Saturday, January 07, 2012


I'm writing this post for the benefit of Sheridan animation students and grads, but it may prove useful to others.

If you are not on salary or working under a contract and somebody asks you to produce some art or animation, here are the things you need to know in writing before you start work.

  • How much will you be paid and what is the payment schedule?
  • Are there royalties or other compensation you are entitled to in the future?
  • What are the specifics of the work you are providing?
  • What format are you delivering the work in?
  • When is the work due?

Then there is the question of rights. What exactly are you selling in exchange for the money?

  • Are you selling the work outright?
  • Are you selling the work only for a specific use?
  • Are you selling the work for a limited amount of time?
  • Is the sale for exclusive or non-exclusive rights to use the work?
  • Will the artist get screen credit or be allowed to sign the work?

If the client provides this information in a written document, you have the right to ask for changes to anything that is specified. The client has the right to say no, but so do you. An agreement implies that both parties (the client and the artist) see eye to eye on conditions under which the work will be produced.

You also have the right to consult a lawyer, agent or other professional on the agreement before signing it.

There is a tendency for artists to be so thrilled that somebody wants their work that they skip all of the above or worse, they agree to work on spec. Spec work, (work done on speculation), means that the artist produces work for a client with no promise of payment. There are also cases where a client promises no money but offers the benefit of experience or exposure.

There is a word that describes working for free: slavery. Slavery can only occur through force, which we have not yet sunk to in North America, or complicity, where the artist agrees to be a slave.

There are occasions where artists may choose to work for free. Work gets donated to a charity or done to help a friend or family member. But if a profit making company is asking for artwork, they should pay for it and all of the above conditions should be met.

Please note that the above is different from pitching. In that case, you are creating the artwork for yourself and hope to interest a buyer in it. If no payment is forthcoming, you are free to take that artwork elsewhere to try to market it. Doing free work for yourself is different than doing free work at the request of a profit-making company.

I'm going to talk about two instances that I've been consulted on in the recent past. I have to be vague so as not to break any confidences.

In the first case, a distributor was interested in a student film made by a Sheridan graduate. The distributor wanted non-exclusive theatrical rights and exclusive rights for DVD, TV, internet and merchandising. In exchange for these rights, the distributor was willing to pay $50. I told the grad that for the low fee, none of the rights should be exclusive. If the grad had the opportunity to sell the film again in any market, he should be able to do it. The student asked for changes to the contract and the rights were made non-exclusive.

In the second case, a Sheridan grad was commissioned by a company to produce a film for a fee. When the film was delivered, the grad was told that the person who commissioned the film didn't have authorization to do it. The company was sorry and felt bad about it, but could only offer the grad half the agreed upon fee as a gesture of good will. The grad asked me for advice. I warned the grad that if she made a fuss, there was a chance that the company would refuse all payment. The grad wanted to proceed anyway, so I counseled the grad to tell them that she had an email from a company employee and she looked upon that as a contract. If there was a problem, it was between the company and the employee, not the company and her. If they didn't pay her in full, she would publicize the fact that the company had ripped her off and would warn other artists not to do work for the company. Furthermore, if the company didn't pay the full fee and used the work, she would sue the company for copyright infringement.

The company responded that they regretted her aggressive tone. This is known as blaming the victim. However, they did agree to pay the full fee.

There is no shortage of companies looking to take advantage of young artists. It is important to understand the proper way to do business, demanding a signed, written agreement that covers the payment, the rights, the deadline and the deliverables before the artwork is created. Your art and your time are what you are selling as a professional. If you work for free or don't proceed in a professional manner, you are merely a hobbyist and you are hurting people who are professionals.


Amber said...

This is all fantastic advice, thank you.

Nicholas Hong said...

Thank you for sharing great information,Mark!

Jean Liang said...

wow thankyou for this information!

Anonymous said...

Good and kind sir,,,

Where were you with this kind of info for us 25-39yrs old current gaming and hand drawn animators of say 10 years ago ????????

And might I add the current animators union of any section of the U.S. is still very, very weak and pathetic and has been since the days of our animation union history since the 1960's with then runaway cel and paint services provided by the country of PHILIPENES............

We are secretly colloraborting and will be striking for better union wages and production rights and resbonsiblties within the next 6 months.....not because we want to, but only becuase we younger animators have no choice against very weak union leadership[s].....

current employed union assitant animator for a large corp...

Arpan Jolly said...

This is great help. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

That info has always been available, and made clear, obvious, and repeatedly published by the MPSC 839 for decades. The U.S. animation union is weak because it's made up of so-called-members more interested in themselves than the union. Not the leadership. Get involved.

One major point not made as clear as it could (getting a lawyer is a good, although sometimes scary and cost prohibitive route) is to GET THINGS IN WRITING. It will NOT always guarantee everything, but it's a pretty good thing to have when push comes to shove.

paul said...

great post mark!

I always worked with a deal memo that states much of the agreement between myself and the studio or individual who is paying for my services.

everything is spelled out clearly as to what each party must provide. This allows for almost no miscommunication as parties must sign the said document. This is being professional.

And to ANON. this kind of information is always available, pick up the phone and call the union office. I was with the guild ten years ago...had no problem getting any info I needed. Be proactive.

Rodney Baker said...

Thanks for spreading the word on this serious aspect of 'the biz'. It's a tough subject but in your case, straightforwardly told.

If we heard this said more frequently, perhaps we'd all be more successful in our freelance efforts.

Anonymous said...

"secretly colloraborting?"

Good one. There's no such THING as a "secret strike."

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the corlabrative mis-spells now or in future posts, but our animation passion is there.

We younger animators don't want to start a hissy pissy fight on this or any other forum....

But still the lack of respect for us is there.

We are still going to take the bullets [both policial and for real,] as well as jail time for our animation occupy type of strike[s].

Thanks and my god bless us all for not being arrogant with animation testasdorone of sorts, for a better future for every one of us.


Anonymous said...

Good. That will leave more jobs for mature, experienced artists. We're not young enough to know everything.

Anonymous said...

curious to know your thoughts on this:

seems to me like SM is just walking away with a bushel full of character designs -which they then own- by staging this "contest". why would sheridan agree to do this?

Mark Mayerson said...

The animation faculty was against this and it was done over the faculty's objections.

The faculty is doing its best to educate the students about predatory business practices.

Anonymous said...

"We are secretly colloraborting and will be striking for better union wages and production rights and resbonsiblties within the next 6 months.....not because we want to, but only becuase we younger animators have no choice against very weak union leadership[s]....."

OBVIOUSLY this didn't happen, primarily due to naive and immature notions