
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

I would say there are some good lessons to be gained from this. The main one being never "trust" anybody in a business environment. You leave yourself wide open. State your terms that protect you so you do not get hurt, with or without a contract.

Also, up front money for finished services is how I work. If the other person can not get on board then they can find another vendor. By sending the finished product to him without your payment gives away your gentle leverage in the situation.

Contracts are great because they outline what is expected from all parties involved, but at lower dollar amounts they do not "protect" you very much. The cost of effective legal action is quite high. How you structure the deal is how to protect yourself.

BTW, I hope you only used one camera for $350...
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Old July 7th, 2011, 09:46 AM   #5
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Complete side note re: AVCHD delivery -

Considering the stupidly cheap price of SDHC (ex: Transcend SDHC cards via someplace like BH Photo or Amazon), I treat it like tape - a consumable that the client pays for and is mailed off never to be touched again by my hands. Really, it's cheaper per hour than HDV masters now, and cheaper than mailing a hard drive.

If the client really doesn't want to pay for the card, I shoot to 8GB cards (each fitting ~1hr footage) and then burn the contents of those to DVD-DL's.


As to your specific incident, IMO it's not worth getting ruffled over $175. Keep checking in with your client, and if in a few weeks/months you still don't hear anything, check in with HIS client (the recital co.) in a laid-back manner (ie, "have you seen the DVD yet, how did it turn out?") and see where things go from there.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 10:25 AM   #6
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

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Originally Posted by David Chilson View Post
Do NOT contact the dance recital company with your $50 Blu Ray offer because as soon as the $175 check shows up, who now looks to be acting in an unethical way? Rest assured the production company WILL find out about what you are attempting to do because more than likely the person you need to contact at the recital company is the same person who is working with the production company that hired you.
The idea wasn't to contact the company without telling him, it was to tell him (if more weeks go by and no check) that I will try to recover the lost money by offering the blu-ray to the dance institute.

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Chilson View Post
On 6/26 you said you were politely "urging him to allow you to put up the footage" and he was slow in responding. Really? It sounds like you are attempting to use the footage he half paid for to compete directly against him. I can see where he may be a little slow to respond and if you don't have a written release from him allowing you to use the footage, then don't.

It wouldn't be too hard for him to turn this around to look like you were hired to do a job and you misued or abused that relationship for personal gain.
No, it doesn't sound like I'm attempting to use the footage he half paid for to compete against him, because we agreed from the very first time we spoke on the phone that I was going to use the footage for promotional purposes. It would be different if we wouldn't have discussed that and then after the recital I ask him to put up the footage on my website. The difference is that we had an agreement about it. Because of that agreement I may be using the footage to compete against him, but he agreed to it. Besides, this is my neck of the woods, I don't intend to send promotional letters to the state he does business in, only in a 60 mile radius around where I live.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 10:32 AM   #7
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

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BTW, I hope you only used one camera for $350...
It was two, but one was static. Was this price about right, or way too cheap? Basically he presented it to me as a take it or leave it deal, and given that I'm just getting started and I don't have any customers, I took it.

So what I gather is that you guys think it would be a bad idea to offer the Blu-ray to the dance institute, because that wasn't the deal with him. But what about putting the footage up on my website? That was the deal I had with him. Maybe I got this wrong, but legally, don't I hold the copyright to that footage even if he hired me for it, since I recorded that footage? I think I read that somewhere, but I'm not totally sure.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 11:23 AM   #8
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Too cheap should go along with your skills, experience and equipment. But if he plans on selling Blu-rays for $50 each, yes, $350 looks low for two HD cameras filming a three hour event.

Legally speaking this situation is messy. No contract, late to no payment etc... I say you put the footage on your website as you both agreed to and call it a day. Use the footage to go to local schools and try to get some business for yourself.

I would not approach the dance school about making a product for this years recital because ethically, they are not your client. But ethics seem to take a back seat these days in so many instances. (not saying you are unethical).
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Old July 7th, 2011, 11:42 AM   #9
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

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Too cheap should go along with your skills, experience and equipment. But if he plans on selling Blu-rays for $50 each, yes, $350 looks low for two HD cameras filming a three hour event.
The $50 Blu-rays were my idea if he didn't pay me the rest. As far as I know, he is selling them DVDs at $40 each, and there were at least two hundred parents there, so he's making a lot of money from this. Had I known that from the beginning, I wouldn't have agreed to do this for such a small amount.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 12:18 PM   #10
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

That is good. No worries though because you gained the experience which is invaluable.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 01:03 PM   #11
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

So I just talked to the guy and he said that he had put the check on the mail today so I should get it soon. About the footage, we argued a bit about it, I told him that the arrangement was that I was going to use the footage for promotional purposes and he reiterated that he wanted me to wait until the parents got their DVDs. I reminded him that I wasn't going to send a letter or call the school or the dance institute that was his customer, so the parents were not going to find out anyway, but he told me that if I let other schools know eventually the parents were going to find out. For reasons that I don't understand, he's totally adamant in not letting me post a short selection of that footage until the parents have their DVDs. I don't get the logic since no parent is going to cancel their DVD because there was a short video online, besides I have to assume that the money collected for DVDs that day was already sent to the production company.

Regardless of disagreeing completely with him, I told me I was going to wait, but urged him to let me put them up online as soon as possible because every day I was losing money. I feel like I made my point, I just didn't want to engage in a bad argument with him because he told me that his contract with the dance institute stipulated that the DVDs were due six weeks after the recital, and this Saturday it will mark the fifth week after the recital. So in theory they should get their DVDs sometime next week and I should be able to put up the footage up. That is, if all he told me is true. At 40 yrs. old, people have made me so cynical I find it hard to trust anybody anymore until I see things happening.

Of course, I told him that next week I was going to send him a written release for him to sign and send me back giving me permission to use the footage for promotional purposes.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 01:36 PM   #12
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Sebastian, If I may chime in here again. If he already gave you permission to post the footage then without a standing contact you can post the footage on your site. So I would not send him anything as this would give him something concrete to deny. To avoid conflict do not put the name of the school, just post it as representative footage of your product.

BTW, dance recital season is over for this year so I do not think you are losing money per se. You will probably get more mileage out of face to face marketing rather than internet posting anyway.

Glad to hear he sent the check. It sounds to me like he is just trying to protect his client from possibly being stolen rather than being up to no good.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 01:50 PM   #13
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

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Sebastian, If I may chime in here again. If he already gave you permission to post the footage then without a standing contact you can post the footage on your site. So I would not send him anything as this would give him something concrete to deny. To avoid conflict do not put the name of the school, just post it as representative footage of your product.

BTW, dance recital season is over for this year so I do not think you are losing money per se. You will probably get more mileage out of face to face marketing rather than internet posting anyway.
I think I will rather wait, at least for a couple more weeks. While he gave me permission verbally, if I go ahead and post the footage and he finds out, he's going to be pissed off and then he could put me in some kind of legal trouble. I don't know this for sure, but for now I'd rather play it safe.

I didn't know there was a dance recital season, but regardless of that, schools have all kinds of events all year long, such as plays. My urgency is that I want to have something that I can show to a school that relates more to them, while not a school plays or gymnastics event, something that was done in a school with kids and teenagers.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 02:22 PM   #14
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Unless there was another agreement (and this all appears to be verbal slop, you've now learned to put things in writing), you would retain copyright to the footage I believe, as the shooter/creator of the footage. There is the argument he owns it because he "paid" you to shoot it, but it'll cost more than is involved to "enforce" this, and NOTHING is in writing.

Doing business on "internet time" causes "laid back" to become "panic" pretty quickly - as you've discovered, thus why you need to "dot your i's and cross your t's"... trying to do business on a handshake is great and all, BUT all the "unmentioned expectations" and "unfulfilled representations" will bite you in the rear every time. Even with a CONTRACT you can still have issues... but pulling out a piece of paper with signatures usually clears things up faster than "but you said"...

I'd wait for the check to CLEAR, then post/link footage. Once you've been paid, your "worries" have ended about getting "burned", there was NO apparent discussion about the timeline for you to use the footage, so there's no issue there. Looks to me like he dragged things out so that you would "agree" to his timeline...

If you were smart when you did the shoot, you probably can contact the studio again since you're "local", and land the gig for next year - it baffles me why they were doing things this way in the first place, but the internet is a strange place. Contracting with an out of state "company" (?! more likely a sole proprietor, IMO) to do a "local" production seems like more hassle than it's worth, but at least you now know there's a market for YOUR services...

As far as producing Blu-Rays... if he's not doing it, it's a competitive advantage for "next time" - perhaps a courtesy promo BR disk to the studio would make you "feel" better about all the hassle this time around... I wouldn't try to offer a competing product on this go round...

You've learned much about getting things in writing, your market, and the potential value/pricing. IMO you're NOT "losing business every day", business comes when it comes, and summer is an off season for many events...


BTW, since you already ran into "issues", be sure to look into all the info on this forum about pitfalls of video'ing school type events... things like releases, shooting coypyrighted material, stuff like that... it ain't as simple as it looks.
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Old July 7th, 2011, 02:54 PM   #15
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Re: Possible problem with out of state production company

Thanks again for your replies. Here's one specific thing I would like your opinions on. It's obvious that I should have done a contract in which it specified all these things and with a proper timeline. In fact for a wedding I did last year I modified a sample contract (I think made available at this website for that purpose) and everything was neat and tidy. But in that case the customers were far easier to deal with and did everything in the right time, including sending the reservation fee months earlier and sending back the signed contract I had sent them shortly after they decided to hire me.

In this case, this guy called me about three weeks before the recital, but he told me he was going to email me the details that same day or the next day. Days passed and I wasn't getting an email from him, so eventually I assumed it wasn't going to happen. But three days before the event I finally got that email. At that point, unless I spent in overnight, I wasn't going to be able to get a contract out to him before the event, and even then he wasn't going to be able to get it back to me signed before the event.

So how would you have handled the contract part of it?

And, another question. This experience makes me think it's a good idea to request payment right before the event starts to avoid this kind of late payment problems. Is that the way it's usually done in this industry? Would customers normally agree to do it that way, or would I lose customers because they want to pay the balance when they receive the final product?
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