On Contracts: Do You Have A Kill Fee?

A friend of mine books a client a few months before the job was to take place. He is moderately busy with work, but not booked solid. A second client approaches him about a shoot on the same day, and he had to turn it down, because of his commitment to Client One. Three weeks before the shoot, Client One calls to cancel because they have booked another photographer. My friend is furious and, because he didn’t have a kill fee, out the money he would have made from doing either shoot.

A kill fee is standard for commercial contracts and many other jobs. Basically it states that you will be paid a certain amount if the job is cancelled for any reason. Depending on the kind of work you do, jobs may be postponed indefinitely, (for example, if your shoots are weather dependant), which may not be the same as being cancelled. You should be clear in your terms how much you need to be paid, and on what conditions. At what point does your kill fee apply? (Consider: once the contract is signed, once you begin the work, once the client approves the first draft, etc). I usually use something like this:

“You agree to pay all production expenses incurred at time of cancellation, plus the fees as follows:

25% of the fee if cancelled after receipt of confirmation.
50% of the fee if notice is received 48 hours prior to session
100% of the fee if notice is received less than 24 hours prior to session”

And I’m upfront about it – I include this information in the quotes I provide to potential clients. I know that there are often extenuating circumstances that disrupt people’s schedules, and I don’t have to charge cancellations, but including it in my terms reserves me the right to do so. I’ve never had to call it in, but a kill fee is one way to protect yourself against flaky clients.


*Note: I am not a lawyer – this is not legal advice. You should have a lawyer look over all of your contracts.