There's an old saying "good fences make good neighbors" and I'll be honest that for the longest time, I didn't have a firm understanding of what it really meant. Was there something wrong with my neighbors? Was it about trust? It sounded so negative.
Then this week, I had a very interesting conversation with a student about a job she had done for a "friend." Let me tell you right now...the only time I ever got stiffed on a job was when I worked for a friend. Why? Because you don't want to offend them by creating a structure to work in and that always gets in the way.
The student told me about an event she'd photographed for this friend - and I guess it didn't go as well as they both would have liked. The friend ended up wanting all the photographs, but only wanted to pay for a few...you know how it goes. One thing lead to another...and now the friend is a former friend. I asked if they'd had a contract - "oh no, I was just doing a favor for her, but I told her what I was going to give her" was the response.
At the heart of this problem was a lack of clear communication - and that's what a contract is. When I describe a job to you - you see it in your own way - which may or may not be the same way I do. So, contracts (or some type of written agreement) create a clear space between us where we have some chance of really understanding what the other person is thinking.
There's a classic Japanese film, Rashomon, the core of which is several characters provide very different views of the same incident...we see everything through our own filter - what we want to see, what we need...etc.
Scared of legal documents - worried a friend will take offense if you hand them a serious doc with pages of small print? ASMP has some great information and straightforward contracts - but, if that's overwhelming - a contract can be something very simple:
1. When is the shoot / event going to happen and when am I supposed to be there?
2. What specifically do you want me to do while I'm there?
3. What will you make sure is ready for me when I get there?
4. What is the end product? How and when will it be delivered?
5. When will I get paid?
6. To add a bit more complexity...you could include - what will happen if any of the above items don't deliver as promised? Are you reshooting for free? Are they paying you for your time if you show up at the agreed upon time and they're not ready?
To keep those friendships - and to treat your creative work with respect - use a contract!