Q&A: Now That My Movie Has Wrapped, Can I Be Forced to Act More for Free?

Q:  I’m an actor and I finished shooting a movie about a month ago.  I’ve started preparing for an upcoming role in another movie but I just got called back to shoot an “added scene” on the last one.  They’re telling me that under my contract, I have to do it.  I was okay with it at first but then found out that they’re not going to pay me anything.  This is going to interfere with my preparation for my upcoming movie but I have to do it and I won’t be getting paid?  How can this be?

A:  This being L.A. and you being an actor, I’m just going to assume that you won’t mind me telling our audience a little bit about your salary (this is, after all, the land of guys wearing sunglasses indoors writing their phone numbers on the back of their ATM balance receipts).  Based on what you’ve told me, I believe you must be a “Schedule F” actor, meaning that you’re making at least $65k for your acting services on your last movie.  Being “Schedule F” means, among other things, that you’re being paid enough that your total salary will cover all of the services required of you (as opposed to being paid at a daily or weekly rate).If you take a look at your acting agreement, I bet you’ll see a provision that outlines the estimated number of weeks of principal photography.  You then will probably see one of two things.  You may see that you’re obligated to provide services for an additional period of “free” post-production services.  Even though it’s called “post-production,” however, it may be defined as including “re-shoots” and “added scenes” or the like (in addition to traditional post-production services such as “dubbing” and “looping”).

If you don’t see that, you may instead see language stating that in addition to your principal photography obligations, you have an additional obligation to provide a number of “free” days or weeks of services as the producer may require.

Due to the fact that you’re being called back several weeks after wrapping principal photography, we can assume that regardless of how the provision is worded, your agreement states that your “free” days/weeks need not be consecutive to principal photography (meaning they can call you back after principal photography wraps).

If you have a “free” “non-consecutive” provision in your agreement like one of the provisions described above, you do indeed have an obligation to provide your services in connection with these reshoots and, unfortunately, you’re not entitled to any additional compensation.

The question remains:  do you have to fly out there right now and disrupt your preparation for your upcoming role?  Perhaps your next role is as a morbidly obese man and to prove your range, you’re spending your days traveling to state fairs and subsisting on nothing but deep fried Twinkies and Krispy Kreme burgers.  Again, whether your obligation is immediate depends on the contract language.

Generally, if an actor is required to perform services that are not consecutive with their principal photography obligations, there is language in the agreement stating that any “non-consecutive” services are “subject to” the actor’s availability.  The specific language describing the level of availability is important.  For example, if it’s only subject to your “professional commitments,” you can argue that preparation for your next role is a professional commitment and, thus, you shouldn’t have to provide services for the added scene until you are truly free to do so (post trans-fat detox).  If, on the other hand, it’s subject to your “prior contractual obligations,” for example, you may be out of luck, unless you’re contractually obligated to prepare for your role under your agreement for your next movie.

If you’re a Schedule F actor, look out for these non-consecutive, free obligations in your agreements.  You may not be able to avoid them, but you can ask for a few things to help yourself (although you may not be able to get them).  First, you obviously want to keep the length of your obligations at a minimum (e.g., three days is better for you than two weeks).  Next, if possible, don’t allow the producer to group reshoots or added scenes into the post-production definition.  If such services are not included as part of your “free” post-production obligation, you will at least get paid overages if you’re called upon to provide such services.  Finally, make sure any non-consecutive services are subject to the easiest level of availability to meet (e.g., subject to your “professional availability” is much better for you than subject to your “prior contractual obligations in the entertainment industry”).

This blog was originally published as part of Legal Ease, Film Independent’s weekly column on legal matters pertaining to the entertainment industry. To see other LEGAL EASE columns please click here.

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