A contract is a voluntary arrangement between two or more parties that is enforceable by law as a binding legal agreement. It is formed when one party makes an OFFER, which the other party (or parties) ACCEPT, in exchange for CONSIDERATION.
- Offer – sets out what both parties will do, must have definite terms (cannot be vague, incomplete or uncertain).
- Acceptance – accepting the terms of the offer as it was made, both parties must be agreeing to the same thing
- Consideration – something done or promised to be done (e.g. payment of fee on signing or promise of future payments)
A contract can be written in a very formal or an informal style, but a good contract will make clear what the responsibilities and expectations of each of the parties is and how the parties intend to solve problems if any arise.
Entering into agreements up front will help make sure of the understanding that you start a project which survives the life of the collaboration, and gives you a paper trail to refer to if disagreements arise in the future. It’s especially important to write down the terms of your artistic relationships when working with friends, or if you need to document the deal you entered into for third parties like Equity, funding bodies or for tax reasons.
While often indie producers will write their own contracts, there are times when it is important to get legal advice – such as when you (or your company) is entering into an ongoing employment relationship with someone (employment standards law may apply) or if you are being asked to sign away your intellectual property. When in doubt, ask a lawyer for a consult to see if it’s the kind of issue where you need legal advice, or if it’s reasonable to just write something yourself.
Different stages of developing a work and different creation and producing relationships require different contracts. Here are some different types of engagements that you may run into and you should note that the contracts will look different depending on what engagement you are entering.
Production vs. Development
A production contract is for a show that already exists, while a development contract will be for a show that someone is engaged to develop.
Commissions vs. Creation
Commissions are when a producer asks for someone to bring something into existence (oftentimes a playwright will be commissioned to write a play by a company for instance). A creation is more artist-led, where the show is devised and collaboratively developed
Producing vs. Co-Pro vs. Presenting
Producing is when the company or sole producer takes on all the financial risk of the project and works independently to sell tickets and market the show. A co-pro is a co-produced production, which may include two or more companies that are collaborating on a production. The involvement of each company will likely be different, sometimes, one takes on the financial risk, and the other does the work. Sometimes, both share the financial risk and the work. There are many different models for co-producing. A production which is presented is taken on by another party who essentially buys out the production to have it performed in their venue, absorbing the financial risk that comes with selling tickets at box office. They may also assist with some marketing, and that should be agreed upon in advance and written into your contract.
Different artists and service providers have specific needs that a producer should address when making agreements. Unions and associations may provide standard forms of contracts, or there may be industry standards or normal rules that producers should be aware of before making offers. There are differences in the contracts for the type of worker you are engaging and those differences typically lie between:
- Engagement of Artists (performers, designers, technical staff, playwrights, musicians)
- Service providers (carpenters, graphic designer, publicity, etc.)
Producers will book a variety of spaces for work, performance, and events related to your company or performance run. Ask questions up front, and think ahead to book the spaces you may need well in advance when you can. When booking any of these spaces, ensure that you have a contract with the venue that you will be in. It is important to think in advance of all the things that you will require of that space so that you can include them in your contract with the venue. You may require a contract for any of the following:
- Rehearsal Space
- Creative Meeting Facilities
- Ancillary Events
There are many different models to fund a show, each of which may require different kinds of documents to record the flow of money into and out of a project. Some funding sources may have specific rules for how money can be used (e.g. grants) or may be specifically regulated (e.g. investment). Either way, no matter how you receive that money, there should be a contract in place to determine what each party is responsible for in the engagement. You may receive financial assistance from any of the following outlets:
- Grants/Public Funds
- Private Donors
Although many organizations do go through the Canadian Actors’ Equity (CAEA) or another professional organization to format a contract, sometimes as an indie producer you may choose to do a non-union agreement. When contracting artists under an agreement that is not one of the standards set out by the professional organizations, it can be wise to use those as a model for you to build your agreement or contract on.
A few things to consider when drafting up your own contracts:
- When will the artists get paid and how will they get paid?
- How will artists be credited?
- What is required of the artists? Will you ask them to do certain things outside of their typical job description (ie. social media responsibilities, etc.)?
- Termination clauses (minimum notice)
- Image release (is the use of their image compensated, etc.)?
This checklist will help you structure a strong contract for artists involved in your project, whether they are a union member or not:
- Service: describe the services that will be provided
- Term: state when the agreement starts and ends
- Fee and Payment Terms: describe how and when the party providing the service will be compensated (read more about professional standards and fee considerations here)
- Additional Compensation: state whether or not the party will receive additional compensation for their services (and if so, for what)
- Rules and Liabilities: outline liability for both parties if contract is breached
- Breach, Termination, and Leave: describe termination, leave and breach of contract terms, procedures and provisions for both parties
PROducing Tip: Our page on professional standards can be very useful in determining the services your project requires and an appropriate compensation fee.
The Balance Small Business has a great step-by-step guide to writing your own personal freelance template contract that you can reference and re-use in your work.
To reflect the varying conditions in the Indie Theatre sector, the ADC (Associated Designers of Canada) has developed 4 INDIE Contract Templates for Producers to use depending on the project.
The PGC (Playwrights' Guild of Canada) has a series of contract templates to be used when a play by one of its members is being produced in a PACT Theatre.
PACT (The Professional Association of Canadian Theatres) has a online database of resources, including a folder of CAEA CTA Contract Templates for you to download.
CADA Ontario and CADA West both have contract templates for hiring performers and and administrative support or other roles outside of performing. Find CADA Ontario templates here, and CADA West contract templates here!
Freelance lettering artist Jessica Hische created an invaluable Client Email Helper that generates email responses to help you say “no” to free and low-budget work and to help ask for more favorable contract terms before the start of a project. Try it out!
The Conseil québécois en arts médiatiques (CQAM), in collaboration with consultant Georges Azzaria and a committee of artists in digital arts, have developed a series of contract templates for use by the media arts community. These pdfs are currently only available in French.