As you know, things are getting crazy out there and our photo assignments are being postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus. Are you prepared to answer the question “what will it cost to cancel?”? Let’s talk about our terms and conditions (T&C).
I’ve outlined 6 steps you can take right now to prepare yourself, and I’ve included an amendment you’ll definitely want to consider for future contracts.
Step 1: Understand your own T&C when your photo assignments postpone
If you are like me, your T&C are a version of the T&C from a trade organization. The last time I had my lawyer revise mine was 2016. So I dusted off my magnifying glass and reviewed my own cancellation policy. It’s not often that my photo assignments are postponed, so I need to refresh my memory!
Step 2: Don’t have a T&C?
That’s okay, this is the perfect time to acquire a set of T&Cs! Trade groups like ASMP and APA are a fantastic resource! Not a member? It’s time to join because we are in unprecedented times and photo assignments are being postponed left and right. This is the time to band together and help each other. Join a trade group now and dig into those resources.
Step 3: Does your crew have a policy when photo assignments postpone?
If you have a crew booked, contact them and find out what their cancellation policy is. They may not have one, and this is a great time to develop deep loyalties by helping them determine what to do when photo assignments are postponed. Don’t leave your crew hanging. They are as worried as you are.
Your crew isn’t just assistants, vanities, stylists, etc. Also consider the rental studio, the caterer, the casting director…they’ll all have a cancellation policy that you should be aware of.
Step 4: Contact your client before they contact you
Your clients will appreciate your proactive stance. Send a quick note like ‘during these uncertain times, I wanted to be upfront with my cancellation policy. Based on our approved estimate and the agreed-to terms and conditions, if we cancel within 48 hours of the shoot, it will cost $_______. If the notice of cancellation is given two business days or less before the shoot date, Client will be charged ____% of the shoot fee in addition to all expenses incurred, $_____________
Step 5: Did you sign their paperwork?
If you signed your client’s paperwork, it may include a ‘force majeure’. Force majeure refers to a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes (like a pandemic) that interrupt the expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations. If you have signed your client’s contract, be sure to read it thoroughly and see if you agreed to a force majeure.
Step 6: Are you currently being asked to bid a project that may postpone?
We know our terms if the photo assignment postpones. But what if you get sick and have to cancel? Are you liable to pay the cancellation fees of your crew? In a pre-pandemic time, we might power through the illness and get the shoot done, but that is no longer viable or responsible.
Reach out to your insurance provider and understand what your policy will cover. Pandemic insurance is likely not in your policy — it certainly is not in mine.
I Am Not a Lawyer
I am not a lawyer, nor am I giving you legal advice. I’m closely following posts from the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). They published an amendment for producers. I’ll post that below. Reach out to your trade organization and ask them to issue a similar amendment to help cover you.
Let’s all take steps first to protect ourselves, before assisting others. Know your own T&C, help your crew with their T&C, and then help your clients. You will always be remembered for your calm and professional demeanor during a remarkable and stressful time. And that will lead to more work down the line, I am certain of that!
About the author: Therese Gietler is the executive producer at Andy Batt Studio, and she is the founder and lead producer at Ask A Producer, a production company for photographers and directors. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Gietler also provides consultation, estimation and negotiation services, and teaches workshops and seminars. When she’s not on set or at her desk, you’ll often find her surrounded by friends, laughing with a glass of champagne in her hand. This article was also published here.