Contracts for independent films are not something you should put off or avoid. Even if you are working with your closest of friends, family, or someone you really really trust, you need contracts.
Protecting your production and yourself legally is the first step in getting your film going.
Insulating your personal finances and assets from the film project is essential if you want to stay protected.
So, lets talk about some of the basic documents you need.
- LLC Operating Agreements
I put this first because I really suggest getting your business ducks in a row first. You wont be taken seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously. Get your operating agreements, your legal business entity, and all of your associated organizational documents in place first.
- Story Rights
Please be sure you have the right to tell the story you’re trying to tell. This is important because there is a lot of misinformation about copyright and script registration. The moment you write something down, created in the real world (either on paper or a computer) your work is technically copyrighted to you. However, if you want to establish a chain of ownership and a chain of custody, you should probably register your work with one of the Writers Guild of America branches, or even the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Talent Releases
I can’t stress this enough. Everyone working on your project needs to be covered, in some way or another, in written form, if you ever want to see your project anywhere other than YouTube. Theaters, VOD platforms, broadcasters, they all want to ensure that the people working on your project are A) Legally allowed to work and B) Have released their consent to be filmed. There are thousands of horror-stories out there of people who have done the work, put the effort in and made a great film, got it in front of a distributor only to have the rug pulled out from under them because they didn’t get a talent release. You might not think about it, but they will.
- Music Rights
Ugh. Every single thing in your film, from the logos you show to the sound you play, needs to be legally authorized if you ever intend on distribution. Music is one of the big ones. You can’t just throw in your favorite bands and call it a day. Provided you know that already, be sure to have all of the paperwork needed to have the music released and authorized to your production before you look for distribution. You can find some awesome resources online for great music, I recommend SoundStripe to get started.
- Location Releases
Yeah, I know, you love the “Guerilla” approach to film making. You think it makes you edgy, you think it makes you innovative. It doesn’t. It makes you an amateur who is jeopardizing his/her future career with every step you take. Failing to obtain a location releases and contracts could expose the you to liability such as for breach of council regulations or trespass. Location Releases are important for film festivals, funding bodies, distributors and other organizations because they help provide a chain of title. Nobody wants to have to pull a film from a calendar of release because the paperwork isn’t in order.
- Work for Hire Agreements
Similar to the “Talent Release” forms, your Work-for-Hire Agreements are, literally, everyone working on your project. If it is your mom who is doing the catering or your best friend from high-school doing the grunt work, they’ll need to be signed and covered under an agreement. Not only does this continue your chain of title, it also protects your film and company from people claiming against your work.
These are just some of the contracts you need to run a professional film production company, but they’ll get you started.
Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer and cannot substitute for hiring a legal advisor for your production. It’s extremely important that you work with appropriate legal council in any and all ventures that you are in. I provide the documents and the suggestions, but ultimately it’s between you and your lawyer to hash out the details and to make sure that everything is copacetic in your business.