(This question was taken from our Working Actor message board.)
[This summer] I participated in the Chicago 48 Hour Film Project. This contest requires teams to write, shoot, and edit a short film in 48 hours. One of the rules is that the cast and crew cannot be paid for their services. According to [the release form I signed], I agreed to participate for “good and valuable consideration, the receipt and adequacy of which is hereby acknowledged.” I believe that “good and valuable consideration” refers to the chance to be seen by the contest’s judges and audiences.
The day after the deadline, the cast and crew received word that the producers had decided to not submit our film. [They] said they were unhappy with the quality of the final product.
I agreed to work for free with the understanding I was helping create a film [for] the Chicago 48 HFP. Since the film wasn’t submitted, I’m no longer bound by the contest’s requirement that I work for free. Therefore, under federal and Illinois minimum-wage laws, I’m entitled to collect at least minimum wage for the hours that I worked on the project. I’d like to know whether my legal reasoning is sound.
- Jack Sparrow
No. I’ve looked over your agreement, and I don’t think you have any sort of claim at all. “The receipt and adequacy of which is hereby acknowledged” means you’ve gotten what you’re going to get. The agreement also says the footage belongs to the producers, period.
If this film turned up someplace else and started generating major revenue, it might be worth pursuing payment. But as I read it, your contract doesn’t guarantee any compensation, regardless of where—or whether—the film is presented.
An attorney I consulted who’s experienced in such matters provided his take: “I am naturally reluctant to give a legal opinion based on incomplete facts. However, I do believe that your reader does not have a substantial chance of winning such a case. Not only does the producer have complete and absolute right to the film, but the actor has signed a very comprehensive and specific release. (All this involves a theoretical case; there obviously is little point in pursuing a claim for less than $300 given the costs of court, etc.)”
But here’s what I think is really going on. You’re angry. You feel ripped off because the film wasn’t shown, and you want to make someone pay. Friend, trust me on this. I’ve seen actors eat themselves up inside over injustices—perceived or real—that end up taking over their whole lives. It’s a poisonous pursuit that leads nowhere. Deal with the anger and disappointment, then let it go and move on. That will have far greater value than the minimum wage you’ll never get.
For the full conversation, see the thread “I Worked as an Actor in Film Contest; Producer Does Not Submit the Film to Contest” on our Working Actor message board.