No company really likes to talk about stopping commissioned work within the context of film and video productions. Officially, silence is maintained because this has never previously happened within the organisation and information can therefore not be furnished. Production stops are kept secret because the term alone reflects failure and a certain degree of incompetence. This is wrong. Grasping the falling knife is something that we need to talk about.
In accordance with its nature, the production of an image or product film is more than a mere communication or marketing measure, it is also a project. As opposed to serial production processes, projects also enjoy a certain prototype character and carry the inherent risk of failure – at least from a statistical viewpoint (Videothink will soon publish its own detailed article regarding the project nature of film productions and the arising needs).
Grasping the falling knife
A production stop involves at least two participatory groups for a commissioned film, namely the client (customer) and supplier (film production). Basically, a stoppage can always be initiated by each party, but not without consequences. If we assume that the legal framework for the collaboration was sound and clean, the contract regulates the consequences of stoppages. If not regulated differently, the regulations of the contract for work normally apply. Contingency insurance and completion bonds are commonplace in the USA for feature films, for TV spots or corporate communication with moving images; these protection tools normally remain an exception due to the less substantial budget volume compared to a fictive film.
Every stoppage of a commissioned production results in unpleasant financial consequences. Always.
A production stop is the ultima ratio in collaboration between a customer and production. Detached from legal aspects such as questions of guilt, liability aspects and compensation, a production stop only makes sense in very few exceptional cases
- What the film wants to express or crucial components of the cinematographic work change unpredictably on the client’s side during the course of production. This can be triggered by companies listed on the stock exchange, for example takeovers of competitors or the sales of business units.
- The absence of persons critical for success without replacement such as a well-known brand ambassador or a Hollywood film director who, as an Oscar winner, moves an image film into public awareness merely due to the accompanying reporting in the mass media (however, those responsible on all sides should consider the question of contingency insurance against such eventualities shortly in advance).
- A production interruption which is already initiated does not result in the clarification of open questions or differences between the parties involved as expected.
- Force majeure, for example natural disasters or war make realisation impossible and the film cannot be relocated to a different shooting location for reasons of content.
Every stoppage of a commissioned production results in unpleasant financial consequences. Grasping the falling knife is never fun. Before the decision and parallel to running through the escalation levels for collaboration, the various solution approaches should be calculated carefully. The evaluation of possible legal expenses should also be incorporated in these cost estimates. Independent of the scenario which is implemented later, all participants are wiser afterwards.
Moreover, in 90% of all cases with adequate risk management, careful evaluation of the production partner, sufficient experience and adequate professionalism, a production stop and “grasping the falling knife” would have remained what it ought to be: a paper tiger which is commonly discussed within the scope of the contract negotiations but need not be released out of its cage.