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Taylor & Francis
The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers / Edition 2

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers / Edition 2

by Thomas A. Crowell, Esq.


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The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers / Edition 2

* How can you use a state's film tax credits to fund your film? SEE PAGE 63.

* You have an idea you want to pitch to a production company; how do you safeguard your concept? SEE PAGE 77.

* How can you fund your production with product placement? SEE PAGE 157.

* How do you get a script to popular Hollywood actors and deal with their agents? SEE PAGE 222.

Find quick answers to these and hundreds of other questions in this new edition of The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers. This no-nonsense reference provides fast answers in plain English-no law degree required! Arm yourself with the practical advice of author Thomas Crowell, a TV-producer-turned-entertainment-lawyer.

This new edition features:

* New sections on product placement, film tax credits and production incentive financing, Letters of Intent, and DIY distribution (four-walling, YouTube, Download-to-own,, iTunes, and Netflix)

* Updated case law

* Even more charts and graphics to help you find the information you need even more quickly.

This book is the next best thing to having an entertainment attorney on retainer!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780240813189
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 01/25/2011
Pages: 472
Sales rank: 249,283
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers

A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
By Thomas A. Crowell

Focal Press

Copyright © 2011 Thomas A. Crowell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-81319-6

Chapter One



Since the first edition of this book was written a scant three years ago, several developments have played increasingly important roles in the way independent filmmakers raise money for their films, choose the kinds of projects to shoot, and determine how to get their movies to the right audience. In this second edition I have tried to respond to these needs by including completely new sections on tax credit and film production incentive financing, production services agreements, and do-it-yourself film distribution. I have also included lots of new case law, graphics, and a host of other updates, all aimed at making this guide topical and easy to use. There was so much I wanted to cram in between these covers that it simply wouldn't fit (not unless you wanted to carry around a guide bigger than the Manhattan phone book). Don't worry, we didn't save that material for the third edition; no, we decided to post it on the new Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers website at!


This book is intended to provide you with a grasp of many of the key legal issues you will face during the course of making your independent films. The material in this book can help you understand and negotiate crucial production contracts, steer you through the choppy waters of handling actors and their agents, and navigate your production past the perils of copyright infringement and other lawsuits. Most important, it can help you protect that most valuable of properties: the rights to your film.

When I was first approached to write this book, I wanted to create something filmmakers would use on a daily basis—something that I would have used when I was a producer. Before sitting down to write, I surveyed the market and found that books on film law generally fell into two broad categories: contract form books and textbook-style legal treatises. What was missing was a pocket guide that could help the first-time filmmaker spot critical legal issues right away, without having to first sort through a lot of legal theory or read through a stack of contracts. Filmmakers needed a quick reference to reach for when they were on the phone with an actor's agent or waiting to go into a pitch meeting. I wanted to write a book that would sit in the producer's bag just as The American Cinematographers Manual is carried by every camera operator.


This book is aimed at the independent filmmaker who wants to make money by selling his or her film. You, the reader, may be an industry professional, a recent film school graduate, or an amateur who wants to break into "the biz." Regardless of who you are, if you want a chance at selling your film you must have artistic passion and you must be prepared to treat your film project as a business!

The book's premise is simple: You can't sell something you don't own, and unless you take care of the legal aspects of filmmaking, you could wind up not owning or not being able to sell your movie.

Furthermore, paying careful attention to a film's legal housekeeping will go a long way toward convincing a distributor that the filmmaker is a professional whose project is worth considering. The opposite is especially true: A filmmaker who ignores the legal aspects of her film will almost certainly scare a distributor away from picking up an otherwise marketable film! Even if you decide to self-distribute your film, you need to safeguard against lawsuits, cost overruns, and the failure to properly protect your rights.


A quick thumb through this book will show you that there are few contract forms within these pages. This is intentional.

I was an independent producer for many years before I became an attorney. Like many producers, I was very hands-on: I was much more comfortable wrapping cable than reading contracts. When it came time to negotiate a contract, I would pull a contract form book from the shelf and fill in the blanks. After all, I figured, a lawyer wrote the form book, so the contracts it contained had to be good.

What I didn't realize was that these form contracts are only good for a particular deal ... and no two deals are exactly the same. Contractual language that works for one situation may leave you woefully unprotected in another; contracts are not one size fits all.

That's where this book comes in handy. Rather than giving you form contracts, I have taken key contracts and broken them down into their important deal points. This allows you, the filmmaker, to concentrate on negotiating the deal without having to read and understand a lot of legal language.

It is also the way the pros do it. The distributor who negotiates a distribution agreement with the filmmaker is almost never the same person who drafts the contract. It is easier to come to an agreement when you are concentrating on what the deal is rather than on how to draft the agreement. (That being said, of course crafting the contract matters. "The devil is in the drafting," as they say, and the wording of a defined term or a net profit clause may make all the difference.)

Don't get me wrong: Both contract form books and textbooks are good and valuable resources in their own right. In fact, it is my sincere belief that the filmmaker is best protected by using this book in conjunction with a contract form book when negotiating contracts and by using a textbook when trying to figure out why the law is the way it is.

A list of useful books that contain examples of film contracts may be found at the back of this book. Books by Mark Litwak, John W. Cones, and Philip H. Miller may be particularly helpful. (See "Bibliography and Resources," p. 419.)


This book is organized roughly chronologically, according to the life cycle of a film. Nevertheless, it is also intended to be a flexible resource, allowing the filmmaker to access information in a variety of ways:

• The book is designed for easy access for the filmmaker who needs to jump right in and find an answer without having to first read the book cover to cover. To help these nonlinear readers, I have repeated some key information from section to section, particularly in the sections covering contracts' deal points.

• The book may also be read straight through like any traditional book. In fact, readers may get the greatest benefit from starting at the beginning and continuing until the end. Not only will such a reader know what to anticipate, but he will have a greater understanding of how all the legal puzzle pieces fit together.

• Extensive cross-references have been included in the text. These references provide the section and page number where a related topic may be located. (See "Setting Up the Production Company," p. 35.)

• A section featuring frequently asked questions (FAQs) may help you zero in on particularly pressing issues. (See "Filmmaker FAQs," p. 9.)

• Several appendices are included at the end of the book, forming a portable law library. These sections will provide you with separate, handy guides to intellectual property, contract, labor, and employment law. Also included is a quick reference to understanding common contract clauses and a state-by-state directory of film commission offices.

– Appendix A: "A Filmmaker's Guide to Intellectual Property Law," p. 327

– Appendix B: "A Filmmaker's Guide to Contract Law," p. 367

– Appendix C: "The Clause Companion," p. 375

– Appendix D: "A Filmmaker's Guide to Labor and Employment Law," p. 393

– Appendix E: "State Film Commission Offices," p. 407

IMPORTANT TIP: regardless of how you use this book, you should first read the section entitled "Legal Building Blocks." this section is critical to understanding the rest of the guide. (see "Legal Building Blocks: contract and Intellectual Property," p. 21.)


Ten years ago there were two camps: videographers and filmmakers. Today, thanks to excellent inexpensive video cameras and computer editing programs, the distinction between film and video has largely been eliminated. Many independent producers shoot on high-definition (hi-def) video and transfer to film for theatrical distribution, and every project shot on film is transferred to video at some stage of its distribution. More and more theaters have facilities for projecting DVD, Blu-ray, smartcards, and other video media, and virtually every film has its own online trailer. Because producers tend to refer to their projects as "films" regardless of the medium in which they are shot, I have adopted that convention here. From a legal perspective, the choice of label is largely irrelevant. I have used the term filmmaker to describe creative artists working in either film or video, and the term film to describe the project or medium in which they are working, even if that medium is video.


This book is designed to help you spot legal issues common to most film and video productions. Generally, these legal issues will typically fall into one or more of the following categories:

• Copyright and intellectual property law

• Contract law

• Labor and employment law

• Finance and business

Most issues involve several of these topics—for instance, working with an actor who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) involves both contract and labor law; raising money for a film involves finance, business, and contractual legal issues; distributing a film involves contractual and copyright issues.

Although the business of filmmaking involves virtually every area of law, this figure illustrates some of the most common legal issues a filmmaker faces.


Excerpted from The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers by Thomas A. Crowell Copyright © 2011 by Thomas A. Crowell. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Getting Started; Development; Getting the Rights; Financing; Preproduction; PRODUCTION; The Production Office; Legal Issues on the Set; Shooting Permits; Child Actors; Intellectual Property; Shooting Schedules; Location Damage; Personal Injury; Transportation and Accomodations; Overtime and Overages; POSTPRODUCTION; Editing; Music Licensing; Reshoots and Doubling; Looping and ADR; Animation, Titles, and Special Effects; Laboratory Agreements; DISTRIBUTION; Distributors; Chain of Title and Deliverables; Net Profits; Royalties, Accounting, and Audits; Marketing and Promotion; Ancillary Rights; Assignment of Rights; LEGAL TAILOR; Appendix A, Contracts; Appendix B, Intellectual Property Law, Appendix C, Business Entities; Legal Resources; Index

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