Q: I’m a producer and am doing a small low budget film. I’m wrapping up some of my actor agreements right now, and one of my actors, who’s had a few bit parts in some straight-to-DVD movies, has asked for a “stop date.” I’m pretty sure I know what that means and think I’m okay giving him one but are there any aspects to a stop date I should be wary of?
A: I’ve been on a few “stop dates” in my day. I show up at my date’s door and she says “stop,” turns around and shuts the door. Luckily those days are past because I’m a hotshot entertainment attorney with a popped collar (oh, and I’m married with two kids).
Your stop date, of course, has nothing to do with the preceding terrible joke. It’s a protection that actors may ask for but may not always get. Unfortunately, “stop date” is another term that’s bandied about in the industry as though it means something concrete, when in fact it means whatever it’s defined to mean in an agreement. Therefore, your first lesson, if you decide to give your actor a stop date, is to clearly define exactly what is being stopped on that date.
A stop date may mean that you as the producer can require absolutely no further services of the actor after that date. In other words, you can’t extend principal photography beyond that date. Nor could your require any post-production, reshoots, or even publicity services of the actor. As a producer, this is exactly the type of stop date you do not want. Let’s say during the editing process, you realize that your sound guy was drunk during one of your actor’s scenes. Your actor looks great, his face is superbly emotive, but he sounds like he’s trapped at the bottom of a Coke can like some over-sugared genie. You either need to reshoot the scene or, at the very least, get your actor to do some dubbing. However, you’re past the stop date. Theoretically he has no obligation do the reshoot or to even roll out of bed and dub the scene. This, of course, would not be the case if there was no stop date in place because every actor agreement should have language stating that even after principal photography, the actor agrees to do any additional services required by the production (in most cases, for additional pay, if the additional services go over a certain pre-negotiated time period).
A much less oppressive stop date for you would be a stop date that applies only to principal photography services. Let’s say you require the actor’s principal photography services for 5 weeks. This will be stated in the contract. However, it will also state that he will be required to perform any other principal photography services as may be required. The actor’s services will be exclusive during these periods of principal photography so he could not work on any other productions. Therefore, if your actor has another job lined up after your movie but is afraid any additional principal photography services could prevent him from doing that job, he may want a stop date, after which you can require no more exclusive principal photography services from him (but other non-exclusive services, such as post-production and publicity, will still be required, just subject to his availability — as discussed below).
If you’re willing to give such a stop date, be wary of how close it is to your scheduled principal photography services. If you’ve got 15 weeks of principal photography services, a stop date that’s a week after the scheduled completion date probably doesn’t give you enough of a cushion because, chances are, something may go wrong in a 15-week shoot and require more than 1 additional week. If it’s a 3-week shoot, on the other hand, a stop date a week later is not nearly as risky, all things being equal.
Some actors believe they need a stop date because, by not having one, they think they will be perpetually and exclusively obligated to a film which may prevent them from working other jobs. This is not the case. Any decent actor’s representative is going to make sure that all services that may be required of that actor not immediately after the end of principal photography (such as reshoots, post production, dubbing, publicity, etc.) will be subject to the actor’s availability. We could write another blog on what levels of “availability” an actor’s rep may argue for, but for our purposes today, you can assume an actor will at least want the scheduling of such additional services to be subject to his or her professional availability. In other words, they are only obligated to perform such services when they are professionally available. If your actor has such language, he can go get another job. If you need his services, you’ll have to work around his work schedule. Because he can get another job, he may not really need his stop date.
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.