PRODUCTION TIPS: The Chain of Title is VITAL to your Production

The journey to produce your project, whether long or short, is filled with so many steps along the way that many filmmakers overlook important details in their quest to write, shoot and edit it right.  Ensuring you have the best script, shots and cuts truly are vital since without them you don't have a good production. But without taking care of all the other details you won't be able to avoid legal and financial issues along the way, let alone sell your film.

A habit that should become essential for every filmmaker is to have a proper "chain of title" collected neatly in an accordion folder or large binder.  The chain of title is your collection of legal, production and financial documents that you collected (or should have) throughout the filmmaking process.  These documents are just as important as your script, critic reviews, film, and press kit. Having a chain of title is a must to secure any type of distribution agreement because it is what assures the distributor that YOU own the rights to your production.  The last thing a distributor needs is the headache of being sued by an individual or a company on some type of copyright, libel or privacy claim.  The chain of title gives the distributor the peace of mind (along with the E&O insurance and your warranties) that you have everything to protect them from any claims.

But the chain of title is also important to the filmmaker on a professional level because it keeps you organized and on top of the production process.  You should be able to easily refer to a contract, when, for example, in the midst of a production, your sick crew member misses more than 2 consecutive days and you can't remember if that means you can replace her without pay or if you are still legally bound to keep her.  The only way you will find what you need to make the right decision that won't cost you later is if you have everything organized in one easy-to-find place.

Below is a list of items that would compose a chain of title:

  • Signed contracts covering your relationship with all your production personnel (performers, writers, crew members, etc.);
  • Records of any footage, clips, text or still images acquired from third parties or outside sources, including signed agreements confirming your rights to use them;
  • All city, county, state, and federal permits and licenses issued during the production (whether in the USA or in another country);
  • Signed releases (or footage acknowledging release) from all persons depicted in your production;
  • All location releases obtained from private property owners;
  • Any insurance policies purchased for the production;
  • All necessary agreements and records covering your use of copyrighted music (including briefs or summaries of any Fair Use allowances);
  • Copies of any forms or records related to your use of guild or union performers or technicians;
  • Checklist of any potentially libelous statements or depictions that might violate someone's right of privacy or publicity;
  • Completed forms for U.S. Copyright and Trademark registration (if desired);
  • Checklist of what you want in a distribution agreement and what items you are willing to bend or negotiate on; and,
  • Checklist of potential aspects in your work that might be affected by federal regulations regarding the content of programs broadcast on U.S. (or foreign) television stations.
  • Miscellaneous documents that cover additional financial, production or legal matters you think are important to the production.  If you are not sure, store it anyway.  Better safe than sorry.
At the development and pre-production phase, you and your team should already be aware of the things you will need to make and distribute your project without serious problems.  Ideally, you should have on your team a good producer, lawyer or consultant who can help you stay on top of your chain of title but, at a minimum, use the list above as your checklist.  

(Photo: iStockphoto Hélène Valléel)

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