Production Counsel: Why Does an Independent Filmmaker Need a Lawyer?
Being an independent filmmaker is challenging. You have to manage all of the responsibilities that are handled by dozens of different people at a major studio. However, in order to thrive as filmmaker you have to learn when to get help. While hiring a lawyer may not be high on your list of necessary expenditures, having production counsel can make the process of getting your movie made smoother and can reduce your financial risk and legal exposure.
Production counsel is helpful in all three stages of production.
Production counsel can help you make sure everything is in place before you start shooting. This includes helping to create the corporate entity that all the financing and intellectual property rights will flow to. Having the right corporate and financing structure helps protect you if something goes wrong, and it makes sure you have a way to enforce your rights if someone else fails to keep up their end of the deal.
Production counsel also carefully reviews investor agreements to make sure that you are being treated fairly and to make sure that the agreements conform to securities laws.
One of the most important roles of production counsel during the pre-production phase is reviewing the intellectual property rights. Production counsel makes sure that your production has ownership or licensing agreements for things such as:
- Music used in the film
- The screenplay
- Script rights
- Life rights
- Publicity rights
One of the fastest ways to get a film shutdown is to not have properly secured all of the intellectual property rights before production gets underway. The last thing you want is a surprise down the road that keeps you from being able to show your film.
During the production phase of the film you need to be focused on the art and mechanics of bringing your vision to life. However, there are many details that need to be addressed or else production will come to a halt. Production counsel can help you make sure that all of these details are properly taken care of so you can focus on the actual filming.
Some of the key details production counsel can oversee include various employment related issues. Production counsel makes sure everyone is properly classified as either an employee or an independent contractor. They handle workplace disputes so that work stoppage is avoided or minimized. Production counsel also handles immigration visas for cast members, crew members, and any below-the-line personnel.
Production counsel also checks day-to-day operations to assess potential exposure to any liability. They help to avoid major issues by making sure waivers, releases, and permits are all secured ahead of time and are in proper order.
Most importantly, production counsel is on hand to troubleshoot any issues that crop up during filming. If an important permit fails to come through, or permission is rescinded, production counsel works to resolve these issues so your movie can move forward.
When the film is in the can, the work of production counsel continues. Once your film is done you still need to acquire intellectual property protection for the completed work. This may include copyright and trademark protection.
Production counsel can also help with negotiating and reviewing distribution agreements, licensing agreements, and other commercial exploitation opportunities. Production counsel is there to protect your interests.
When you decided to become a filmmaker it wasn’t because you dreamed of looking through thousands of pages of contracts, filling out immigration forms, and dealing with state and local permitting procedures.
The best reason to hire production counsel is that it frees you up to do what you do best, make movies. Your lawyer can handle all of the messy paperwork and protect your interests while you protect your artistic vision.