Not Getting Paid: One Freelancer’s Story (and Solution)

An anonymous LA-area freelancer has posted a cautionary tale that will prove valuable to anyone who works for hire.

One extremely helpful bit of advice is to require confirmation via deal memos before agreeing to work for someone. In this freelancer’s case, that practice ultimately helped him win a court case.

Also take note of the even-handed way in which his blog posts are written. Put in a similar situation, most people would be livid, writing hate mail to Motionographer and trying to smear the name of everyone at the studio in question.

Not so for this freelancer. I believe him when he writes:

I don’t write this to intentionally bash the company, but more to make other artists aware of what their legal rights are and what you can do when a company attempts to do you wrong.

And then later:

I have the utmost respect for all of the artists, and especially the director that I was working with there. This whole thing is the fault of faulty production and management, and has nothing to do with any of the artists. They are all very skilled and creative and I would enjoy working with all of them again.

Whoever you are, we salute you for sharing this information. Read the story here.

Photo by ToniVC

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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26 Comments

ruffmercy

…interesting story and ultimately good to hear David got one up on Goliath.

…gotta love the thinly veiled name change too.

toddsmith

Great story of success in a shitty situation and one I hope more freelancers wise up to. I’m currently involved in a similar dispute with a user-gen broadcast company in Vancouver.

Fortunately I’ve had great mentors and great resources along the way who’ve passed me template contracts from the likes of the GDC (www.gdc.net) and the AIGA (http://www.aiga.org/). Bottom line – always have a contract and make sure it’s thorough.

If it doesn’t sit right, don’t give up. It’s your duty to do something and pursue every outlet to get assistance if employment standards are being compromised.

Ruoyu1

if this guy was too expensive, they shouldn’t have booked him, why buy something you cant afford?

monovich

Probably because they thought they could get away with it. How many freelancers have their shit together enough to actually take a company to court? After reading this article, I know of one.

Thanks for the repost, Motionographer. Very informative.

movecraft

That was informative and useful, particularly all of the links to various resources. Usually these sorts of posts or threads are just big complain-a-thons, from artists so inarticulate you kind of want them to get screwed. It must have been worth the money + the time for him to go to small claims, his rate must have been pretty beefy. I’ve been in this situation before and your time is almost always better spent getting new work then chasing after pieces of old work, unfortunately.

federimanu

Please take a look at this resource. Its free, open for edit and anonymous:

http://etherpad.com/HDDwtHYGqB

Candyman

This is a great post.
In Sydney where I work this is not uncommon.
Some companies just expect to get away with it as well, and most probably do.

iline

I love the idea of having a deal memo – or contract – at the start of a job but so far I’ve never really had to deal with them unless working for a major broadcaster (I work in the UK). I am under the impression that asking a freelance employer to confirm payment and overtime payment would make them jumpy enough to employ somebody else immediately. Does anyone else in the UK routinely get freelance bosses to sign things?

Lilian Darmono

Yep, I am. Thanks to other people that have openly shared their experiences such as this fella, I now make it a regular, standard practise, since mid 2009.

freelancer

This happened at Prologue Films in Venice ,Ca. Kyle Coopers studio. I was there when all this went down. Head of production is Ian Dawson and invoice-guy is Kyle Tamos. These guys have a history of being snakes and low-balling.

zzyzxerxes

I’d feel better just using my imagination on it, personally.

Dx

I feel enlighten… come on … thank you, but unnecessary … I think people can figure this out on their own… respect the artist’s wish of keeping pertinent information semi-anonymous… Be smart, those comments can put you in court with them for slander…

freelancer

With respect dx , I think you should look up the word slander before using it. I’m not slandering anyone, I was there and sat near the individual. We even chatted about the issues at hand.This is a common thing here regardless of how good our work is. You are correct maybe I shouldn’t have put names in it, but these individuals and companies that continue to abuse us as we make them look good need to be put on notice. Are you suggesting that we remain silent. If we dont stand up for ourselves as a collective then who will ?

titicaca

I think it’s a very good thing you unveiled the REAL names, they must be held accountable for treating freelancers this way. By acting that way, they waive their right to be anonymous and should be accountable. Why protect their anonymity? so they can do it all over again to other artists??

blazer

I’m very glad this was posted. While some of it is the standard bitchfest (although entirely justified) it is still good to bring these type of issues to the forefront as they really effect us all. Staffers, freelancers, studio owners, etc should all be paying close attention.

My feeling is that I really wish there was a lot more discussion of business issues by freelancers, studios, and by the motion design field in general. Of course when there is said discussion it usually falls into I was burned, this contest hurts our industry, blah blah blah. But the real issues impacting our business are much deeper and really should be discussed with regularity. The print design, photography, and illustration industry have all looked at the serious financial problems facing creatives, yet the motion industry has done next to none of this analysis. Why is it so many studios operate without any real capital in the bank? Why should freelancers essentially act as a loan when working for studios? Why do so many major studios bend over to the agencies often falling for the same traps that 17 year old web designers do? Why isn’t there a motion studio that’s been around for more than what seems like 15 years? Why isn’t there a company that has gone IPO? Why isn’t there more profit sharing? Where has the “graphic” gone from “motion graphic design”? Where did the “experience” in our business go? Why is it that when a staffer is laid off there is often no severance when in almost every other industry there is? Why do I get the feeling that it’s going to be very tough to continue to work in this industry till I’m 50? Why is it companies come and go with such regularity? I could go on and on and on but you get the point.

Personally, I find our business as a whole to be extremely shady. At the end of the day most companies are like a giant shell game. The money required to start a shop is very minimal, especially when you wont pay a freelancer until you get paid. Even the biggest of shops operate this way. And I don’t entirely blame them either. Often they fail to protect themselves in a way that anyone with an inkling of business sense would. If you have ever worked in non creative field and then entered this world I think you would be shocked. The lack of even the most basic of standardized business practices is stunning.

At the end of the day my current theory is that I blame most of the problems found in our industry on a lack of formal general education. Not that school is the end all be all. It’s not. A lot of us in this industry are probably like I am, mostly self taught. And I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish without a college degree. Let’s face it most us make pretty good money. And it probably didn’t require a masters degree or the like. But I worry that even those who do have a college degree only have a fine arts degree and therefore don’t have a deep understanding of things outside of the creative. Business acumen plays a massive role in any endeavor and I only wish that more people (including myself) had a better handle on it. I’ve always wondered what would happen if you got a guy from Harvard Business School or something to study our industry. What would they write in their report?

Ok rant over.

zmcfarlen

We, as designers, have created and continue to perpetuate this practice by our willingness to engage in work without any kind of written documentation.
Just look at the comment by movecraft above, “I’ve been in this situation before and your time is almost always better spent getting new work then chasing after pieces of old work, unfortunately.”

How can not getting paid for tens or hundreds of hours of work be a more profitable use of your time than taking the same bad business practices (not demanding documentation) into another new project? Studios know we feel this way, and they gladly take advantage of it.

Why are we (self included) willing to dump hours and hours into our creative work, but are so loathe to spend 30 minutes creating an actual project document? Dare I say laziness? I’m guilty of this practice too, and am learning the hard way to change my way of doing business. Until we all value our work enough to fight for it up front, we can’t really expect anyone else to value it either.

isralien

we must realize that our designs/animations are real products like a t.v or cloths and you don’t see anyone going into a store and expecting to get a product without paying.
are we going to wait for a business tutorial from video copilot ?
the freelance image must change. we are a force to be reckoned with.
if most freelancers will adopt the approach of deal memos or contracts even for the smallest of projects, a company could not skip a freelance just because he want them to sign a contract, for the same reason you don’t skip stores because they wont take your word for it that you will be back with the money a month later.
i watched too many freelancers get burned like this..
demand what you deserve

Random Person

Welcome to LA.

HoffmanC

Good info. Helpful for those starting out, and to some who have been working for a while. It is also good to see that this freelancer (whom i know well) went through all of this. I hope that the complacency of gypping freelancers out of weekend, or overtime got a little shaken up from this case.
I must say that fortunately most studios, at least tier one studios are good about money though. They realize that stories like this are not good for image and try to do their best to keep on top of payments.
One thing I can advise from personal experience is that you are more likely to get gypped by small obscure shops than the good tier one studios. These are usually some craigs list style jokers with no motion graphics background who think they can just accept jobs because they have contacts (music vids especially) and think they can just hire freelancers to get the job done. These kind of people are in shock when they hear day rates of freelancers and think that they are overpaid, and try to snake their way out of paying it. Not to say that tier one studios dont have their faults, as shown in this story,
Like Russ said, its good to see David win over Goliath for a change.
Good info all around! Deal memos and email trails.

zedzero

Just got burned myself and I’ve been doing this for 15 years.

But I have to admit that a portion of the blame lies with me. If any of you out there are like me, I spend too much time in production mode and not enough in admin / butt covering mode.

I’ve been saying for years that I’m gonna ‘get legal’ on new clients; but most of the time I’m either too busy on other projects to sort it out – or just grateful to have a booking and know my mortgage is paid for another month. And none of the legal stuff seems to happen.

I’d love to see a UK version of this and start using it.

kainvictus

Anyone interested in suing prologue should go to :
http://www.michaeltracylaw.com/

Why these companies are still doing day rates is beyond me. They should just switch to hourly and start paying people OT after 8 hours.

-PROBLEM SOLVED-

xpez2000

there are plenty of great motion companies that don’t need to resort to this kind short-sighted practice. As a freelancer, all i need is a small whiff of baloney to know its best just not to get involved with questionable companies, sImply because I don’t enjoy working for free or the headache of trying to get paid, no matter how “cool” the project may be.

Ryan Thompson

Production’s handling of this matter is so stupid that it makes me wonder if they were significantly disappointed with the contractor’s performance. Regardless, their only legal recourse for such is claiming the contractor misrepresented their ability or didn’t have the skills to professionally perform their duties; and do so long before it came to invoicing. Frankly I don’t really believe that was the case though, because the client acted shifty from the get go. I guess the next intelligent option is replacing production.

rocketscience

Hi, I’m an Italian freelancer and it’s surprising how in USA you can succesfully sew a company, represent yourself and even get your rights recognized. Most of the times in Italy the time and money cost of starting a sew would be much higher then the money you need to claim.

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