Legal advice

So I'm in a bit of a pickle and could use some advice from you seasoned pros.
A while back, before covid, I was hired to create a very ambitious creature for an advert. Knowing what the company wanted to achieve, aIa jabba sized monster, I threw out a number. I said I would need at least 25 thousand to make something worth filming (even that's too low honestly, but this is my first big creature build so I under bid myself)
They said we will give you ten grand. This whole time I was under the impression that full gig budget was 50k because of what I was told by them. I took the offer knowing that either I'm going to need to cut things or get more money later. So I work for a few weeks, hire some extra artists to help me sculpt. I worked in wed clay for the first time, made a fiberglass mold for the first time, then money started running dry so I pressed for more and eventually got 6k more out of them. I then found out that the budget was closer to 30. So I end up running it is money again trying to accomplish what they want from the design, so this time without an actual contact just yet. I have a friend run the foam for me on a massive piece, which just consists of the head at this point. I end up owing that man 1500, plus my shop consultant I owe 6k to for the with he did with me after money ran out.

Just after this covid-19 happens and I have to quarantine myself. 7 weeks later the producer shows up and we talk about what it takes to get production running again, and she heavily implies repeatedly that I'm going to be taken to court if my work isn't done. Keep in mind I have no means of personal transportation so I have to rely on trains to get to and from the studio, which are for essential trips only, oh which this is not, obviously.

So in order to continue working I have to pay my shop consultant what he's owed in order to continue using his space for work. I stroke up a deal with the production company who will pay him for me if I sign a contract saying I now own them instead, and will complete this insane build by the first of June.

It's at this point that I sign things just so I can avoid being threatened with lawsuit again and can have something great to put on my resume. This creature is really cool looking and will be a great show piece. However now I'm confused about how filming will even be possible during lockdown when California isn't even using permits. I find out through the grapevine that filming is out of state, the pricing team had failed to mention this to be. In addition because of material sciences and lack of readily available supplies I'm not going to be able to complete the build by the 1st of June. So I'd like to know if I have anything to worry about, because even though I signed a contract, there are circumstances out of my control that prevent completion by the dates they've arbitrarily chosen without consulting me first.

What are my options? I really want to complete the build, and I really want to avoid legal recourse for not doing it within the allotted time.


  • Hey bro, im just commenting on the side,i love to collaborate and if you need some help sculpting and molding that big MF id be more than happy to help,no money needed just need some resume work. If interested hmu @enigma_studios_
    On insta.

  • edited May 2020
    Hi Chris,

    Sorry to hear about this experience.  Just so you know, this is super common, especially when working with smaller production companies that are trying to aim high on a low budget.  I feel your pain.

    First I just want to clarify that I'm no legal expert, and can only really speak to what I have personally observed or experienced working in or with various creative roles, and suggest what I might do in similar situations. 

    There is never really anything preventing anyone from taking you to court or taking legal action against you.  Frivolous lawsuits occur and are dismissed all the time.  If you focus on the documentable and provable facts in this matter, like a global pandemic, it's understandable that deadlines may not be realistic that were set and agreed to prior to the pandemic.  My only concern is that you signed the contract they approached you with after money had changed hands and work had been done.  Maybe, if nothing else, this experience serves as a reminder that contracts come first, and without one work can not start. 

    When it comes to running your own business I strongly urge you to find a local lawyer to review any and all contracts you sign, and never let anyone pressure you into signing something without allowing your lawyer to review it first.   Many contracts seem boilerplate but contain important information hidden with clever legal terminology.   No respectable company will even blink an eye at you wanting to have their contract reviewed before signing. 

    They are likely using the threats of legal action as a business tactic to try and save money, as they likely had no idea going into this how much effects of this scale really cost, but take them seriously.  Everyone answers to someone above them, and if things explode they may be looking for a scapegoat   That's one good reason why you should really get to know any company you are getting into business with so you can gauge their level of experience in the different facets of a project.  Their shock at your initial bid, which was quite low, is a good indicator of their experience and their expectations.  When they reacted negatively to your bid it was an opportunity to review what they want and show them examples (even if created by someone else) of similar work and what the budgets were.  It's also useful to be able to demonstrate hard costs like materials, so they understand the reasoning behind the great expense. But do so in a positive way indicating that you are doing so only out of a desire to make the project a success and help them meet their objectives.  From there you have opened a door to discuss what they want and what factors can be adjusted to get to their end goal.  Things like framing shots to only see the character's face close up, and having wider shots show the body mostly in silhouette or under-lit so you can focus the money on the head and use less expensive techniques like foam carving for the bulk of the body.  The face is what the eye is naturally drawn to anyway.  This type of collaboration shows you are on their team, and may also help you get a little more budget as trust is established.   It's important that both parties are willing to compromise when budgets don't match reality.

    Sometimes bad experiences like this just end up being an opportunity to learn, hopefully without too great a cost.

    Think about your business before the project, as this project is a one-off with a company you may likely never wish to work with again, but the local resources you are working with are likely to play an important role in the success of your business down the road.  Take the contract you signed to a local lawyer, have them review it, and explain the situation to them.  And if possible, try and complete the current project in as positive a way as possible, as you never know what the future holds.  Sometimes the inexperienced producer that bites off more than they can chew today ends up learning lessons of their own and becomes a talented hotshot down the road.  We all start knowing nothing.  And maybe they'll remember the small business that fought alongside them to make a difficult project a success despite a lack of funds.

    Play it safe, and best of luck!

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