Important Legal Issues to Consider when Making a Film

Important Legal Issues to Consider when Making a Film

As a filmmaker, when the idea for a new film project comes to mind you’re bound to have a strong desire to get started right away. But there are also many important legal issues to consider when making a film and they shouldn’t be overlooked. Producing a motion picture can pose significant challenges. Even for the experienced film producer! Particularly in regards to navigating the legal processes involved. From pre-production to distribution, we’re helping you navigate the important legal issues to consider when making a film. 

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to a film that you might be considering as just a fun project that you’ll share with your closest friends. But if you intend to distribute the film, particularly if public distribution or broadcasting is planned.

Then you’re going to have to be sure that you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s and that all legal aspects have been covered. This not only includes following all laws regarding copyright licensing and the use of intellectual property.

But also following labor laws, local ordinances on permitting, and maintaining adequate public liability insurance. 

Potential Risks

Many of the important legal issues to consider when making a film go beyond purely being important to the process, they are integral to the final considerations as to whether or not the film has a clean chain of title and can be purchased for distribution.

Without appropriate documentation, no distributor will even consider your project which ultimately means your film becomes nothing more than another waste of storage space on your drive.

Becoming an LLC 

First things first, if you’re going to produce a feature film you’re going to spend a lot of time raising money for the project, working on producing the project, and preparing for the distribution.

At any one of these phases, there are risks and the potential for the project to go South is always there. This is not to worry you as a filmmaker, or to make you feel bad.

But to make clear the importance of separating your feature film project from yourself, your own personal assets, and if you’re producing as a production studio, to protect your studio from the liabilities of this particular project. 

Sounds complicated, right?

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. Basically, you’re likely going to want to take action to protect your individual assets. Or the assets of your production company by separating the production of this feature film project.

From your own personal assets or your other business. You do this by creating an LLC or other business entity for the motion picture. Which will become the basis for all future fundraising and venture capital for the film.

It will become the owner of all film assets and the LLC will be responsible for any and all liabilities relative to the project. It’s a first step in terms of important legal issues to consider when making a film.

But don’t take our word for it! Talk with your entertainment attorney about it first. 

Copyright Compliance & Licensing

As you continue to navigate the potential legal issues to consider when making a film, the next major consideration is licensing and making sure that you comply with U.S. Copyright laws.

Copyrights protect you, the filmmaker in the event that someone tries to use your film without permission but they also provide protections for other creators to ensure that filmmakers like yourself don’t use their intellectual property. 

As you begin to feel your way around U.S. Copyright law and the complexities of intellectual property rights you’re likely to hear the word “clearance” rather frequently.

Clearance is the term used to describe the permissions, rights, or waivers which are provided by intellectual property owners to other parties.

Make sure that you’ve obtained permission from the following:

  • Scriptwriter used the script as the basis for the film.
  • Author of any book, story, article, or other written work that is the basis for your film.
  • Copyright owner for any still images or film clips that portray any actors, animal talent, or background talent for your production.
  • Music artists including those who wrote the music and those who played, sang, or otherwise produced the music that you wish to include in your film.
  • Brand owners or individual’s in charge of granting permission to include products, logos, or trademarks into your film.
  • Owners of any designs, fonts or special features used in the production of your film.

Cast, Crew & Location Agreements

In addition to all of the potential legal issues to consider when making a film, film producers are responsible for acquiring permissions and performance release forms from actors, animal talent, other cast, and crew members involved in the production.

They should also be prepared to acquire proper location rental agreements, and location release forms, for any location from which a shoot will take place.

To avoid any potential legal issues regarding ownership of the works created by your crew or performances by your cast.

You’ll need to obtain the following:

  • “Work-made-for-hire” agreements from writers, editors or other crew members.
  • Grant of rights documentation that allows the producer to maintain rights to the work and services that are provided by cast and crew.
  • Injunctive relief waivers which ensure cast or crew members may not seek to block distribution of the film or otherwise to stop production of the film should they disagree with or otherwise feel the need to file legal action against the production.

Local Ordinances

Additionally, filmmakers must follow all local ordinances on permitting and safe use of locations upon which they are holding their commercial film shoots.

This includes obtaining rental or lease agreements for the locations that they are filming at. As well as obtaining local film permits should they film in public locations. Such as along public roadways, within city limits, or inside county parks or other recreation areas.

Film permits are free in many cities. Depending on the complexity of the shoot and various other factors. But filming without a permit could be incredibly costly to your production if you’re caught. So just don’t do it!

Public Liability & Errors and Omissions Insurance 

Finally, as you near production and continue to navigate the important legal issues to consider when making a film. You’re likely to face distributors that are going to require you to obtain errors and omissions insurance.

This is going to first require that you’ve got a clean chain of title. Which essentially means that you’ve followed all appropriate laws. Regarding the acquisition of permissions to use copyrighted material and other intellectual property clearance. 

As you can see, there are a number of potential legal issues to consider when making a film. From the beginning of the project through to the very end. Most of the focus throughout the process is on permissions, clearance, and maintaining a clean chain of title.

But there’s also the need to follow local laws when filming in public. As well as the importance of handling post production distribution. And protecting yourself with errors and omissions insurance in the process. 

BBP Legal Disclaimer

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