What to do when a film company doesn’t pay the tab on an exclusive agreement?

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  • #25936 Reply

    This summer I scored an Indy film. The film company paid the deposit but upon delivery of stems the film company never paid the balance.

    My question is this:

    We signed an exclusive agreement for the music. The agreement stated in no uncertain terms that the music was exclusive to the film but I would retain all copyright… The agreement also states the fee agreed upon, and I made sure for them to include language requesting a finished copy of the film for my reel.

    After sending multiple emails to no avail I eventually decide to utilize the copyright clause and digitally copyrighted the music with safecreative, and submitted it to the USCO for good measure as well…

    After several emails with no reply I figured the only way to get them to budge was to email them copies of the watermark receipts and a screenshot of the USCO submission from my safecreative account. I did so, explaining that the music was copyrighted as per our agreement, and if they paid the balance we were all square…
    Finally they replied back that I would be paid by check.

    A week went by, no check, email inquiring sent… Another week and another email, and no reply…
    3 months later I still have not received the balance… (I don’t expect to either…)

    So they’ve begun distributing the soundtrack and have released a trailer but they never paid the tab… (Around 1k.)
    Since they acknowledged in writing that I can expect payment, and have not received such payment, the license is unfulfilled….
    I’m assuming that since they are now distributing the media this is now an infringement issue…

    I would like to re-negotiate the rights back to non-exclusively re-license the music however I see fit; the only “payback” I’m looking to get is the right to non-exclusively re-distribute the music I spent weeks composing… I’d also like a finished version of the film for my reel…
    But if there are other scenarios I should consider I’d appreciate if any input regarding that… Thanks as always and hope all is well for everyone else…

    #25937 Reply
    Art Munson


    #25957 Reply

    First, you should contact an entertainment attorney. That’s the only REAL way you are going to get solid, legal answers. I’m not sure what country or state you are in, so there are so many variables that it’s difficult to comment. Also, keep in mind I’m about as far from being an attorney as you can get, but…..All that said….

    You own the copyright. I presume you also own the master (sync) rights, and granted that to them in exchange for the ENTIRE payment, which they did not make.

    You mention they are “distributing” the film, but I find that just boarderline insane. I don’t know any distribution outlet that would touch the film without ironclad contracts with all these things neatly and tidily taken care of.

    If it’s in distribution, that puts you squarely in the power position. You can stop their film from seeing the light of day – ESPECIALLY if their goal is to sign it with a larger studio for distribution. You might just want to wait, and then pounce when they try to get real distribution?

    Or, what I would do, I’d have an attorney draft a cease and desist style letter saying that due to their default on the agreed upon contract, they do not have permission to use your music in their film. Please remove your music and pull down all copies or risk legal action.

    When they apologize and agree to send a check (and believe me, they will), mention that your attorney is handling these matters now, and that the agreed upon contract is null and void since they didn’t pay. Then let your attorney negotiate a new contract for you which includes his fees, a significant “raise”, and whatever else you feel is fair.

    Keep in mind one thing – do you ever want to work with/for these people again, and how tied into the industry are they??? Cause they are NOT going to be happy with you if you lock down their film – even though you have every right.

    >>>>If they are working professionals, I’d send the above letter and hope for the best, then drop it if they don’t pay you<<<<

    Word gets around quickly and it’s a small industry. If you shut them down they will almost certainly tell all their associates what a $##@!##$ you are. Of course, they would be liars, but that’s how this industry is, and people will remember the scenario – and you. If you don’t see anything positive happening with them or their associates in the future, go ahead and set your attorney on pulling down the film, and then do whatever you like with the music you created.

    Again, please consult an attorney and don’t take anything I say as legitimate legal advice. It’s just how I’d handle things.

    BTW, I’ve see things like this happen on MAJOR Hollywood blockbusters where a staff attorney at the studio wouldn’t treat a composer fairly, and refused to budge on the composers reasonable requests. Eventually, time moved forward and the film was dubbed with said music in place, and when it was ready for release (2 weeks out and trailers had already been announcing the film for a month), the composer made a call to the director who went ballistic on the studio and music supervisor for not taking care of business. The legal team came to the realization that they screwed up and that the Composer still owned and controlled several songs in the movie, and hadn’t signed the miserably one-sided contract they tried to ram down his throat.” FIX IT!!!!!- was the order of the day. You have NEVER seen such @$$ kissing and apologies to the composer. LOL When something is ready for release and the details have not been taken care of, oy!! Their butt is in a serious place of hurt. This could have cost them 10’s of millions as the film might not have been able to be released or it could have cost them dearly to buy out the composer.

    To his credit, the composer played cool, cause it was the long term industry-wise thing to do. He literally could have asked for a $500k license for each song and it would have been paid. And the legal team for the studio would no doubt have been fired. But he didn’t and now, they love him for being reasonable and not playing hardball.

    Keep that in mind. I told you this story so that you can see the positive of helping the producers get their stuff together. It can work in your favor if you are a reasonable person.

    You have the controlling position. Stay calm, act responsibly, take the high ground, and get good council. Who knows, you might end up being a producer on the film with partial ownership. LOL

    #26061 Reply

    Thanks LAwriter!

    Totally understand, I realize your not an attorney… Thanks for the advice, and yes I’ve spoken to an attorney who represented me previously… After a day or two of mulling it over I realized it was well worth pursuing.

    Yes, I own the copyright and master rights. They weren’t paying enough to take ownership of the music so I was managed to negotiate both of these into the agreement. It’s basically an exclusive license in perpetuity, ownership of the music and masters staying with me…

    Sorry, I should have been more clear in the language. They haven’t begun ‘distribution’, (but that is their end game). Currently they’ve released a trailer, have released some of the score as promotional material, and are gearing up to do festival runs. They’re ultimately looking to either acquire distribution, option it to TV or larger film company, or attract money to develop it into a feature length film. (These were all discussed casually as possible scenarios when we began negotiating.)

    Anyway, this is their first film. In term of why they would do this who knows for sure, but I think the answer is two fold.

    A: It’s their first film. (Previously the producer had been a script writer and this was their first foray into producing a film themselves.)

    B: I believe what ultimately happened was this; the producer ran out of money making the film. (This I know for a fact. Before the director and I had a blow out he was candid about this. He paid the deposit, and part of the agreed upon balance and explained what the situation was.)

    Basically we came to blows over an edit I did. The edit was intended to be a draft but he chose not to hear that because he didn’t ‘get his way’… (The guy was a total control freak to put it politely.) Anyway, we exchanged nasty words after he threatened to pull me from the project over said draft. (And threatened not to pay me at that…) I tried to walk, she wouldn’t have it, hung the agreement over me, and I begrudgingly finished out the project, as at the time it wasn’t worth getting legal, and frankly I was emotionally fried from the back and forth…

    Without getting too longwinded about the details, basically she (the producer) ran out of money and he (the director) was paying the tab. We exchanged nasty words and it was pretty clear he put me on his s#!t list. I suspect the producer asked him to pay the tab, he said he would, hasn’t done so, and she won’t return emails or calls after informing both of them that score had been copyrighted after it looked pretty clear that they had no intention of paying the balance…

    There’s a lot more backstory, that’s the short version…

    Anyway I’ll know more once I sit down with my attorney and we get in to the nitty gritty…

    And thanks for the advice at the end there. Although I don’t see them having any major connections I’m concerned about I still plan on keeping it cool. I went through enough s#!t scoring this film where it isn’t worth sicking my attorney on them to the point of crippling them, and it turning into a drawn out negotiation. At this point I’m doing it mostly on principle with the added bonus of having leverage to renegotiate things favorably..


    #26062 Reply

    Well….the good news is that the distribution channel will almost certainly want to “own” the music outright if it’s a major studio. They don’t want you controlling the destiny of the film – especially if they broke the contract by not paying your full fee.

    That’s good for you, as they will have to come back to the table to negotiate that, and you’ll be in the drivers seat at that point. The only thing they could do is not pay you and pull all your music out, at which point, c’est-la-vei – you’re better off without them. Move on, live joyfully, and look forward to better gigs.

    It’s almost certain that if your attorney goes after them, things will get nasty, and you’ll get paid, but it might just not be worth it. Best of luck. This gig is hard sometimes…..


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