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E26: Season 3 Episode 6: Legal Issues in the Business of Making Independent Films

  • By dbllawyersv2
  • November 21, 2022
  • Season 3

Legal Challenges In Film 

When making a documentary film or any film telling a true story there are going to be legalities that need to be tended to. One of those is life rights, this is a real person’s story so you need them to be onboard with the making of this film. A release will need to be signed giving the production company rights to the story.  How this plays out is different with each story/individual, depending on the style of film you’re making. Some individuals will want to remain anonymous while others may want credit as a collaborator or even co-author. This may be another waiver or release that needs to be approved of by all parties involved, potentially a complete indemnification liability release.  Depending on how the story evolves from the actual account there may also be a need for copyright ownership. Now if the individual wants to remain anonymous yet still get credit, there are ways to go about that. By having the indemnification liability release in place, you can then register the individual under a pseudonym with US Copyright Office and then publish the pseudonym in the credits. 

Early Film Development And Investors

There are different types of investors, some want to be very hands-on this would be considered an active investor, and on the opposite side of the spectrum there are investors that only want to back financially this would be considered a passive investor. Investors are typically described as an individual or entity that provides financial backing while expecting a return based on someone else’s activity. So the producer is now tied to the investor financially. This being said it is of utmost importance to have all the legal paperwork done up front before moving on to the next step. It takes a lot of people and a lot of talent to make a movie, say the writers get frustrated with story restraints and quit letting the whole production go up in flames, the producer now owes the investors and maybe even local and federal regulations agencies. This is a worst-case scenario example but that is what legally we all need to plan for. 

Major Takeaways From A Legal Standpoint In Film Production

Owning all the rights to everything are pivotal, cut rights, copyrights, all need to be pre-negotiated going into this project, if these rights aren’t there it is a dead project. Clearances are another major takeaway keep all the rights organized; make sure everything is up to date. You will need clearances for any acquired footage or songs used in the score. Every small detail is important when working with others’ rights, so check everything over with a microscope, then check again. Own all of the rights, clear all of the rights, and get all the paperwork in order. 


Tom Dunlap: Linkedin

Mikail Chowdhury: Linkedin

Blackletter: Website

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