10 Legal Mistakes Indie Filmmakers Make
Independent films are often rewarded with significant awards, being appreciated for the personal artistic vision they have to offer. As an independent filmmaker, you might beam with positivity and optimism; even though your resources are limited, and the risk of failure is high, you will nevertheless pursue your dream.
From a legal perspective, some legal mistakes can put you in difficulty. As an indie filmmaker, it is essential to be aware of these mistakes and avoid them altogether. A good rule of thumb is to discuss every legal aspect with a lawyer experienced in business law.
#1 No written agreement
A verbal agreement is quickly made, and it can save a lot of time, not to mention it is 100% valid. The law states that oral agreements are enforceable, this being the reason for which these represent the first option most of the times. However, such an agreement only leaves room for problems and misunderstandings. A written contract will ensure that the rights and obligations of all involved parties are stated; moreover, there will not be any room for confusion.
#2 Copyright registration
Registering a script at the copyright office is a simple task to achieve but one that is often overlooked. However, in the situation that copyright infringement has occurred and you are looking to sue the guilty party, you will regret not having completed this registration. Many indie filmmakers make the mistake of thinking that the WGA script registration is sufficient – in reality, this is not true. The copyright office registration allows you to receive a generous amount of money in case of an infringement lawsuit (plus attorney fees).
#3 Not working out the specifics from the start
When you are interested in making an independent film, decision-making abilities are essential. If you do not work out the details from the outset, you will find yourself in a lot of conflicting situations later on. Do not shy away from difficult conversations and make sure that you have laid your terms at that moment; get everything in writing, as this will protect you from further complications.
#4 Not hiring an attorney at the right time
As an independent filmmaker, you might believe in goodwill and put your trust in the people you are collaborating. However, when it comes to the legal aspects, relying on goodwill and trustworthiness is never a good idea. To protect yourself and ensure that everything is alright, you need to hire an attorney at the right time. As soon as you have agreed to develop a script, you need legal assistance.
#5 Fighting over who controls the film
Indie filmmakers are artistic, presenting an immense potential for creating something truly unique. Nevertheless, they are not always the best when it comes to the legal matters involving the development of a script. As one puts a lot of effort into the creative process, the temptation of detaining control is quite significant. Fighting over who controls the film can hurt its development, whether we are talking about the artistic or financial aspects. In such situations, we return to the written agreement – you can easily prevent conflicts of this kind by stipulating who controls the film in the said contract.
#6 Trusting the wrong partner
Many people go into the indie business together – often, one is the creative mind, while the other handles the financial aspects. Partners end up working together for an extended period, going from one project to the other. It can happen that you will put your trust in the wrong partner; if you base your project solely on a handshake, you might end up losing everything. It is always for the best to take your time in selecting a partner, one who is trustworthy and interested in going through this journey together.
#7 Not paying the writer of the script
The scriptwriter is an essential actor in the universe of an independent filmmaker. Acting as the creative brain, he/she will ensure that you can develop the script into an excellent movie that everyone can enjoy. However, you need to keep in mind that the scriptwriter has some rights, which have to be respected at all costs. You need to pay the writer for the work done, according to the terms you have established in the first place. Otherwise, you will only expose yourself to legal complications and even lawsuits.
#8 Not giving credits to your producer
The producer is the person who will take your artistic vision and transform it into reality. He/she will work hard to ensure that you are satisfied with the development of the movie, requiring that you respect his/her rights at the same time. If you fail to give the promised credits to your producer, it is highly likely you will be sued (especially if a written agreement has been made at the beginning of the creative process).
#9 Not protecting your film
This is high on the legal mistakes list. When you complete a movie, the biggest temptation is to show it to everyone. However, you have to remember that there are a lot of people who want to make a profit out of your effort. You might find your film distributes on different websites, despite being copyrighted material. To ensure that your film will reach the target audience and gather sufficient profits, in the beginning, show it to a few people as it is possible. Discuss such aspects with your lawyer and learn about the legal measures that you can take.
#10 Not taking action against defamation
Independent filmmakers are often criticized, especially when their artistic vision does not line up with the general opinion. However, there is a fragile line between critic and defamation. Indie filmmakers are often subjected to online defamation, with the slanderous material genuinely hurting their reputation. It is always a good idea to seek out legal assistance and take action against defamation; otherwise, you will risk for your film not to reach the level of success it deserves.
These are some of the most common legal mistakes that indie filmmakers make, whether they are just beginning in this field or they have years of experience. To protect your film and reputation, it is for the best to seek out legal assistance and hire a lawyer specialized in film business law. This specialist can ensure that everything goes according to plan, without any legal hassles or risks.
About the Author:
Bob Heske is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic novelist and indie comic creator. By day he churns out compliance marketing content for financial services; by night he is maniacal at his keyboard – creating characters and dramatic conflicts far more interesting than he is. You can watch his first film BLESSID on Amazon Prime here. Blessid is directed by Rob Fitz and stars Rachel Kerbs, Rick Montgomery Jr., Gene Silvers, and Chris DiVecchio.
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