9 Legal Tips for Videographers
This week we are talking about everyone’s favorite topic - the law!
I am sharing my 9 Legal Tips for Videographers to help you avoid common problems and keep your focus on creating videos.
These tips will:
Help you avoid legal trouble
Get paid on time
Outline the agreed upon services with a client
Ensure you are operating ethically and within the law
*Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional and if you need legal advice please talk with a licensed attorney.
Some of these are common sense but many of us overlook them for family, friends, or clients that we trust. Sadly, those people that have your trust will often be the people who abuse it.
They don’t pay, they ask a ton from you, and have unrealistic expectations. And we don’t want that!
Make sure to smash the like button below if these tips help you out and lets dive right in...
1. Get everything in writing
A good rule of thumb is to never script, shoot, or edit something without having documentation. For beginners, this is where many of us avoid taking our time because someone agreed to work with you on a project. You are excited, you just got hired, and the agreement often gets overlooked.
The 2 biggest things to cover are scope of work and how payments will work. This is where 90% of issues arise because the parties are not clear on where the line in the sand is.
2. Signed contracts before agreeing to work together It’s simple - don’t shoot, script, or work on anything until there is an agreement in place. All it takes is one time of working and never being paid to make you do this every time.
I once shot a wedding as a second shooter for a photographer. We verbally agreed on the price and specs on how she wanted the video shot. She said she would pay me the first half at the end of the night and the rest after she got the footage downloaded at home. There were many red flags throughout the day which we won’t get into. But after shooting or 12 hours, She claimed to only have 25% on her in cash after the wedding, so I took it and said she could pay the rest during the final payment.
She then emailed me weeks later saying that the footage was not usable, too shaky, and was not worth paying for. So she only paid me a quarter of the agreed on price. But since I never had anything in writing, I was SOL. To avoid this, make sure to get:
Outline scope of work and deliverables
Rights to use footage for self promotion
# of revisions allowed before charging more Have templates saved that you can copy and tweak for speedy contracts. There are also services like HoneyBook that send contracts and invoices over to your clients when they need to sign something. I often attach the contract in the Quickbooks invoice that I send over.
3. Talent release forms If working with on-screen talent, make sure to have them sign a release form. This waives their ability to come back on you or your client when the video is published asking for more money.
I don’t typically use releases unless there is someone not associated with the business on camera. If it is a CEO talking about their product, I don’t. But if they hire an actor, there are kids on screen, or other iffy situations - I have a release form.
You can find a basic release form on Google and doctor it to fit your needs.
4. Payment terms (50% upfront)
As I mentioned before, I get an upfront deposit of half before I shoot every time. It just takes the one time of getting burned to make you do this. It is good for three reasons. 1 It proves that the client has money and intends to pay the full amount. 2. You get something rather than nothing if they flake or refuse to pay after you have delivered a final video 3. Keeps your cash flow more even month to month so you make smaller bits each week rather than waiting on a large payout when a project is finished.
5. Part 107 license
If you are flying drones, you need to have a Part 107. I have danced the grey line on this tip plenty of times. And all it takes is one crash that can tank your business. I got to the point where I was having near misses every other shoot and just stopped flying drones.
It was giving me anxiety on every shoot and just wasn’t worth my time. But if you are wanting to add drone footage to your arsenal, get your Part 107 test taken. It allows you to fly your drone commercially. You can take these tests at most regional airports. Just hop online and find a testing location near you.
And don’t fly near airports, crash into buildings, or fly over groups of people.
6. Music licensing It is really fun to pick a popular song on the radio and cut your video to it. Until you post it on social media, your website, or YouTube and it is flagged and taken down for copyright. Then you have a video you put a ton of work into that can’t be used as a marketing piece. The big issue here is that you are using another artist's creation for personal monetary gain. So use a music licensing site that the artists agree to let you use their talent and are fairly paid for it. There are plenty including Music Bed, soundstripe, ArtList, and more.
I have been an avid user of Soundstripe and use their service for about 99% of my projects in a year. The only project that I didn’t use them for - got flagged when I try to post it on Facebook and Instagram and hinders the reach I can market it with.
If you want a 15% off discount just click here: https://www.soundstripe.com/?fpr=ryan
7. Shoot permits if needed
If you live in LA, get a film permit. Other places are very lax on this and I have never had to get one personally because I live in Iowa where people don’t care. But in bigger cities or on shoots with bigger budgets - get a permit. Also if you are using prop weapons like guns or something like that, let local authorities know so they don’t react to seeing a fake car chase down the road or an actor swinging a gun around. Also if you are using a persons home or other location for an extended amount of time, budget for location fees and float those people some money for the inconvenience.
8. Incorporate your business as a legal entity It may sound super appealing to do this whole thing under the table, only take cash and not report any of your earnings. But you don’t want that kind of stress trust me. This allows you to have more division and protection between your business and yourself. It also helps come tax time when you can write off your expenses like camera gear and mileage. You can choose and S-Corp, C-Corp, LLC, and a few others. I incorporated Snaadt Media Group as an LLC and recommend it for most solo operators starting out. Once you hit the next income bracket, it makes sense to have a holding company or S-Corp where you can avoid some of the higher taxes. If you want more info on this, I created a full video on the pros and cons of Sole Prop vs. an LLC and will link it above. Also talk with a CPA or tax pro to see which organization would work best for you and your income level.
9. Coordinate with a company legal team during the scripting process Lastly, if you are shooting for a bureaucratic company with a legal team, involve them early on in your video production. I shot a spot for a bank a year ago and once I found out they had a legal team that could knock us back to square one if they didn’t like a video - I got them involved very early on. We scripted the whole commercial out and sent it to their marketing team for review. Once marketing agreed we sent it to legal. They had some changes and we got the green light to shoot. That way, we don’t shoot the spot, edit it, and at the very end they say redo it. Saves you a ton of stress and lost hair - trust me. ------------ Ok those are my 9 legal tips for videographers. If you have more questions - make sure to drop a them in the comment section below and I will get back to you there. Now if you want to learn more about running a solo videography business I have put together a 1 hour training covering the 9 biggest mistakes I made and how you can avoid them. This training is jam packed with helpful information including some more legal tips and more ways to earn as a videographer so make sure to check the description box for a link to register for it.
It’s 100% free training and I think you guys will really like it.
I also just released my Facebook Ads for Freelancers mini course. It is a 6 lesson 101 training to teach you when/how/why to run Facebook ads as a videographer. This training will add another service to your stack so make sure to check it out if you want to run client’s campaigns and make more money.