The Martini Shot: Buyer, beware!
by Bobby Amm. We, the Commercial Producers Associations of South Africa (CPA), recommend to all companies, no matter where they stand in the supply chain, to thoroughly check the credentials of companies they commission or supply, to obtain references from trusted colleagues or competitors and to take the necessary precautions when working with companies that are unknown or untested.
Over the last few months, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of instances in which clients, agencies, production companies and suppliers have been burnt through working with unscrupulous companies that prioritise making a quick buck over everything else.
In our industry, there tends to be a general assumption that everyone knows exactly what they are doing and has a great deal of experience and knowledge; this isn’t necessarily the case, though, as many newer businesses have started up recently to attempt to capitalise on new client bases and industry trends. Although many of these new startups are excellent and bring added diversity to the industry, there are those which are simply jumping on the bandwagon without much thought for the impact their actions might have in the long term. As a result, several complaints have come our way recently; however, as these companies tend not to be members of industry associations that advocate for professional and responsible conduct, unfortunately there isn’t much we can do.
To provide a few examples:
- A production company working with a small agency that is not a member of the ACA complains that the agency didn’t realise it was required to contract and pay talent, and was under the impression that this fell into the production company’s budget. Upon completion of the commercial, talent agents are advised to send their invoices directly to the production company. The production company also later learns that the agency hadn’t insured the shoot in accordance with ACA recommendations, which significantly increased their risk. Fortunately, there were no claims!
- An international client receives a quote from a new service company that is way below all others requested. Almost from the start, things go horribly wrong and then the service company starts to demand additional payment for essential items not included in the original quote. When the client refuses to pay, the service company threatens to withhold the commercial. (The other outcome of this scenario is that the service company decides not to pay any of its suppliers as it’s unable to break even because it has underquoted to win the job. Sometimes suppliers receive payment but, most often, the company will simply use new suppliers on its next job.)
- An up-and-coming production company in Joburg markets itself to agencies as being particularly fast and agile in getting the job done quickly and at a lower cost than its competitors. In its haste to deliver, it decides not to apply to the relevant authorities for location permissions or permits to shoot with children. The case is reported to the Department of Labour, which is currently investigating — this has placed the industry’s special dispensation, which makes it the only industry permitted to employ children under the age of15, at risk.
- A startup drone company takes to the skies without proper registration with the Civil Aviation Authority and misrepresents that it is “legal”. The production company has failed to properly check its registration documents and when the location authorities find out the location, permits are revoked, placing the shoot in jeopardy. The production company eventually has to bring in a licensed operator at significant additional cost.
- A group of suppliers regularly issue production companies with photoshopped fuel slips and fake invoices. There are rumors that there are syndicates at work and also that there are criminal elements infiltrating the film industry. Additional hours are spent going through invoices in an attempt to stop the rot; however, ongoing vigilance is required.
- An unscrupulous production company runs out of excuses and time, and then issues a letter to all suppliers to say that it’s now working for and representing another company with a far better track record. It constructs a fake email address and footer in the name of the company in an effort to convince suppliers to keep working with it.
The importance of using reputable companies cannot be overemphasised. When a company is a member of an association such as the CPA, its clients have recourse but, when they aren’t, they’re not answerable to anyone (apart from a court of law). Similarly, suppliers should not automatically assume that all their clients operate according to the guidelines and practices set out by the CPA and other associations. Non-CPA members are not bound to the working conditions and payment terms as set out by the CPA. It’s important to bear in mind that trade associations aren’t legally mandated and tend to work on an honour system, rather than legally binding principles.
We urge all clients and suppliers to carefully consider the credentials of companies they choose to work with in the future. Please check if your production partner is a member of an industry associations (membership lists generally do appear on websites) and, if they aren’t, do thorough background checks to ensure they know and respect the standards the industry has implemented to ensure its sustainability and reputation.
It’s up to you as the buyer to be aware!
Bobby Amm is chief executive of the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa (CPA), the trade association of production companies that produce television, cinema and internet commercials for the local and international market. After a brief stint in journalism, she began her career in the industry at the Consultative Committee for the Entertainment Industry in the early 1990s. She first joined the CPA in 1997 but left three years later to join a production company. After finding that she missed the big-picture perspective of the CPA and the interesting issues which continuously perplex the production industry, Bobby returned to the CPA in 2003. She contributes “The Martini Shot” column monthly, covering developments, trends and insights into the commercial production and film services industries in South Africa, to MarkLives.