The Film That Could Have Been – Legal Matters In Production

Aug 12, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 2 Comments ·
Filed under: Filming, Legal, World Wide Angle 

nooscarAs many other inspiring filmmakers, we have several ideas for projects we want to work on. Recently an opportunity came up for us to work in conjunction with someone else to make a documentary. Early on it became evident that the film had great potential. The prospects of a lucrative film can definitely get one’s hopes up. Most importantly for us though, was the chance to get solid recognition for our work. After most of the pre-production was finished, we were forced to drop out of the project. There is nothing or no one to blame but our own mistakes. Unfortunately we went into the project excited and with blind trust to find out later that our partner was not on the same wavelength as us.

We decided that we needed assistance in a very important filmmaking skill, that of people skills. On this particular project, the other person proved to be a good talker, which had us feeling pretty confident that we were going in the right direction. Because of our partner’s personal connection with the subject of the film, we all thought it was only smart to use them as the front person for the project. Little did we realize at the time, this would undermine the partnership we had invisioned.

Gradually a feeling of tension began to rise about how the profit and credits should be distributed. There were also questions of differences in artistic opinion. Finally, the inevitable confrontation came to a head. Needless to say it did not go well. Our partner had decided that they should receive virtually all the profit and credit for the film.  We were merely employees working on wages of promises and a slight mention in the credits. This was a slap in the face when we had done most of the work up to this point. So with no way to even come to a compromise, we felt it was best for us to take the lesson as learned and move on to other projects. I am happy to say within two days, two more projects came to us that we are very excited about and look forward to start talking about on this blog.

With the creation of these new projects hopefully we have learned better to put our ducks in a row. Where did we make a mistake to begin with? I believe it was by not deciding how the partnership would work at the time of the project’s creation. We had actually discussed it briefly, just saying “lets not worry about this yet, lets see if we can do it first”. It was mentioned that we would not try to take advantage of the other and so on. Well as they say, talk is cheap.

It seems to be a common mistake of new filmmakers, to put the art in front of the legal aspects.  Unfortunately this is something we have to deal with. Legal matters have to be delt with precisely and comprehensively. The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers By Thomas A. Crowell is a good starters guide for diving into the legal issues surrounding the entertainment industry.

Consult entertainment attorney before taking any important steps.

Some But Not All – Legal Issues to Consider:

  • Partnerships and collaborations. Have a proper contract from the very beginning so all parties involved know exactly what to expect and to avoid potential problems.
  • Creation. Protect your story or other creative ideas. Obtain proper rights from other’s creative work you incorperate. Such as books, songs, films, etc. If you plan to depict actual persons, be aware of defamation and their right of privacy. A lawyer should be consulted for your own protection.
  • Contracts for all cast and crew.
  • If you plan to use Union workers, you might have to deal with organizations like the Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, or the International Association of Theater and Stage Employees.
  • Releases. Personal Releases. Have a proper release form when you film or photograph anyone. Location releases. Some specific locations, such as businesses, buildings, and monuments may require a release. Products and personal property are also subject to needing a release.
  • Distribution. To be able to distribute the film, make sure you have all the proper rights to do so, and all releases are cleared. Know what rights you give up through any method of distribution.
  • Copyright might be important for the finished product and script.
  • Insurrance. Protect yourself. You don’t need it unless or until the enevitable happens. If it does you better have it.

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