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What to do when you don't get paid?

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#1 Scott Baker

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 07:44 PM

Hi All,

2013 was my first year working as a legitimate freelance Steadicam op.

I had some really great experiences and worked on some outstanding projects but one of them failed to pay me everything I was owed.

It was an indy feature and I worked 10 days out of the 20 or so they shot.

Their payroll cut me a check for the first 2 days I worked but then I never got paid for the following 8.  I gave it a couple weeks as I was busy on other jobs and whatnot and when I still hadn't received anything, I contacted them and they responded that they had to fire their UPM because he had mismanaged the money and they went over budget.  

They had no money to pay me.

In December, the director/co-producer told me they were speaking with other investors and hoped to have something soon to pay me.

I contacted them last week, same story.

 

I asked if, in the meantime, I could get a copy of some of my work to update my reel and he said he couldn't until the film comes out in June due to contractual obligations with the other producers/investors.

 

I have a deal memo stating the terms of my agreement with them.

 

Has anyone had similar experience?

How is best to resolve this?

Can I put a lien on the film, preventing it from getting sold until I get paid?

 

thanks!

-Scott


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#2 Tom Wills

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Posted 27 January 2014 - 08:18 PM

The no footage for the reel doesn't surprise me - It's really bad form to post footage before a film is released, and it can affect distribution deals, so not giving you the footage is their safest way to protect themselves on that front. It happens, even though it's obviously not fun, especially if the film eventually tanks and never gets released, and you never get the footage.

In terms of them not paying you, perhaps you could start with reminding them that as you have not been paid, your copyright claim to the footage has not been passed on to them, and therefore they cannot release or sell the film, and that you will begin legal proceedings against them soon. You'll burn the bridge and probably never work with that producer again, but a producer who says they can't pay their crew isn't a producer you want to work with again.
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#3 Osvaldo Silvera SOC

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Posted 28 January 2014 - 01:46 AM

I was just going to mention the "you own the copyright" thing. You may start looking for an entertainment attorney who may want to take the case on contingency, but then again, when they do pay you, now you have a lawyer to pay a percentage to for writing the "legal" letter to them. What Tom mentioned is right, you'll burn the bridge and erode the foundation on both banks, but hey that's what you sometimes have to do.

 AND PS, get yourself an onboard recorder and never have to ask for footage again. But under no circumstances ever add footage to your reel until the project is released.

 See if you can find out from call sheets,, etcc who the distributor is or any of the investors. Send them your invoice for the outstanding money's owed. When they contact you asking "whats this?" , kindly, very kindly, let them know you haven't been paid and you don't want to keep a hold of the copyright claim any longer, they'll ask, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?", Let them know you have rights to your footage until you get paid and your deal memo is cancelled.. Things will start rolling in your favor.....or You'll have a great story to tell about how you own part of a film that was never released.

 Keep flying safe!


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#4 William Demeritt

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Posted 28 January 2014 - 02:30 AM

I usually refer to the whole copyright claim as "the nuclear option": once you use it, there's no going back. Make certain that you know how serious your claim is when you make it, and follow through on it. While it does serious damage, in my opinion, it also strikes a fear of god into the minds of clients who are often far too cavalier with their dealings with cameramen. 

 

I've had to use "the nuclear option" three times now. Here's a copy of a portion of the email I sent the production company that failed to pay me per the terms of my deal memo. I was told this was forwarded to the individuals up the stream who were dragging their feet or withholding payment from the production company with whom I was working, and payment was remitted within 24 hours: 

 

 

...

I am given the impression that the agency or [COMPANY WITHHELD] (or both) have failed to fulfill their financial obligation to you, which results in failure to pay [my 1st AC] or myself. I don't feel comfortable continuing to delay the terms of our agreement for the work performed over a month ago. I honestly do hope that [COMPANY WITHHELD] or [COMPANY WITHHELD] was legitimately delayed for simple reasons, and by next week this will all be water under the bridge.

 
However, I feel obligated at this point to make clear my intentions. 
 
If by Friday, January 17, 2014, I don't have some material assurance that my payment is en route, I'll have no choice but to draft a cease and desist letter to [COMPANY WITHHELD] as well as [COMPANY WITHHELD] for failure to pay resulting in copyright infringement, namely all footage I shot used on [COMPANY WITHHELD]'s current marketing campaign.
 
My cease and desist order will be accompanied by takedown notices at YouTube for the relevant videos currently on the [COMPANY WITHHELD] channel, which collectively have close to 200,000 views.
 
Please don't misinterpret this as anything personal. The last thing I want to do is sour a blossoming relationship with two people I enjoy working with professionally and personally. I don't like the situation we're in, and I tried to avoid it...
 
I hope this serves as ammo with which you tell [COMPANY WITHHELD] that payment needs to be made, OR [COMPANY WITHHELD] needs to make other arrangements to fulfill the obligation to [my 1st AC] and I so you can continue to pursue [COMPANY WITHHELD] and [COMPANY WITHHELD] as necessary how you see fit. Only satisfactory completion of the terms of our employment will avert this action, requiring some material assurance of payment to be made by Friday, January 17, 2014. 

Best regards

 

The moral of the story: having a lawyer draft a cease and desist letter is expensive. Threatening to have someone ready to write a cease and desist order and send it to whatever purchasing agent they may be discussing distribution possibilities with works great too! When negotiating the distribution, the property carrying debt and potential copyright liabilities can drive down the purchase price.

 

Aaaaanyway, please don't use my email as a template. That was a very friendly version of what I've threatened elsewhere to companies which I had no allegiance, personal or professional. The importance is conveying 1) you're right, and 2) you're serious. Until you're satisfied, they don't have property to sell, and that's a very unstable position.

 

The cost of a copyright action is EXPENSIVE, and it's a slam dunk for you. They have every reason to just pay you what you're owed, which is definitely cheaper than the lawsuit. 

 

In the words of Joe Pesci: "F**k you, pay me."


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#5 GrantCulwell

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Posted 28 January 2014 - 02:49 AM

I agree with everything everyone has said so far. The only thing I could add is to contact the Labor Board. They can assist you by answering questions and providing information as to what steps you can take. Good luck. Unfortunately, I think we've all been there at least once and we all know how bad it sucks.


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#6 Scott Baker

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Posted 28 January 2014 - 03:06 AM

Thanks all for the responses.

I'll report back.


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#7 Sanjay Sami

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 10:59 PM

Send a few Grips and Riggers to lurk outside the Production Managers house after dark. That works in India. Legal notices get chucked straight into the dustbin.


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#8 Benjamin Treplin

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 03:56 AM

I was in the same situation lately. Invoiced produktion Nov. 27th last year. Talked to them on the phone several times. Sending one friendly reminder and one reminder stating that a debt collecting agency will take over if they don't pay by a certain date.

Guess what, they payed me after they got a letter from the collecting agency. That was last Friday.

The debt collecting agency is not only collecting, they do ranking as well. Usually just mentioning the agency name get production up to speed.

This was the first time I had to go down that route.


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#9 JensSchroeder

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 11:46 PM

I like Sanjay's solution. You sure should try the legal road but sometines... Last year a colleague , after talking to the production several months , used a gentleman from a well-known motorcycle-'club' who just talked to the production manager in person. Just letting him know that there was an open invoice.
It cost him 500,- but the invoice was immediately paid.
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#10 Victor Lazaro

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Posted 01 March 2014 - 09:51 PM

Hi all I have a job that has been reluctant to pay as well (over 73 days since the shoot and the check is still not sent). The music video is supposed to come out for SXSW and I would love to know what I can do to stop them if they don't pay me. Do you know any legal person I could contact in New York to pressure the production.

The DP and the 1AD are still waiting on payment as well. 

Thank you for all your help, this is getting a bit critical.


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#11 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 01 March 2014 - 10:53 PM

A simple "demand letter" is a good place to start. Keep it factual and professional but outline your intention to take further action if not paid by a certain date. Google demand letter for more info.
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#12 Victor Lazaro

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Posted 18 March 2014 - 09:49 AM

Hi I'm currently in this situation with a large NYC production. It has now been 90 days since the shoot and the finance department is unresponsive. 

Now the video is out (released at SXSW) and I'm still waiting on the money. Grrrr


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#13 John atkinson

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 08:36 AM

There will be times when you will never recover money.  After 18 years I get about one per year.  You begin the recognize a situation on the first phone call.  An Indy production is high on the radar.  You may just chalk this one up to learning experience.  Never threaten legal action.  Never burn a bridge.  I have had great success with collection agency.  If they really don't have any money, no method will succeed.

 

JA


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#14 Victor Lazaro

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 09:00 AM

I ended up showing up at the production offices along with the gaffer, 1AD and DP. We got paid but some other crew members are still waiting.
It seems to be a routine thing with that NYC production to delay payment, I heard of two other people having issues with them (including another Steadicam op) PM me to know the prod's name.
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#15 Alfeo Dixon SOC

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 11:41 AM

Victor, glad it worked out for you, but in that very situation, you could have sent a very proper letter to SXSW stating that copyrights have not been released to said company due to unpaid crew members which respectively hold copyrights as "a collective body of work," if this work is displayed without the express written consent of the "Collective Copyright Holders," we shall seek damages.

 

What many people forget, is that even a PA that has a deal memo which was not fulfilled, then they still have collective rights to the work

 

Nothing like not having a big screening that did not happen because of a few unpaid wages.


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