Production photos - what do you think?

  • Mark Lisseman

    Actor

    I'm relatively new to all this, so can anyone tell me if this seems normal and/or fair..?

    I recently took part in a play. A one-off for an evening of new writing. Unpaid, nothing signed at any point, completely run-of-the-mill, etc. We were told a photographer was coming to take pictures of the dress rehearsal at the venue (I do not know if the photographer was there at the director's request, the venue's, or the photographer's).

    Afterwards, the actors received a Facebook message from the director to say that some of the pictures were up on the photographer's website if we wanted to have a look. I had a look, and thought a couple would be good to have on my website. I replied to the director's message asking the best way to go about getting a couple. The director said something along the lines of "I have a DVD of all the pictures, but the best way is probably to contact the photographer", so I emailed the photographer. The reply was along the lines of "You can buy 10 for £75, or they're £10 each".

    So: can the photographer use my pictures without permission on their site (they're still there)? Should we have been offered some photos by the photographer as a "thank you" as they are being used to promote their services? Should they director have offered to pass on some pictures? What do you think?

    • 28th May 2012
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  • User Deleted

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    I think that you should of been asked permission before photos were published, I would be a bit miffed at having to pay for a copy. If you credit the photographer and perhaps put a link to his website or something and use photos for spotlight or personal website I dont see why you should have to pay.

    • 20th May 2012
    • 1
  • User Deleted

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    Mark,

    I have found that this practice is quite normal; but I would add that I consider it unfair on the actors.

    I recently did a theatre production (actually it is the only theatre credit I list, so not hard to work out who it is) and the Saturday matinee and evening performances were filmed. I signed nothing and gave no consent that I recall, but was ok with it on the understanding that I would receive a copy of the footage.

    a little earlier in the year I contacted the theatre company some 3 months after the performances, asking if I could possible get a copy as I was getting a showreel together. I was told that they had not had time to edit the two different shows shot from different angles into the one piece. I asked if I could meet to extract a copy of the unedited files from whoever has them stored as a digital file, and was curtly informed and this is a direct quote as I distinctly remember the telephone conversation:

    "If you had wanted footage of the filmed performances, then you should have organised it yourself!"

    • 20th May 2012
    • 2
  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    It is normal for photographers BUT unless you have a contract which stipulates they have permission to take the pictures (or you personally sign a release) it is not permissible for them to publish them or use them for FOH

    • 20th May 2012
    • 3
  • User Deleted

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    Dan,

    Where do I stand as far as the video footage of the performances of the play?

    It's been 6 months plus since the play; It is looking highly unlikely it will ever be made available to me and so I have informed the company that any verbal consent (if in fact there were any given in the first instance) is well and truly withdrawn.

    The same same company took numerous photographs of rehearsals and proceeded to publish them to their website and various other sites and my permission was granted by me for them to do this.

    • 20th May 2012
    • 4
  • User Deleted

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    The above post should read "was not granted"

    • 20th May 2012
    • 5
  • Nigel Peever

    Actor

    I think that the production was in the hands of your producers and so they got what they wanted, a copy of the photographs. Any copyright that might have existed in the production was waived by them in return for the service. You therefore had your photograph taken in a public place and have no more say in how those photographs are used than any other famous person who appears in a copy of "hello" every week.

    The photographer has done his job and so it's up to you whether you want to pay to use his services or not. Just as I would pay a newspaper for a print of a publicity pic. Realistucally not every one works like us and works for the love of it alone :-)

    If you want to restrict the use of your image in a production in future it is something to take up at the contract stage and not in hindsight.

    Or at least that's how I believe the system works. I'm sure different people will see it differently.

    If you do choose to buy a print or two, check that you have the rights to use those images for publicity purposes.

    You don't want to go to all the trouble of clearing the royalties with every actor, producer, musician etc to video a panto and then get told 20 odd years later, to take a clip off youtube by someone who wasn't even there to take it down or face legal action because the it was the theatre's production......copyright is a very specialist area ;-)

    • 20th May 2012
    • 6
  • Peter Halpin

    Actor

    In my experience, all actors have been allowed any production photos taken in dress rehearsals they like, with the condition that the photographer is credited on all uses of them, including your website. This is perfectly standard, asking for actors to pay for them, in my experience, is not.

    Obviously in this circumstance, corners have been perhaps cut and permissions were not asked for (therefore not given) by or from any parties involved. I'm guessing everyone will know better for next time! :)

    • 20th May 2012
    • 7
  • Forbes KB

    Actor

    As Katherine Tate's "Nan" would say, "What a f#*!!ing liberty"!

    I did a short a few years back where a similar thing happened! I told the photographer where to stick his £10, got copies from the director and published them on my online profiles anyway!

    As long as you credit the photographer there's nothing he can do especially as he nicked your images in the first place without a models release being signed!

    The director show be supporting you on this...you did work for him for free remember!

    • 20th May 2012
    • 8
  • Hugh Osborne

    Actor

    In most, if not all, professional theatre contracts, you will have agreed, by signing your contract, to partake willingly in any publicity that the producers see fit. Photographs taken by a professional photographer at the behest of the producers would therefore fall into this category. You are not entitled to these photos, and it is perfectly reasonable, as Nigel says, to pay photographers for their additional labours in making you some prints.

    Expecting them to work for nothing on your behalf is a bit cheeky, to say the least.

    • 20th May 2012
    • 9
  • Rob Talbot

    Actor

    Hugh.

    With due respect, taking photos in a professional capacity for publicity of the show is one thing. Exploiting the artists is another.

    £10 a throw for digital files they have already been paid to take?

    Vermin.

    • 20th May 2012
    • 10
  • Mark Lisseman

    Actor

    Thanks for the feedback guys. Just to reiterate:

    * Nothing was signed by me at any point (to do with the play or photographs)

    * It was your 'run-of-the-mill' amateur production (although I don't have a huge amount of experience to go on)

    * No one was paid or promised anything (not expenses, not travel costs - although there was mention early on of 'keep the receipts if you buy anything and we'll try and reimburse you after the show')

    * The photographer photographed all three plays, so was there possibly on behalf of the venue or production company or themselves (it was our director's production company - the other plays had different directors)

    * I didn't/don't expect anything. I just wanted to find out 'what happens in this situation' as a couple of friends said they thought it was unfair.

    Thanks very much for the feedback. It seems there isn't a clear answer in this particular situation. I'll chalk it up to experience, and remember to ask questions and ask about these things beforehand next time!

    Cheers, Mark.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 11
  • Emma Hilts

    Actor

    My boyfriend is a photographer and he does performance shoots for a lot of amateur and student productions- because of their small budgets he is not paid for his hours (both the shoot and any editing afterwards) so he makes his money back by selling the photographs to the actors for their portfolios. This is his job to be fair so he can't do it completely for love, however £10 per photo seems very steep!

    • 21st May 2012
    • 12
  • User Deleted

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    I can perfectly understand the photographers needing to make money, however on a project where the actors are not being paid and the photos are being used to boost the profile of the photographer, you would expect a free photo. Everyone gives their time for free and everyone benefits?

    Most people, I imagine, would be happy to pay money for prints from the images etc.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 13
  • Rob Talbot

    Actor

    Send him an invoice.

    £10 per image per week sounds fair ;o)

    You have not given permission for your image to be used, and whilst the law on that is questionable, you certainly have not authorised your "performance" to be used.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 14
  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    "Where do I stand as far as the video footage of the performances of the play?"

    The only times I have had videos made of stage productions either for TV news plugs or for the companies own records there have been additional contracts & payments issued.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 15
  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    Hi Mark,

    You seem to have reached your own conclusions on this one, but re-reading the original post, I suspect we may have ended up doing this photographer a disservice. As far as I can tell from your original post, you stated that, when you talked to the director, they told you that they possessed a DVD of all the relevant pictures (i.e. a digital copy of all the shots sent to them, presumably as part of the deal, by the photographer). The director then sent you back to the photographer for further copies. Now, all this seems to imply is that the director has generated whatever problems you're encountering: they have presumably been given a copy, free of charge or included in the charge of hiring the photographer, for their own promotional use. They have the pictures available to be made further available to you, and I would sincerely hope that *the director* is not thinking of charging you for a copy when they couldn't even find the wherewithal to cover your expenses. In a sense, *they* owe you the pictures as a part of payment in kind for your participation - and, in fact, most truly collaborative fringe projects offer actors photographs free of charge during/after a performance run, because of this tacit acknowledgment.

    The situation seems to have little to do with the photographer - who has probably been brought in from outside, done their job as they see it, and is, entirely reasonably, asking that you pay further for the cost of covering further copies of your own if you're asking for them. Howvere, the real point is that a copy has *already* been made available - it's just that the director appears not to want to send you the relevant images. Have you made sure to get back to the director, tell them the photographer will charge you for further copies, you're not prepared to pay for the same images, and that you would, therefore, hope the director can make the relevant images accesible? You may be dealing with a really recalcitrant (or technophobic!) director who will do everything they can to avoid meeting you halfway, so have to write getting these images off, perhaps, but I can't find it in me to say that the photographer seems to be in the wrong here. And maybe the director sincerely thought it would be easier to get hold of your own copy of the shots, and it's up to you to set them straight.

    As to whether or not the photographer has the right to use those self-same images on their website: technically, they don't. They own the copyright over the image, but not the usage rights if you've signed no release forms.

    Finally, I found it interesting that you were using the terminology of 'amateur' performance for what sounds like a fringe showcase. Although there are a lot of (particularly old school) actors who like to make loud declarations that any performance is, literally, 'amateur' if you're not paid for it, I believe that a distinction can, and should, be drawn between true 'amateur' theatre and 'fringe' work. At root, the difference is basically this: true 'amateur' work is work in which the performance is taken on for the love of the production, a hobbyist activity, in which no-one performs for any reason other than the sake of performance and so is in no sense 'professional' (it is also generally performed by those to whom acting is not considered a career, but a sideline); 'fringe work' may rarely pay much, if anything, but is performed by career actors (the reason most do it is because they are hoping to use it to kick start their career as wage earning actors) and there is always (or should be) an expectation of making money from a show in some way. A one off showcase evening is a little different in form, but the distinction still applies. The reason this *is* important is because it conditions your awareness of how you deserve to be treated, what responsibilities you have for vetting all the ins and outs of a production set-up, and what you should be owed in your capacity as a working professional. In truth, if you think of the work you do as 'amateur', you get treated like an amateur, and that is no good for finding ways to make the fringe work for you.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 16
  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    As to Stuart's comment: I agree that any company that gives you a promise that they will offer you footage and then reneges on that verbal agreement later is pretty hopeless.

    With that said, most theatre companies are only ever recording a piece for the sake of some kind of company record, and have no intention of broadcast, so it's often a rough and ready sort of job. If they felt there was no need to go to all the energy and commitment of editing the material together properly afterwards, then I suspect they were just trying to bluster their way past the idea that they had ever agreed to offer you something in the first place. Asking for access to the unedited footage is often, from what little I've experienced, a relatively bad idea because if there are enough separate files and they are big enough, it can be an extremely arduous job to download all the information and a final edited version is infinitely more accessible. A perennial issue with screen footage being used on showreel is that most production companies will not offer unedited rushes (which could then be re-edited to privilege e.g. your specific performance) to the actor because it is far too time consuming and labour intensive to do this: they will send (when they *do* send the footage!) a final edit, and material will have to excerpted from that. Although I think it likely that this was a considerably more straightforward shoot, your request may still have raised issues, especially if the theatre team are not greatly technically competent.

    For what consolation it is, though: utilising theatrical material in showreels is never very effective, unless you are aiming to produce a specifically theatrical reel for the sake of winning more theatre work (which is different, and tends to stand in for face to face auditions if you can't make them). As most showreels are intended to be sent to screen casting directors, however, the judgement of them is defined by the showcasing of screen performances and such casting directors can only take from an obviously theatrical performance the guarantee that you're a competent theatre performer. At best, this is irrelevant to them: at worst, it makes them feel you don't understand screen demands properly, because you appear to think theatre and screen acting are equivalent (which they aren't). In addition, it's more common than not that the demands being filming for a staged piece skews your performance in ways that don't actually translate to good screen work: you are generally filmed from too remote a distance - i.e. always in long to mid shot, rather than close up - and the vocal pitching is generally wrong, to name but two obvious problems.

    • 21st May 2012
    • 17
  • User Deleted

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    Lee,

    Thank you for that showreel advice; It would have been nice just to have had the footage, that maybe I could have directed cd's to view.

    And "hopeless" is exactly right.

    They have reneged and after my last communication with them I doubt I will hear from them again.

    I think they think they are the north east's answer to the "Chicks on Speed" or something; only they fall way short of the mark.

    Imagine my embarrassment reading in the program that was printed for the play the following before going out on stage to perform:

    "Inspired by the moralistic questions behind the treatment of Bertha Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and the melancholic despair and self imposed isolation of Rudyard Kipling's Lady of Shallot"

    Which is all jolly hockey sticks apart from the fact that Rudyard Kipling didn't write Lady of Shallot it was Lord Alfred Tennyson!

    • 21st May 2012
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  • Mark Lisseman

    Actor

    Hi Lee

    Yes, it was just the fact the director didn't offer a copy of the photos (when I asked how to go about getting them) that irked me. I do not know if the photographer received any sort of payment for taking the pictures, or for providing the director with a DVD of them (or indeed, who asked the photographer to take the pictures - if anyone did). As to whether they can use my pictures on their website - again, there doesn't seem to be a consensus of opinion.

    Oh - and I used the term 'amateur' as a general catch-all for an unpaid gig. I see what you mean regarding different types of unpaid gigs.

    It's (for me) not worth pursuing this matter with the director. It was suggested the play may be put on again. If so - and if they ask me to take part again - I'll get some clarity upfront!

    • 23rd May 2012
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