CAMPAIGN CRAFT: FORUM - Should production companies’ contracts with directors be more formal?

JO GODMAN - Managing director, Godman

JO GODMAN - Managing director, Godman

I have never felt there is any point in having expensive legal contracts

with directors. The hope is that directors are with you because they

want to be; when they don’t want to be then it’s best they’re not. Why

prolong the agony?

There is always a risk that you spend time, effort and money nurturing a

director, then, as soon as they make their name, they leave for what

they perceive as greener pastures. If this does happen, there are

usually grievances on both sides and both welcome the split.

Putting a director on a contract would not eliminate these


The mutual trust between a production company and a director is a

contract in itself and legal paperwork would not strengthen it.

Maybe I have been lucky, but I have never spent time, effort and money

on a director that I feel has been wasted. If the moment comes for a

director to move on, it is often in the best interests of both


I cannot imagine that legally binding a director to stay against his

will to fulfil a contract happens very often, even in the US. All

contracts can be broken - again an expensive procedure that creates

nothing but bad feelings and wealthy lawyers.

EMILY BLISS - Joint managing director, The Brave Film Company

The problem of directors ’jumping ship’ just as their careers take off

is something almost every production company has had to face.

A system sometimes used in the UK is a contract requiring directors to

stay with a company until profit-making jobs cover launch costs

However, this does not take on board the energy, passion and commitment

needed to get a director’s career going - unquantifiable but more

valuable than any financial input.

A standard director’s contract might be useful in deterring ’serial’

movers who believe the next production company will solve all their

career problems. But their problem probably lies with their attitude.

Most production company managing directors will recognise this and will

be wary of taking them on.

Ultimately, however, the UK production industry is all about people and

relationships. Producers take on directors because they believe in their

talent and ability. In turn, directors join us because they believe in

our commitment to this talent and our ability to manage their


I doubt even London’s biggest production companies would want an unhappy

director constrained by the law to stay.

MARK LETHEM - Managing director, The Clinic

The time-honoured arrangement between production companies and the

directors that they choose to represent has always been based on the

principle of mutuality. If a director likes what’s on offer from a

production company, they will join. If, for whatever reason, they then

change their mind, there is nothing that can, or should, keep them from

leaving. Holding a creative person such as a director to a restrictive

contract is not going to make for a fruitful relationship.

The recent departure of one of my newly launched directors proves that

this approach does not come without risk. It takes considerable

investment from the production company to create a ’brand name’ for a

director. Frustratingly, if they choose to leave before the investment

is returned, it is a rival production company that reaps the


The only positive side to this is that one day you might be the lucky

one who gets the established director with the ready-made reel. This may

be a tough system but it is still a preferable agreement to one based on

contracts and potential litigation. I would prefer to represent

directors who are reasonable enough not to take advantage of this

goodwill. Those that choose not to are best shown the door as quickly as


STOR REDMAN - Managing director, Eclipse Productions

Contracts between directors and film companies result in two opposing

forces pulling in opposite directions. Yes, film companies are

businesses run for profit, but their product, the skill of their

directors, is an entirely human one. It is impossible to reduce the

talent of the directors down to a secure contractual term that is more

appropriate for a ’widget’.

A director and a production company have to be able to work together in

what is a notoriously risky business. The bottom line is that if one or

other party wishes to terminate the relationship, it is best done


If we applied a stricter American form of contract, we would be unjustly

tying individuals to companies in which they no longer feel happy. We

all have experience of the legal dross we have to wade through when

dealing with American agencies - such experience is best avoided.

Directors join companies because of the personalities of the producers

and management involved. These individuals often change and it seems

unreasonable to me to tie the director to the company long after the

individuals that attracted them have left.

It is upsetting and costly when a director you have invested in leaves

and joins a rival. But this is a fact of life in the risky world of

production companies - a world we entered knowing the risks.

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