The crew deal memo is a form that provides protection between the production company (or financier) and crew. While it’s quite simple finding a crew deal memo template online, you’ll need to be careful with using those because they often use certain clauses and stipulations favoring one party over the other.
In this article, I’ll be breaking down the various clauses on a crew deal memo and ways to ensure that both parties benefit appropriately.
Before filling out your crew
As a UPM (Unit Production Manager), you must decide between having the entire crew use the production company’s deal memo template or allowing the crew to turn in their own.
By accepting union or non-union crew deal memos, it becomes your responsibility to make sure it agrees with the production company’s expectations.
1. General Information
This section specifies the Production Company, Film Title, Start/End Dates, Position, Name and Information (and sometimes Social Security or Federal ID Numbers).
Along with the crew member’s rate, the Compensation section should specify the form of payment either as a gross fee, monthly, weekly, or day rate.
For production crew, the pay is typically a day rate, with overtime provisions added.
3. Terms and Conditions of Employement
This section is where you’ll fill out the contractor’s name (or their loan out company) and that of the production company, film or producers.
In the era of independent filmmaking, it’s often the filmmaker’s name.
This states that the crew member will do the best job possible during the time period stated in the agreement.
Does your shoot require travel? If it does, then your crew may request travel day rates which, if under six hours, are often half their day rate.
The rules are a bit more intricate with union. SAG considers any drive over an hour as on the clock, and any travel day (such as flying) as a full day rate, plus a travel stipend of around $60 per travel day.
6. Food and Provisions
Some deal memo templates will specify meal provisions for travel days, in which the crew is owed three meals per day or a penalty of around $15-30 per meals missed.
These are typically what you’ll negotiate the most with crew members who are bringing their own kits or packages to your production. Often times, even a DP (Director of Photography) who brings his or her own camera gear will also want to be paid for it! Here’s a glossary of grip and gaffer equipment you may find in a package.
It’s critical to negotiate what the daily or weekly rate will be, and what type of insurance, if any, will be provided by production. Pay super close attention to the latter point.
Unless it’s specified, the production company could be responsible for paying for the loss or damages of a crew member’s expensive materials, whether at fault or not.
8. Payment Schedule
Some deal memo templates will break down the payment schedule even further and specify half upfront and half upon delivery (or that it’s paid on an exact date).
It’s important that your crew clearly understands when their payment will be delivered!
The last you thing want is for your crew to demand payment upon wrap when you actually intended for a 30-day window.
This would leave you scrambling to ensure the money’s available while avoiding an overdraft against your tied up expenses (such as security deposits).
9. Immigration Reform
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal for companies to knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Due to its Federal Statute, some companies require their contractors or employees to provide proof of US Citizenships via official documentation.
For more information, please check out U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.
10. Car Insurance
This is rarely offered for talent and crew unless their vehicles are used as Picture Cars.
On independent productions, where the Picture Car is also used for travel to and from set, you could specify that the Picture Car is no longer covered on off-hours.
If your crew is driving more than an hour to set, it’s appropriate to provide gas reimbursement.
The IRS Standard Mileage Rates for Business is set at 0.54/mile and is required for larger productions. Even if you’re on a smaller production, any reimbursement would be appreciated by your crew!
This could come in the form of a daily/weekly/monthly rate and paid in cash or added to their paychecks. However it’s handled, it needs to be noted in this section of the deal memo template.
It’s in production company’s best interest to specify that all purchases made must be pre-approved by the production company.
While many expendables (such as batteries, gaffers tape, black wrap, etc.) can only be used for a single production and should be provided to the crew. The truth is that you don’t want to find yourself receiving a surprise invoice for thousands of dollars worth of purchases on account of failing to explain what’s covered.
It is best to meet with each department head, communicate what production will specifically pay for, and have your department heads pass this onto their crews.
13. Production Company Equipment
This is often a contentious stipulation because some crew members will take issue with being responsible for production company equipment, rather than having a production assistant or coordinator keep track of them.
On nearly every production I’ve worked on, there has always been at least one missing walkie talkie, and rarely will anyone fess up to losing it!
A common balance is to specify that responsibility will occur under gross negligence. For example, if a crew member forgets it at a bar after work, runs over it with his car, etc.
If budget allows, it’s best to assign a PA to be responsible for checking out and checking in all walkies each day, helping to avoid any damages or loss during off-production hours.
14. Screen credit
This describes the size, type, font and placement of a crew member’s credit on screen.
I suggest making sure the crew understands their screen credit and that it could change at the production’s discretion.
You don’t want to have an unpleasant conversation with a 2nd Unit DP who thought his reshoots provided him with a single title card in the opening and closing credits.
This is especially true of performers, whether in SAG or non-union, will want certain positioning in their title credits and typically requesting a Single Title Card (i.e. their name alone).
Bottom line: the more detailed you can get with how people will be credited, the better.
This ensures the Contractor knows their employment is temporary.
It specifies the amount of notice the Production Company must provide the Contractor in the event of termination. It usually defines reasons for termination, such as using drugs and alcohol on set, gross negligence, etc.
“Kill Fees”, if any, will also be included in this section. These fees occur in the event of termination and improper notice (typically 24 hours or less).
Make sure you and the Contractor have a clear understanding, otherwise you’ll end up paying a day’s rate or more.
16. No Waiver
This indicates the terms of the film crew contract is in no way amendable or able to be revised by the Contractor, unless agreed upon by both parties.
17. Work For Hire
This states that the Contractor will in no way own a percentage of, or is entitled to, anything beyond the payment he or she is due as defined in the crew deal memo template.
While you don’t want to be calling anyone in the middle of the night or on off-days, emergency situations do occur that require getting ahold of various crew members.
While “reasonable” is a subjective term, use your best judgment when an urgent situation arises.
If your request is unreasonable, you should talk to your contractor about his or her expectations and adjust accordingly.
While most crew and performers won’t mind allowing you full disclosure to use their voice, picture, and likeness in promotional work, make sure you clarify how, when, and where this will occur in the deal memo template.
Again, the more specific you are the better, especially since the use could occur on blogs, magazines, trades, trailers, books, media and news stories.
In the age of social media and iPhones, another great provision is making sure everyone knows they can be photographed or recorded at any time, by anyone.
On the flip side, some productions want to keep a very tight lid on information leaking out.
So in this case, you’ll need to specify that crew or performers are prohibited from publishing any videos or photos captured on set.
Personally, I think the more buzz you can build on social media the better, but there are some projects that demand secrecy.
20. Arbitration Clause
The most telling sign of someone finding a deal memo template online and failing to read it, is when the clause that decides how and where disputes will be resolved, takes place in a state or country that differs from where Production “resides.”
You should pay close attention to this section in the crew deal memo as dealing with an international legal system can become a very big and possibly unnecessary headache.
21. Entire Agreement
This means everything agreed upon by the parties is covered in the deal memo, and any additional discussions that existed beyond what the memo specifies doesn’t count.
As you can see from above, these stipulations can be worded a multitude of ways and occupy most of the deal memo templates.
It’s always best to have a lawyer create or review any and all of these provisions. Do not try and write them yourself as you could find yourself in muddy water if disputes arise!
When in doubt, ask your production company for clarity and/or recommend amendments or changes as you see best fit.
To securely backup your crew contracts and crew deal memos, check out StudioBinder.
22. No Obligation To Produce
This simply means production is in no way obligated to release the film or use the services provided by the contractor.
This provision is a safety net in the event a contractor or their work fails to meet your expectations.
For example, if you hire a film composer who fails to write the appropriate score, this provision allows you to avoid using the work or giving them credit on the film.
This means you can assign the terms of the agreement to another individual or production company.
For example, if a new production company is hired midway through the shoot or the production company is sold to another.
This ensures the deal memo stays in place.
24. Hold Harmless
This protects the production company against any loss, claim, liability, cost, or expense they have accrued for any breach or default.
It protects them against contractors who want to hold them responsible for any losses or damages they incur throughout production, such as to their equipment, car, etc. that’s otherwise not specified in the film crew contract.
While deal memo templates and crew contracts aren’t terribly complicated matters, they’re often the only thing protecting a production company from disputes.
It’s fine to negotiate things like mileage, pay, and travel days, but be mindful in regards to discussing the legal jargon, as one ill-typed revision could be disastrous.
Finally, take your time to understand each section, ask questions, and seek legal advice when you’re unable to find a proper answer.
A simple mistake on these film crew contracts could make all the difference in the world!
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