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The Production Company's Contract Protects
THEM, Not You. Here's What You Should Negotiate

March 21, 2017

By Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr.
Attorney, voice actor, actor, author, film executive producer

You audition for your "dream job” - be it the voice of a product, a character on an animated film or video game, or any other nice paying gig - and you get it! 

Production sends you a "standard” contract to sign.

That's just a formality right? Production must want to protect the poor talent from being taken advantage of. All you need to do is sign and you’re on your way, right? 



Production is not trying to protect you. This is true even if you are a Union performer.

Many times you will receive a "boiler plate” agreement with many onerous terms that protects production, but not you. 

For instance, in addition to the price, the contract may call for "in perpetuity usage” of your work on behalf of the production company. If you agree to "in perpetuity” - well, that could mean forever.

The contract may also contain a very broad conflict provision where it states you may not voice for a similar product for as long as you are under contract for this product. 

What if the contract requires you to obtain insurance as an independent contractor, or that the talent must "indemnify and hold the production company harmless” for certain acts of liability? 

These are also common provisions in many corporate agreements.


So what do you do? Do you ask the production company to change the contract?

Many voice talent are scared stiff of doing this, for fear of losing the gig. But the truth is, these contracts are almost always negotiable.

Even talent who are represented by an agent fear asking the agent to negotiate these terms out of fear of losing the job.

Some talent agents have the same fear and turn to entertainment attorneys to help them explain provisions of the more complicated agreements, and for advice on negotiating them.


There is no such thing as a contract that is non-negotiable. 

You may be able to get a better price, but even if you can’t, usage and conflicts are always negotiable. 

For example ...

In my opinion, you should never agree to usage "in perpetuity” a/k/a "buy out” of your work by the production company. I believe that talent should not be bound for more than one year of usage. If one year is not agreeable, then some time limit must be placed. 

Specific usage of the work should also be addressed in the contract. For instance, if production is hiring you for web videos, then if the videos end up being broadcast, that must be for a separate usage fee. 


Also, in this day and age, clearly defining the allowed usage is very important. 

"New Media” or "Internet” usage can mean many things.

For example, does internet include "Roku” or online streaming like "Hulu” or "Netflix”- or is that considered TV usage?

Finally, if you are doing work for a soft drink company - for instance, like Coca Cola - don’t agree to a conflict provision where you agree to turn down work for "any and all soft drink companies in the world.” 

Limit the conflicts to be as narrow a category as possible, such as Pepsi Cola. Name the brands right in the agreement to be safe. 

These are all common provisions that you should carefully review and negotiate for every job contract - even if you belong to the union.             
Robert J. Sciglimpaglia Jr. is an attorney and the author of the Amazon #1 best selling book Voice Over Legal. He is also a voice over artist, actor, and executive producer of short and feature films and has served as production attorney on several films. Among the services he now offers to voice talents is contract negotiations for a flat fee. 

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Comments (4)
Ruth Kaufman
3/22/2017 at 1:55 PM
Thank you for summarizing what I tell fellow VOs/actors.

On set, I'm surprised that many talent don't even read what they're signing. Many don't understand the impact of in perpetuity or conflicts and I've come across others who don't even know that conflicts can exist in VO.
Dustin Ebaugh
3/21/2017 at 9:20 PM
Great article, Rob! I saw one just yesterday for not much money where the winner would have to give up doing work for "all carbonated beverages." That's a LOT of missed opportunity and revenue for a couple grand.
Dan Bolivar
3/21/2017 at 2:24 PM
As an illustrator and having worked following the Graphic Artist's Guild guidelines for decades before coming to VO, I see so many parallels with my former career. Nearly all of the very same problems in this industry that it's like a perpetual Deja Vu. In particular with how contractors tend to accept the most inconvenient of clauses in a contract for fear of losing the gig or upsetting the client.

This is a great article that addresses one of the many problems, and empowers the artist with knowledge.
Rebecca Haugh
3/21/2017 at 9:42 AM
Agreed! And also look at copyright issues. The template the client or producer is sending you may also have broad terms about them owning the copyright as soon as you send them the audio. But that should not be what you agree to. Remember that your end goal is to get the work and be paid! So everything always has to be 'granted' after payment is received.
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