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We Hereby Agree…

Most animation books Ive read leave out one of the most important things an animator needs to know: how to make a contract! Do it yourself and retain your hide.

An excerpt from Gene Deitch's book, How To Succeed In Animation (Don't Let A Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).

You can craft a satisfactory contract yourself that will save you lawyer's fees.

You can craft a satisfactory contract yourself that will save you lawyer's fees.

There are a vast array of ways an animator or independent filmmaker can get screwed. If you get involved with a real expert, there may be no escape. But a well drawn written agreement can save you in most cases. Decide for yourself if you need a lawyer, but legal eagles generally fly high, and need plenty of enriched dollars to keep them aloft. I may be lucky, but I've done better on contracts I've drafted myself. A lawyer has enough boilerplate to make a contract that is thicker than your film script often many times thicker and you probably won't understand most of it. From my vast experience with vampire producers, I have boiled down the essential armor plate to just a few pages often just a single page with the essentials all there. However, every project is different in one way or another, but these are the essential points:

Clarity. Simple, but precise language.

Use of the word "shall" in preference to "will." There is a mighty difference!

Fairness to all parties. A tricked up, one-sided contract leads to intense pain, and is non-workable in practice.

In animation work there are generally three types of contracts or agreements.


Freelance, where your own creation is involved.

Freelance, where you are contracted to produce their project.

I'm not guaranteeing you that you can actually get all of the rights and compensations you want. They are what you should strive for. What you will actually get depends on what you've got to sell and how much the client/producer wants you and/or your creation. That is, as they say, "Show Business!"

No contract is foolproof, and any can collapse for various extreme reasons. The most important point is to know with whom you are dealing. Trust and mutual benefit are the only true guarantees of fulfillment. It is vital that all understandings be in writing, carefully worded to eliminate ambiguities, and that they be carefully read and understood.

As Casey Stengel once said, "Verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are written on!"

Read examples of each of the three types of contracts, complete with Gene Deitch's explanations of the good and bad points, now.

Gene Deitch is one of the last surviving members of the original Hollywood UPA studio of 1946 and the instigator of the CBS-Terrytoon "renaissance" of 1956-1958. He was also: Animation Department Chief of the Detroit Jam Handy Organization, 1949-1951, Creative Chief of UPA-New York, 1951-1954, Director at John Hubley's Storyboard, Inc., New York, 1955, President of Gene Deitch Associates, Inc., New York, 1958-1960, Creative Director for Rembrandt Films, 1960-1968, and star director for Weston Woods Studios, Inc., Weston, Connecticut, 1968-1993. He has worked for over 40 years with the Prague animation studio, "Bratri v Triku."