I'm thinking about hiring a composer to score one of my works.

What steps do I have to do legally? Do I have to file anything if I hire a freelancer, or am I still considered a start-up until I profit?

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

@Matt Trudell just a suggestion. I would check with ASCAP on line. My Father was a musician and composer and a member. That is all I got I am a screenwriter and as you can imagine there is concern on my part and my brothers and sisters with the coming deadline for the WGA strike on May 2. And NO I would never ever, ever cross a picket line. When I was young and the Musicians union (Local 802) went on strike my sister and I would go to the deli near Carnegie Hall and get coffee and Sandwiches. Hope they don't but it looks like they are going to.

Matt Trudell

thank you

Chris Adams

Hi Matt, you will need to prepare an agreement that sets out the terms of use. Normally the copyright should remain the property of the composer. So the agreement may be exclusive where the music created will only be used in your production. The agreement may also set terms of payment and royalties.

Sharon Farber

Hi Matt- please contact me directly at Sharon@sharonfarber.com. I'd be happy to help.

Joel Irwin

I have a different take on it. Your steps can range from sophisticated legal documents to absolutely nothing other than perhaps a handshake. It really depends on many things such as what type of film you make, your expectations of the financials, etc.

Some here, imho, see all film interactions as needing to follow a strict agreement pattern as done in the major film cities such as LA and NY. Perhaps if you have a large budget and expect significant revenues and profits.

But even for feature films, it really depends. For example, a recent dramatic feature here, the film was about cancer and the whole crew except for the screenwriter volunteered. No one else was paid. I briefly tried to participate for a fee and asked for an agreement. Since none was ever offered, I chose to not join the crew. The film premiered last week at Wordlfest and is currently traveling the festival circuit. So I don't think anyone other than the screenwriter worked under a legal agreement.

So from my perspective, it seems to me that an agreement is only necessary if there is payment or an agreement on future payment. Even so, what goes into an agreement and the complexity of an agreement will depend on what the financial arrangement is and some other things such as publishing and authoring copyrights/royalties.

What I would suggest is that those who are on the beginning of their film career road often pair with others in the same situation. If you think about it, you are more likely to hire a relatively newer composer whose talent and price range match your needs and unless they have 'borrowed'/modified some other (composers) agreements, will be faced with the need to pay for and hire a lawyer and those costs may not be warranted depending on what they expect to get paid.

One other thing to consider whether or not those here / composers agree or not, there are situations and/or composers who are willing to work at no cost. This will likely be more common for shorts than for features and as you probably know, shorts more often than not do not generate revenue. In those cases, the question then becomes, what is the relationship between you and your crew (such as your composer). If the situation is such that there is a high level of trust or understanding, an oral or handshake agreement could be sufficient. There are many in this forum who will recommend against that since they have experience teaching them that doing so is dangerous. All I can tell you is that I am currently working on my 16th IMDB credit short and have yet to see a single legal agreement that was necessary. Perhaps there have been situations here in Houston where there have been problems due to the lack of a written formal legal agreement but I have not personally seen or heard of those issues. So consider that for some composers, not having to be involved in a formal legal agreement could make it easier for them to find work.

One manifestation of trust could be the willingness of the composer to maintain confidentiality. Here is a quick example. Composers often work on films after they have been frozen and so they need to get a copy (whether it be high resolution or not - I use the film at 3200x240, for example). The copy they have is the intellectual property of the production company/producer. Does the composer respect the confidentiality of the film before its released and do they follow the instructions/wishes of the producer with regards to that copy? I worked on a film two years ago and I have a finished copy. But that copy has never been placed online or made public in anyway at the request of the producer. They didn't ask for its destruction and trusted me to keep a copy on my local equipment only. None of it is used outside that understanding, not even for personal marketing/promotion. Same thing goes for my music which under my agreements with the filmmakers, remains my individual property/copyright. Last week I finished scoring a film. Normally I would release the soundtrack before the film premiere's, but I was asked not to (until end of Aug). I will abide by the request. This is an example of what I mean by trust and working relationship. I don't need a formal agreement to abide by confidentiality. It's all about developing a working relationship, trust and being a team member/player.

Finally, keep in mind that whenever a film (most often a short) is created for a competition (with or without a festival), the competition has the filmmaker and composer (and others in the crew) sign formal legal agreements and in most cases, those agreements are sufficient.

Matt Trudell

Excellent thanks Joel Irwin

Matt Trudell

@Chris Adams The music would be the copyright of the composer, I was talking to a composer I'm interested in working with and I hear 30% is standard commission. Now would I be correct in assuming that it would then be a partnership and thus would it have to be filed at that point?

Matt Trudell

I don't have the time or the resources to compose the projects myself, I need a composer and I need to know who to file with. Now it is also my understanding that the partnership doesn't need to file until its out of the startup phase and into sales.

Sharon Farber

If it's a low budget film, the composer should retain the copy right (publishing) and mastering of the music. On big budget films, usually the production company retains the rights unless it's a big name composer who can negotiate. The rights are as follows: 50% - writer share that ALWAYS goes to the composer. 50% -publishing right that again, should be retain or negotiated based on the film's budget. After the film is done and all the music is written and placed in the film, the production company (with the help of the composer if t's a first time director) sends the cue sheets (the document that has all the music timing and usage details) to the performing rights Society that the composer is a member of (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the US).
You can have an agreement with the composer in regards to his/her work. It should detail the above, as well as the amount of music written, the delivery method of the score, the fee and when it is paid, etc.
Hope this helps and good luck.

Matt Trudell

At the same time, I also feel that I should get a percentage of the music copyrights as it is still technically my intellectual property, I just want to get all the technical details hashed out while moving forward.

Matt Trudell

I would retain all copy rights not including the music correct, so there would have to be a partnership agreement

Joel Irwin

Sharon is right on. On most films which generate revenue, the composer is retained in a 'work for hire' relationship with the 50-50 split as described (the film company becomes the publisher). But nothing is 'required' - anything can be agreed to - though most seasoned composers know they will get a work for hire contract as described above. The amount paid is totally up to the agreement - some composers get paid something up front or are guaranteed a certain amount before the film premiere even if the film company decided to go with a different composer. Some contracts specify a delay of payment until the film generates revenue (i.e., leaves the festival circuit).

And there are many formulas to how to calculate total payment (above an beyond any non-composer music costs such as hiring live musicians, studio time, etc.). Around these parts in Texas, the payment often ends up a lump sum request based on the estimate amount of music required. I generally make the offer based on a proposed rate in dollars per minute of music.

But again, this is all dependent on the film generating revenue. Another way to consider it is the composer makes an offer/agreement based on no revenue (i.e., festival) and then restricts the use of the music after that until a negotiated contract takes place or the agreement is made up front in two parts - one for festival and one for after festival.

As far as cue sheets, that can be by itself a separate topic but I have had little success in getting filmmakers to buy into the spotting / cue sheet process since in most cases there is nothing in it for them and the film often does not generate royalties for the composer - since US theatrical releases don't generate royalties only cable/network and a tiny fraction of anything here in Houston makes it out of the US or onto cable/network. Almost all the time here, the filmmaker let's me have the whole film, says score it and doesn't provide any input. I have 2 cases in the last 15 films where the director/filmmaker got involved in the music creation process.

Matt Trudell

The one composer I a made an agreement with to consider him, he's slow to respond tho so its open

Matt Trudell

im a 30%offer from a Serbian composer Thanks Sharon Farber 50%soundtrack rights seem reasonable Im not working with big names so, I still have production rights.

Matt Trudell

I'm willing to offer 10% to an assistant producer, I have applications on my page

Matt Trudell

I'm not looking for "big names" I'm looking for break through names. Troy Starr is interested in an acting role and I am considering him.

Matt Trudell

we are on the verge of a shift in cinema. Virtual Reality has progressed to an extant to where the audience can be a part of the film, and that is where my mind is.

Matt Trudell

The shots have to be longer and more centralized. I did a internship in theatre and have taken an online workshop on VR cinema, and theatre actors are more adept in VR

Matt Trudell

its new

Matt Trudell

the cameras have arrived and im looking for project backers. its open source in way

Bruce Bray

There are always so many composers locally in your Indie scene that are great, and are just as hungry as everyone else. You're telling a story, and a composer should be interested in helping you tell that story, not just putting music to a film. There's such a big difference there. Your communication and relationship that you can build with this person is much more tangible than how much they will charge you or what they get out of it. Telling a story should always be a mutual endeavor.