Is there a standard agreement for each deal?
There really is no such thing. Every deal is different and requires a contract that reflects its unique nature. A lot of provisions recur across agreements, but the individual contract should always be tailored to fit the deal.
A filmmaker/production company/my uncle Joey uses this template, and they've never had problems--why shouldn't I?
Using paper that hasn't been vetted by an attorney is like drinking clear liquid in a bar from a stranger's glass: you don't actually know what's in it. It might not be on point or it might be badly drafted. The fact that folks using it haven't had a problem might very well be only because no one has sued them--and that just means that the agreement has never been tested, not that it would withstand enemy fire. So, you certainly can use it, but the wiser path is having an attorney review it first to make sure it suits your specific needs.
I found an agreement online. Can I use it?
This is a bit like pulling out your own tooth instead of going to the dentist. You can do it, but you might regret it later. The template you found may not be well-drafted or even on point (even if a production company you know is using it), and a bad agreement could create more problems than no agreement at all. A contract needs to address your specific needs, and only a skilled attorney can make sure that it fits your circumstances and provides adequate protection.
What are some key provisions in a contract?
No two deals are the same, and, for that reason, no two contracts ought to be the same, but there are some key sections that are included in most contracts.
Services. What services are being provided?
Fee. How much is the person providing services going to be compensated?
Credit. What credit will the service provider get?
Term. How long does the contact stay in effect?
Termination. Can either party terminate the contract before it runs its course? If so, is it for cause only--i.e., because the other party breached--or also for convenience--i.e., because the terminating party just wants to get out of the relationship?
Can you make the contract just one or two pages long?
Contracts should be short whenever possible, but the legal strength of a contract is in its terms, and the terms ultimately determine how long the contract needs to be. Contracts have to include language that reflects the structure of the deal, gives you sufficient protection against a range of risks, and outlines each person’s obligations and restrictions. In most cases, you simply can’t squeeze all that into a compressed one-page or two-page agreement--and if you try, you run the risk of having a contract that doesn’t given you adequate protection or creates unwanted risk, which undermines having a contract in the first place.
How long does it take to review an agreement?
Each agreement is different. The length of the contract makes a big difference, of course, but it also depends on actual content: well-drafted contracts that are fair to both sides and reflect industry standards are easier to review than contracts that are poorly drafted or one sided, since those require a more extensive and therefore more time consuming mark up.