The approach that I’ve used in other types of contracts should apply to this one.
(1) Work on a “task order/change order” system under the umbrella of a “general services agreement (GSA)” which you establish with the company. The GSA specifies the details of how you get paid and how the TO/CO system works.
(2) The first TO should be to develop the other ones. This is all of the detailed pre-production work and should have as its deliverables a detailed script and storyboard or shot outline; and the TO’s necessary to complete the work; and the projected costs thereof. Now you are getting paid to come up with the detailed estimate, which every project requires. (Otherwise you are shooting in the dark, working on ill-formed specs given by your client and too-heavily influenced by how much you think he’ll balk at.)
(If he questions the need for this, calmly use this analogy. “If you wanted a room built onto your house and the first thing a contractor did was to show up with a crew and building supplies and started hammering things together… you’d throw him out as an amateur, wouldn’t you? The first thing to do is to develop the plans. A project like this is as complicated as building an entire new wing onto a building, and the cost of mistakes made at this stage is ‘100% scrap.’ The Architect’s work comes first.” If he still refuses, walk.)
(3) Each task-order should be specific and detailed. They are a binding specification of the work to be performed and the price to be paid for it and the expected completion date. The total project may consist of a dozen of these.
(3a) Your GSA should explicitly cover copyright. The work is probably “a work made for hire” unless you specify otherwise. Be sure that your arrangement is really fair, not only for you but also for the client. Be sure that you secure the legal right to use some portion of your work a a demo.
(3b) You strive to make sure that “the worst won’t happen,” but be careful to stipulate in your GSA exactly what will happen if it does. Your arrangements, even if the work cannot be completed, must be businesslike and fair from both parties point-of-view. This will improve the chances that they’ll never be invoked. Budgets change, priorities change, people quit. Be sure the signatory to your GSA has the legal right to bind his corporation.
(4) For each and every change of specs or scope, go through the discipline of creating and executing a CO!
(5) Make sure that each deliverable is described in “the customer’s terms.” The customer doesn’t know what rendering is, and should not care. Each TO/CO should express the deliverable in customer-oriented terminology even though it may also include a more technical description of how the task will be accomplished.
(5a) Don’t price your TO/CO’s “by the hour.” Keep your internal pricing and estimating structure to yourself but put a firm (“with 10% contingency”) price on each one.
(5b) Keep a daily work-log and record. After the project is done, and during it, you can learn amazing facts about your own project that you didn’t notice at the time. But your goal is not only to do excellent work, but to do it profitably, and profits are “made by the dollar but lost by the dime.”
(6) Each TO should, to the extent reasonably possible, yield an intermediate work-product that is useful to the client in shaping the progress of the final work. For example, it may be a rough animatic-style render, enough to show the pace and progress of the project.
(7) Schedule weekly meetings with the client no matter how little or how much is accomplished by each one. Show something. Have someone take minutes of each meeting and circulate those back to the client in next Tuesday’s mail, like clockwork. Bring a pad of CO forms. For each CO that may be drafted in the meeting, go back to the office and immediately retype it and price it, then send the CO back for client approval.
(8) Solicit the involvement of the client at every opportunity. Keep him or her in the loop. “Grin and bear it.” You may know the business of animation, but he or she knows his or her business far better than you ever could. You must not only accomplish the work, but solicit and facilitate the type of open, communicative arrangement that makes both sides happy.
(9) If any circumstance arises which makes you unhappy, rest assured that by then the client is unhappy too or very soon will be. Head trouble off at the pass! If there is something you’d like to say but haven’t or are afraid to, rest assured the client feels the same too about something. The longer that either of you leave a stone unturned, the worse the wound will become.
(10) At times you may feel like a paperwork-hound, but stick to your process and stick to your guns. It’s not simply being defensive: the extra step of writing something down and circulating it back for written acceptance is yet another means of facilitating communication.
Herman Holz’s guides to consulting contracts, available at most bookstores, are a bible. (Yes, it’s “Holz” not “Holtz.”)