In part 1, we looked at the reality and possibility of being sued for creating art and entertainment followed by ways to avoid legal problems with the script and other artworks used in making the film. As we all know, the main (but not only) reason why you as a producer would hire a lawyer is to avoid lawsuits. Although it might not seem like it when you are itemizing your production budget, it is money well-spent (provided you get a good lawyer). However, in this day, age and economy, there are filmmakers who literally have no budget. But even without a budget, you are still vulnerable to lawsuits so you need to do what you can to protect and defend yourself. That's why I place so much emphasis on documenting everything you do and keeping it in a safe, accessible place. This protects you and minimizes the risks you face. In part 2, let's look at what you can do when dealing with actors, crew, locations, children, music, trademarks and titles.*
- CAST, CREW & LOCATION RELEASE FORMS and AGREEMENTS. Lucky for you, you live in the Internet era where almost anything is only a few key clicks away. That means you will find agreement templates, sample contracts and release forms you can use if you look for it. There are dangers to using them blindly since many may have missing key clauses, irrelevant or confusing terms, illegal or oppressive conditions. And the biggest problem for a producer using contracts online is the lack of understanding for what is possible under the law and how it pertains to your production strategy. For ex., you might overlook the clause that explains how disputes are resolved but it is important and there are different reasons for why you may want to mediate and arbitrate first or just skip all that and go to court. Still all that hasn't stopped people from downloading contracts and using them. So, if you feel that you must then here a few key things to guide you in using them.
- Use contracts that are in plain English, not filled with legalese like "wherefore" and "hereunder." It should be easy for you and the other party to understand.
- Ideally, use one that is short and concise. Short is not always better because you do risk not having adequate protections or certain issues covered. But if you are shooting a no-budget production then it probably means you are not only keeping it simple but also keeping it affordable so many clauses will prove unnecessary then. Things like a "pay-or-play" clause are not even a part of the discussion at that point.
- At a minimum, a production cast/crew/location contract should contain the parties' names and addresses, the length of the contract, the duties and responsibilities of each party, compensation terms, credit (if any), the right for a producer to use the other party's work or property in the production, what state law controls the contract, a warranties and indemnities section and how to resolve disputes.
- Make sure to get them signed.