Ask DN: what do you do if you're freelancing at a studio and the job is pulled?

over 8 years ago from , Creative Director at Greig

This has only happened to me once in 3 years, but it's made me wonder if I should be protecting myself better...

I was hired for a 5 day project by a studio (who I had worked for previously). At the end of the first day, I was told the director had put the project on hold (it was a speculative pitch for an existing client) and that they didn't need me any more.

I ended up asking for, and getting, an extra day's fee as a cancellation fee.

It did mean that I'd lost out on another 3 day's work, but luckily I had another job in the queue so wasn't sitting around twiddly my fingers.

So my question is: Do you get studios to sign a contract when you're freelancing for them?


  • Ivo MynttinenIvo Mynttinen, over 8 years ago
    • Always contract. There is no "friend", "but I know them" or "it worked out previously" bonus. A cancelation fee should be one of the fundamentals and it should hurt (50%+).
    • Always a 50% prepayment, if possible try to gamble and get 70%.
    • Calculate your rate based on the fact that shit can happen (lawsuit, etc.).
    9 points
    • Mike Wilson, over 8 years ago


      Too many people allow themselves to be taken advantage of in the freelance world because they don't treat it like a business. You think when a larger agency like Huge books a gig for a Fortune 500 company they don't have a cancellation clause? In their case, that could mean they've already staffed up and turned away new/competing clients to serve the business. Tons of money lost.

      It's the same with you as a solo player. When I first started out I thought I had a 9 month retainer agreement signed with a smaller shop I had worked with in the past. We signed on the dotted line and I declined 2 promising gigs because I thought I'd be booked. Well surprise surprise, they backed out before the gig even began (they lost a client), and I only had requested a two week cancellation fee. The gigs I had turned down would have provided above-rate work for 5 months. Lesson Learned.

      Always include painful cancellation fees in your contracts. Avoid gigs with subcontracting companies like Creative Circle and Aquent because not only do they leech 50% off your rate, but there's usually no way to get a cancellation clause with them either (they of course get one but you don't).

      ...And please for those just starting out, DO NOT calculate your rate based on your full-time salary. You will always lose. It should be at least 2-3X that. As Ivo said, shit can happen, and as I've found, it inevitably WILL happen and probably 25-50% of the time (not necessarily lawsuits but non-paying or late-paying clients, gigs not lasting as long as you'd thought, disputes over hours, projects going over budget, etc. etc.).

      3 points
      • Nick LooijmansNick Looijmans, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

        Just to second the above:

        1. Contract
        2. 50% upfront payment
        3. The reason why a freelancer charges more, is because of the lack of job security. It's a risk, and our clients pay for that risk. When I was freelancing, I tried to make sure that my personal finances would never be affected if I was ever jobless for a month or so. Luckily, that never happened, but at least I was prepared.
        0 points
  • Constantin BuricConstantin Buric, over 8 years ago

    In your case I see you have worked with them before. Usually I too tend to give repeating clients a pass on contracts.

    2 points
  • Robin AndersenRobin Andersen, over 8 years ago

    Don't know if this works for you, but I usually get them to pay 50% upfront.

    If the project suddenly gets pulled at least you got something out of it :)

    If you are considering working for a studio for a longer period of time you might want them to sign a contract.

    1 point
  • James Greig, over 8 years ago


    0 points