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When a producer lets you down

What do you think?

I referred a producer that I've worked with before to a client of mine who I thought would do a good job on a short film. The guy in question, lets call him Bob, also then ended up directing the film.

The client gave instruction of budget and available spend with a reasonable overage. Budget was £5k with a £1k contingency.

Bob then went and made the film but delivered invoices back to the client after filming wrapped having spent the £5k, plus the £1k contingency PLUS a further £2.5k.

Obviously, the client is very unhappy about this and has tried to talk with Bob about it. Bob and the client met to discuss where Bob agreed it was his fault and that he would pay the shortfall - which in fact was ALL the fees for the crew. But then a few days later, Bob contacts the client and does a complete 180' and says that he's taken legal advice and has been told to not pay anything as he isn't liable. The buck should stop with the client.

It also turns out that Bob didnt get any release forms from cast or crew and so the client now also doesnt have clear title.

And to cap it all off, the client never put all this in writing as he was going off my recommendation and thought Bob could be trusted. I know, I know... slap wrist.

How should the client proceed?

  • Don't know where 'Bob' got his legal advice from; I imagine that many of our readers know what I think of lawyers. The fact of there being no detailed written contract is a benefit, or detriment, that cuts both ways. Presumably there is some sort of written trail between the parties? Perhaps some emails? The fact of a clear budget together with a contingency is pretty strong evidence of clear limitation of intent. That the producer has, by failing to provide clear title to the client, not produced a 'fit for purpose' product is a pretty compelling legal argument. As with all these sort of things the devil is in the detail. If it were me I wouldn't pay more than was agreed and not even that sum until the producer delivered clear and a fit for purpose title. If the details are as simple as described I'd look into any potential damage done to the client consequential to the producers failure, such as wasting the clents time and any othe financially quantifiable costs incurred and any harm done as a result of having to remake the film. Will the people who didn't sign releases be available and happy to re shoot? Can a Tort to the detriment of the client be established? If so then a financial remedy payable by the producer to the cient would be an ironic outcome. When dealing with presumptious arses, attack is often the best form of defence!

    3 months ago
  • Bob's an idiot. Spending more money than exists is really, really silly, especially without confirming in writing with the client how they want to proceed. Bob is in no way a producer, managing budget is the beginning, middle and end of the job. The company was silly not to get contracts clearer, but I'm sure when they said £5k, not to exceed £6k, they weren't expecting a bill for £8500.

    I don't believe Bob took legal advice, I think he talked to his mate down the pub. If Bob has taken the £6k he owes the company what they paid for. He can't both keep the money and not hand over the video demanding more without any agreement without facing probable court action.

    How did Bob spend £8500 without any profit component? Assuming Bob has a profit component, I'd suggest he waive that, and anything he paid himself, because he didn't do his job as producer correctly by going 70% over budget.

    What should Bob do? I suggest he keep talking and not try playing hardball - it could backfire.

    3 months ago
  • Thanks both - appreciate your thoughts which echo what I was thinking.

    3 months ago
  • It's always galling when you recommend someone and they fuck up. When I'm ever asked for a suggestion now I always make the introduction and advise both parties to weigh each other up and that I leave it between them to work out if they can work together etc and that I'm making an introduction and not a recommendation, etc.

    Have you asked Bob what he was thinking, though?

    2 months ago
  • Bob might or might not be liable for the extra costs.

    If it goes to court his defence is establish that the extra costs were unforeseeable (by a competent producer) or "a risk of shoot", and that NOT paying them promptly would have wiped out the entire budget for no movie.

    Unforeseeable - hotel that offered good deal goes bust leaving cast and crew hunting replacement accom at no notice, when all/most other costs have been committed to. Bob keeps the show on the road by shelling out.

    Risk of shoot deemed accepted by investor (for not insuring against) - picnic scene rained off, costs due to knock on etc.

    However if the costs are because Bob overspent on stuff that should been discussed - £1000 on costumes for more impact - or his incompetance ( not checking the line budget carefully) then that's his problem.

    As to paperwork - if Bob hasn't done it properly he could be in serious trouble and liable. FWIW the people involved can't decline to sign because signing would be considered an implied term of contract. They are not randoms who wandered into shoot. So worst case is a few days driving round the country getting their hancocks.

    I suspect I'd be writing Bob an INTENT letter by now, taking a reasonable view as to the overspend in light of the actual details, but a very firm one re the paperwork, just in case Bob doesn't know how trivial it is to resolve :-)

    2 months ago
  • Thanks again for the responses.

    Bob has admitted that he took on too much and that he taking both producing and directing roles meant he couldn't do both properly. He's admitted that he didn't have any accounting processing in place to manage the budget or cash-flow and so kept on spending hoping that it would all be right at the end. And he didn't particularly want to bother the client with the small details of individual expenses every day so thought he would tally it at the end of production.

    The client didn't pay Bob up front any cash, but they both agreed the main budget and the contingency. Bob collected invoices along the way.

    The entire budget and contingency was actually spent before production started and so the overage was all the crews fees and expenses. This is the kicker of it all. The moment the camera rolled, they became went over budget but Bob obviously didn't want to say anything because then the client would have stopped everything then and there. So filming went ahead and Bob knew there was no money for the crew. So now the client has received all the invoices for payment not Bob...

    I feel sick that Bob has done this after I recommended him. I like Bob as a person and as a producer. But this has done so much damage to the the relationships with the cast and crew - with me and Bob and with me and the client. Not to mention with Bob and the client and the crew.

    And to say that he thinks its not his responsibility makes me so disappointed. I will certainly take Paddy's advise and simply put two people together and let them work out if they want to work together and not make recommendations.

    Wozy

    2 months ago
  • Wow, so Bob thinks it's not his responsibility? Bob needs to grow up! It's impossible to imagine how it could be more his responsibility. Amazing.

    2 months ago
    • And today, it got worse. Bob got himself a solicitor who has written to the client defending his actions and reiterating that he should not take responsibility for the over spend. He is also asking for a slice of the pie of profits (not that there will be any for a short) in return for a grant to release his clearance for directing... There's a lot of other stuff in the letter too but it now just even more messy. Bob obviously has money and he just doesn't think he should pay. His original argument was that he didn't have money to pay the crew for the over spend. But now money has miraculously appeared to pay for a solicitor.

      I will be naming and shaming if this doesn't get resolved in the ethical manner it should do.

      2 months ago
  • As is so often and so correctly said; 'the devil is in the detail'. A few times I've been brought into an issue where important points only became clear later and which altered the basis of a legal argument.

    There's no formal agreement in this story but there's probably an email trail. Are there any witnessed conversations? Depending on any emphatic clarity manifest, or the lack of it, the degree of intent by both parties can be established. Solicitors being brought in ought not be worried about, they don't make the facts any more or less real. It's often a sign of weakness rather than strength. In my own forty four years and nearly seventy cases, many of which got to actual trial in courts and tribunals it's clear that most of the solicitors and barristers left defeated were even more reliant on grandstanding flannel than I was.

    If the facts of the story are essentially as we've understood so far then Bob has no chance. He's worried because the client hasn't paid him yet and is now unlikely to do so. Bob has incurred costs he wants to recover. The solicitors letter will have cost Bob between zero and £500. He's hopeing the letter will scare some money back to him.

    Bob has not delivered free title to the client and apparently, if all the required releases in addition to his own are not signed, he is unable to do so. The unauthorised exceeding of the clearly specified budget is Bob's liability because the £1,000 contingency underlines the available limit.

    The client ought to write back to the solicitor pointing out these unassailable things and pointing out that Bob is now vulnerable to a Tort action for the harms and loss his incompetence has caused the client. If the story is as we are told the client can write the whole thing off as a lesson and keep his money. Leaving Bob very much out of pocket.

    The sensible thing for Bob is to take it on the chin and try to deliver a fit for purpose product (has the client even seen the film yet) take the £6,000 and cut his losses. It's not only money Bob stands to lose, his reputation is at risk too.

    2 months ago
  • Bob clearly isn't a producer but maybe he can direct, and if he can then to have his name behind a good short for only £2,500 isn't a bad deal in the grand scheme of things. He needs to acknowledge his limitations and move on in a professional manner. I experienced great difficulties in bringing out my first short film due to my inexperience and unfortunate trait of trusting people; the advice offered in this thread is excellent.

    2 months ago
  • Wow, Wozy, makes our little SNAFU look calm by comparison.

    What's amazing to me is that the entire budget was spent before cameras rolled. Even if you're producing AND directing, you'd still have time in preproduction to type those costs in to compare real and estimated costs, especially on a short where the crew and meals are usually hard costs that should have been deducted from the beginning and never touched.

    I absolutely hate reverse budgets (this is how much we have, now how can we make it for that?). But the good side of a reverse budget is that you can sit down and deal with your hard costs first, then start cutting and making deals on all the rest. Something "Bob" didn't bother to do, I guess.

    2 months ago