I was looking for a freelancer...now I have a collaborator?
February 21, 2021 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I received a grant for a dream project, and it involves hiring a few freelancers. The grant wasn't much so the pay is low and might as well be pro bono. But it would be a cool project to list on a resume. One freelancer is really excited about this project and is bringing a lot of ideas to the table. Are they now considered a collaborator?

I will be upfront and say that I want to own this project because it is a culmination of many of my ideas from the past decade. I had a very clear vision for it, but know I'm not an expert in the parts of the project where I am hiring freelancers.

The backbone of this project is literary, and involves a lot of upfront labor (won't go into details for privacy, but let's say this is 20 hrs/wk of literary and admin work spread over 6 months).

The final product is a film featuring the writing. I onboarded a filmmaker and they are very excited and bringing in a lot of ideas, which felt great...until it didn't. They are aware of the low pay and suggested fundraising, and I have been going along with it, but no money has been raised.

There is some potential to be able to pay them and all the other freelancers about 80% of market rate instead of the current 10-15%, which is great! But after sitting on this for a few days, I realized that I would continue to be paid 10% of my market rate.

Also in the process of fundraising, discussing the contract I drew up which hasn't been signed, and credits, I realized how little I know about each of these things. The way the project is being presented to potential funders is that this is "our unique collaboration". And we would be co-directors and co-producers. Some of this makes sense and I'm okay with sharing credit on the film credits, but I'm feeling really uncomfortable with the "ours" part - partly because I don't know how to think about this.

Regarding money, do I eat the cost of being paid less since this is my dream project or do I try to pay myself fairly? If we receive additional money from their connections with organizations, do they get more say in how the funding is used (again, even though this is under my project)?

Once the film is made, how do I make clear that it's mine within the contract, in conversations, and simply in the setup/framing of their part of the work (e.g., do we stop fundraising together)? Or is this the nature of interdisciplinary work and I need to adjust my expectations and start thinking about this project with them as my co-collaborator?

Additional wrench: they stated that they have a romantic interest in me. I said that this project is my priority and I am interested in them too, but dating may have to wait until after this project is over. They said they would respect my boundary either way I decide to handle dating, and I do plan on telling them that dating is definitely off the table until the project is over when we talk again. I see their interest in me as complicating everything above.
posted by mild deer to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you need to have a conversation about some very hard and clear boundaries. First, figure out exactly what you want out of the work side of things. How much do you want to be paid? How do you want contributors to be credited? Paid? Exactly what is their role?

Then you need all of this in the contract, then you need the contract signed. Ideally this would already have happened but given that it hasn’t, have a think, a chat with a lawyer and then a chat with this person about their part to play. Once things are clear and you’ve thrashed that out, they need to sign the contract. This could get very very messy very fast, legally and otherwise and that’s just with the romance taken off the table, which is a seperate conversation.

Expect pushback from your team member about some of this. Figure out what you’re prepared to negotiate on and what you’re not, but remember get it in the contract.

The way you have it set up now, your team gets paid 80% of what they’re worth, gets credit as co producers and gets to decide how to spend additional funds. You on the other hand, who have been working on this for years, get 10% of what you’re worth, and give away ownership and credit to others for your concept who haven’t put in as much work (it seems).

They’re muscling in on your territory and taking over and the cynical part of me looks at it and thinks they’re wooing you romantically as a way to get you to ignore what’s happening here professionally and allow them to get away with it. I hope I’m wrong but it’s sending up orange flags. Keep your wits about you.

Anyway, first things first, a conversation about the business side of things and table the romantic side until it’s all over. I should add, part of the reason they may not be clear on their role and boundaries is because you’re not, so the lines are blurring. You need to make both your roles clear now so there’s no confusion.
posted by Jubey at 11:28 PM on February 21 [13 favorites]

Can you clarify the timeline here? How long have you been working together, how long have you known each other, and how much work have they already done? Also, how many freelancers/collaborators do you have at this point?

Who would be doing the bulk of the directing? I feel like movies usually get associated with their directors more than anyone else, though I don't know if that applies to the kind of project you're working on.
posted by trig at 3:52 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

I'll confess that I don't have a clear picture of all the details but I don't think this person is the right collaborator for you. They're all up in your boundaries (professional and personal!), and you sound like you're getting steamrolled. That may be on them or it may be on you, but either way I don't think this is going to work out in a way that you're happy or comfortable with.
posted by mskyle at 4:49 AM on February 22 [8 favorites]

Depending on the timeline, the romantic component seems at least yellow-flag-y to me. Of course people who are romantically involved sometimes produce art together, but it seems like the potentially healthy ways for that to happen would be either a) they were romantically involved and then started collaborating or b) they were collaborating and (mutually) fell in love with each other while collaborating. This person initiating or trying to initiate around the time they are getting brought into a project seems questionable.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:59 AM on February 22

Response by poster: Can you clarify the timeline here? How long have you been working together, how long have you known each other, and how much work have they already done? Also, how many freelancers/collaborators do you have at this point?

I applied for this grant last winter/spring. Project started this January and ends this June. I both met and onboarded them within a few days at the end of January. I hired one other person so far. I was thinking of hiring one more person to edit, but the filmmaker is suggesting that we hire 3-4 more people for other things (hence needing more money).

Other than the fundraising part and reaching out to other artists to freelance since they have a big network the matches the project's needs. Filmmaker has done nothing that I'm aware of.

Who would be doing the bulk of the directing?

I thought it would be me, but I didn't even think in these terms before I met them. I just thought I have X idea of what the film would look like and I'm hiring a film person to execute that. But now filmmaker has grand visions that sound great - I'm just not sure we can get that done by June. However, I think under the more "simple" and original vision, I would be doing all the directing.
posted by mild deer at 5:06 AM on February 22

I think you need to formalize some titles here, among other things. Filmmaking is inherently collaborative and should be regarded as such, and it’s important to acknowledge people’s contributions. But if what you want is to be, say, the screenwriter and director and executive producer, then make that very clear to your collaborators and let them decide if this is the right project for them. If you aren’t sure how filmmaking roles work, I think you need to find some movies of a similar scope and scale to what you have in mind and take a look at their credits and do some research on what the various roles mean practically in the context of small films.

There’s also a difference between who made a thing and who owns the thing — who owns the copyright, who has the right to distribute the film, who is able to negotiate other rights relating to the film. The particulars of how this works are out of my depth in this context, but you likely need an entertainment contract lawyer to help you draw something up and then get everyone to sign it before you go much further.

In my experience with this kind of small project, where freelancers are hired in service of someone’s creative vision, pay is related to those rights. If you will own all the rights to your work, and your freelancers are getting few if any royalties from any future profits related to the work, then they should be getting paid more than you up front because you’re benefiting disproportionately from the success of the project. But again, the business norms of small films are very specific, and an experienced entertainment lawyer would probably be a lot of help here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:29 AM on February 22 [8 favorites]

My only experience of filmmaking is as an occasional actor, but the roles on the few things I’ve been in have been very clear. It doesn’t sound like they are here. They should be, especially if you start to get more people on board.

You need to be very clear about who the director is. “Filmmaker” isn’t really a useful definition of a role. What, exactly, have you hired this person to do? Do they have the same opinion as you about their position? Do they think they are the Director? Or have you hired them as a Writer? Or as the Director of Photography?

It’s possible to collaborate as more-or-less equals on these things but I would think that unless you’re extremely lucky, it only works if you know each other very well and share a very similar vision of the eventual product and how to go about making it. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

I think you need to decide who is in charge of what. And make that explicit, in contracts if necessary. At the moment everything is very vague, everyone has different levels of commitment, enthusiasm and reward, and I can imagine the differences growing over time. Without you having explicit control of Your Project, there’s not much stopping everyone else walking away and making it without you.
posted by fabius at 5:33 AM on February 22 [5 favorites]

The words you are looking for are "work for hire" and "deferred pay."

You need to sign a contract with this person ASAP that clearly says that the work they are doing is "work for hire" and that all rights to the project belong to you. On film projects, this is normally done as part of the initial contract and work doesn't begin until after it's been signed. Once this is done, ownership is contractual, and there are no gray areas. Otherwise, until this is signed, ownership is more gray, because people own the copyright to everything they produce unless they sign it away or have pre-signed it away as work-for hire.

The other part is the deferred pay. Make this contractual. How much will they be paid? What are the circumstances around when this pay will happen? For example, do investors need to be paid first? How about you? By the way, you can also be part of the deferred pay. So, if each of the crew members is going to be paid $X, and you will be paid $Y, then this can be divided out from the first dollar of income.

I agree that there's not a job title called "filmmaker." You need to clarify that you are the boss and that this is your project. You can do this kindly and diplomatically, but you need to do this ASAP.
posted by MythMaker at 5:58 AM on February 22 [11 favorites]

Agree 100% on a contract and definition of roles, rights, credits and boundaries as suggested above. We nearly got very seriously burned in a similar situation with changing roles and inputs. Worked out ok in the end but in hindsight I felt really stupid to not have worked out a simple contract.
posted by tardigrade at 6:10 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]

Regarding the pay - I think it is reasonable, if it is YOUR project, to pay the freelancers 80% for their work and take 10% yourself to get it done because it is your passion.

I think it is entirely unreasonable for two people to be collaborators, describe it as "our" project, and then have one take 80% of the pay and the other 10%. There's no way that's fair. If you are "co-directors" and "co-producers" you get the same pay. Otherwise this person is getting half the credit AND paid for their time and all you get is to share the credit with them. Which it sounds like you don't really want to do anyway.

Plus the romantic interest thing is sort of a disaster waiting to happen. I would be very, very wary of letting this person get too many hooks into this project. You need to define their role very specifically, with a contract, and be prepared to part ways of they try to take over the whole thing.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:48 AM on February 22 [5 favorites]

Are you hiring a cinematographer? Or is the director/collaborator going to film while you direct? if it’s a documentary, and you’re doing the interviews, someone else can run camera.
If it’s scripted or animation, do you want someone to work with you on storyboards, staging, blocking, etc.?
Outfits that provide grants or funding don’t usually have any voice in the creative process, but they might weigh in on distribution.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:06 PM on February 22

This stands out for me:
I received a grant
I want to own this project
It is a culmination of many of my ideas
I had a very clear vision for it,

Look it's your project.
Your idea, your passion.
You raised the money to start it .
It's you .
Period , Done.

You might need partners at some stage.
But you can't have 18 partners with 50 % each, like The Producers
You should be very careful here.
Don't give points away now.
I know there is no
" I" in team.

You what ? Forget that.
Do not use " we", or "our" project

I. Me, Mine:

I think that's a good idea .
Let met me think on it
I will let you know what I decide.

Make it plain that it's MY project
posted by yyz at 5:43 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]

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