Top 10 Legal Considerations for Filmmakers

I’m presenting a workshop entitled “Top 10 Legal Considerations for Filmmakers” at SAW Video in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at 6pm.

Celebrating its 35th year, SAW Video is a not-for-profit, artist-run media art centre that fosters the growth and development of artists through access to equipment, training, mentorship, and programming. I’m on SAW Video’s board of directors and encourage members of Ottawa’s creative community to become a member.

At the seminar-style workshop, which is free for SAW Video and IFCO members, I will cover practical legal issues relevant to independent video content producers of projects from web series to indie films.

For producers unable to attend, here’s an overview of the topics I plan to discuss, which will hopefully provide some assistance for your projects.


  1. What’s a “Chain of Title” and what are the key elements of the related writer documents?

A Chain of Title refers to the documents that establish ownership rights in a property. We’ll discuss chain of title opinions, copyright searches, copyright registration, and key terms in option and writer agreements. An option agreement may be appropriate if you want to produce a production based on an existing property (such as a book), but don’t have the funding yet to produce the production, including paying for the rights to produce a production based on the property. The option agreement should provide the producer the exclusive time limited right to buy the rights needed to produce a production based on the existing property. With the option in hand, the producer will seek financing, and may choose to exercise the option if and when she’s financed the production, so long as the option term has not yet ended.


  1. What do I need to do about music?

The first question is whether you will include original and/or existing music in your project. Regarding original music, we’ll go through key elements of composer agreements, including whether the music will be licensed for the project or fully purchased, and the concept of giving the composer some or all of the publisher’s share of the performance rights royalties in exchange for paying the composer below her normal rates. Regarding existing music, we’ll discuss master use rights, synchronization rights, and why it may be more affordable to re-record songs instead of using the original recording.


  1. What kind of insurance do I need and what should I do proactively?

In addition to production insurance, we’ll focus on Errors and Omissions insurance. Here’s a blog I wrote about E&O – http://edwardslaw.ca/ask-a-lawyer-e-and-o-insurance/


  1. What do I need to consider regarding crew agreements?

We’ll discuss key terms in crew agreements including clarifying the job description, fee and payment schedule, termination, effect of termination, confidentiality, etc. Here’s a blog I wrote about assigning intellectual property and waiving moral rights in the crew context – http://edwardslaw.ca/ask-a-lawyer-2/


  1. What do I need to consider regarding actor agreements?

We’ll discuss key terms in actor agreements including dates, fixed (guaranteed salary) and contingent compensation (the potential for profit), residuals, the “pay or play” concept, credits, approvals, grant of rights, termination, dispute mechanism, etc.


  1. After all of my pitching, what do I do if someone wants to give me money to make the project?

In addition to discussing why someone might agree to financially assist, we’ll focus on profit and “points”. Here’s a blog I wrote about this topic – http://edwardslaw.ca/ask-a-lawyer-film-profits-and-points. We’ll also discuss key elements of investor agreements including about recoupment, credits, other benefits and remedies.


  1. If and when should the project be incorporated?

People may run their business as a sole proprietorship, partnership (if there are multiple partners) or as a corporation, which creates a new legal entity. We’ll discuss reasons to incorporate in this context.


  1. How should I organize my relationship with my co-producer?

We’ll discuss key terms in the co-production agreement. Here’s a blog I wrote about this topic – http://edwardslaw.ca/ask-lawyer-ten-co-pro-agreement-considerations/


  1. What should I know about distribution?

We’ll cover the differences between an assignment and a license, and go through key terms in a distribution agreement including the grant of rights, advances, reserved rights, delivery materials, distribution fees, gross receipts, expenses, recoupment, cross-collateralization, credits, insurance, reversion of rights, holdbacks, etc. Regarding the “holdback” concept, when dealing with a Canadian distributor, you will want them to wait to exploit the project until your U.S. distributor has commenced exploiting the project.


  1. Do I need permission for showing X or saying Y?

We’ll discuss general considerations regarding seeking permission for saying or showing certain things which may require clearance, the related risks, script reports, and the concept and practical issues with relying upon the “fair dealing” copyright infringement exception.


To sign up for the session, follow the links here:


I hope to see you at this or another similar session. In the meantime, feel free to call me anytime to discuss your project.

Byron Pascoe is a lawyer with Edwards PC, Creative Law. This boutique law firm provides legal services to TV, Film, Animation, Music, Digital Media, Game, Publishing and Software industry clients. For more info and blogs, please visit www.edwardslaw.ca

© 2016 Edwards PC

* This post is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact Edwards PC, Creative Law or another lawyer, if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.