Kennington Groff, Esq.
Why You Need An Attorney At All Stages Of A Production - Part 1: Pre-Production
So you've spent weeks, months, or even years writing the perfect script, choosing the perfect book to mirror your project after, listening to someone's stories that must be shared on the big screen, or combing through dozens of scripts to find the one that aligns with a story you have to tell, and now you are ready to turn that work into your new project. Where do you begin first?
Hire an entertainment attorney!
Creating a film or television series is no small task. An entertainment attorney can assist you to ensure your project runs smoothly by helping you avoid the threat of a lawsuit or removal of certain footage later on down the road when potential conflicts may arise with contracts that were not in place (or poorly drafted), rights that were not obtained, and releases that were not signed. In addition to helping the project run smoothly, an entertainment attorney can also guide your project through the appropriate steps of setting up your project as a business entity and structuring an offer that appeals to investors who can finance your project.
After you have found or written the perfect screenplay and hired an entertainment attorney to turn this dream into a reality, the first thing you need to do as a producer is set up your production as a business entity. This is an age-old step when it comes to producing movies and television shows. An attorney can advise you on what's the best type of business entity to set up, such as an LLC, Limited Partnership, or a corporation. By setting up your production as a business, your personal finances and company finances can be divided, the company acts as a legal person so it can enter into contracts, the financial risk can be divided among multiple people, and it can help you avoid personal liability to name just a few of the benefits.
Once your business is set up, you are ready to secure the rights to your project. If you wrote the project yourself, without the help of anyone else and without using anyone else's stories or work, then you own the rights forthright to your work. However, if anyone else was involved, agreements will need to be put into place that establish who owns the intellectual property to the work. First and foremost, the rights in the underlying work itself need to be secured. Without these rights, you legally don't have a project to develop.
If you intend to adopt someone's "life-story," adapt an existing work, or use someone's narrative, typically there is what is known as an "option period" where the producer pays a certain amount of money to have the option to purchase the underlying work for a specific period of time. If the producer does not purchase the rights during the option period, then the rights revert back to the original owner.
Once the rights are secured, now it's time to start putting the players in place. With everyone who works on your set, both above the line and below the line talent, an agreement should be in place establishing that they are a work-for-hire and do not own any rights to the final product. Additionally, the contracts should contain terms of payment, who makes final decisions regarding finances and the business, and who has creative control.
The agreements you need to establish in pre-production include agreements with talent, writers, directors, casting directors, line producer, script supervisor, location manager, and your production manager to name but a few. Depending on the project, among others include a production designer, costume designer, art director, director of photography, sound mixer, make-up designer, and hair designer. These agreements are known as work-for-hire agreements. Also, once your talent and crew are in place, don't forget that unless you own all the equipment you intend to use, rental agreements will be needed as well as location agreements.
Before production begins it would be beneficial to have an attorney draft what is known as a release package. A release package consists of a series of contracts that are used throughout the filming of the work. These releases include materials, confidentiality, area, location, and appearance releases. All of these releases should include language stating a grant of rights and a waiver of injunctive relief.
While you might be thinking all these agreements aren't necessary, I can guarantee you they will be worth it when the talent and crew first gather to begin production and you are the one in control of your project with no lurking legal woes.
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