I have had a bunch of students recently ask about non-union contracts. Sometimes, these non-standard contracts can be confusing, and sometimes it is hard to get a written agreement at all! Here is a recent question about commercial work, sent by one of my students:
I'd like your opinion. A guy called me last week from upstate NY about a commercial he was doing there (he saw my profile on Backstage.com.) He asked me what my rate was, and of course, who has a rate if you're not SAG? He offered to pay transportation, food and lodging for 3 days, but he wants to pay $50/day for a 3 day shoot over a weekend. He made the offer, and accepted, asking him for a formal agreement. Aside from going out of town, I wanted to make sure it won't do me more harm than good- for example, it's a buyout (i'm guessing) with no residuals, so how long do they want to use this commercial? I tried to explain to him that this was my concern. If it's a year or two, and it's just up in that area, I'm thinking it's acceptable, but not in perpetuity, right? I would love your opinion. Thanks, as always.
As far as the commercial- you are right to get all of that hammered out in advance. Even though it is only $50 per day, I think it is a good that you accepted. It sounds like it might be fun, considering you are getting all of your expenses paid, and it doesn’t sound like it will be interfering with your work too much.
When I started out, I did a ton of non-union commercial work, and usually the initial payment is considered the buyout, and they can use the spot for any reason, at any time, for as many times as they'd like (I have a commercial that is STILL running during the holidays in San Diego.) My suggestion would be to have them put together a contract for you which explains everything so that you both understand what will happen. Most importantly, you need to have a provision for getting a copy of your work. If they don't have something like that in contract form, you can print out a standard "Copy Provided" contract (courtesy of Holdon Log) and ask the producer to fill it out with you. I would ask them what date they plan to air the commercial, and then ask if you can arrange to pick up a copy of it around that time.
Obviously, this isn't a union gig, but sometimes looking at a union contract can help you understand what provisions should be considered when asking for a written agreement. Here are some documents regarding SAG commercial work that you can use to do some research: http://www.sag.org/content/commercial-contracts. (For blog readers: if you are not a SAG member, you will not be able to access the full contract from this page. Email me, and I will send you a PDF version.)
Hope this was helpful- let me know how it goes!