Legal Considerations for Filmmakers

July 25, 2017

Back in June, we hosted a lively discussion called Legal Consideration for Filmmakers, led and moderated by Sandra Forman.

Sandra is a Boston-based entertainment attorney with a primary focus on the representation of independent film and television producers and a specialty in documentary filmmaking. She is also known for her expertise in representing clients on matters concerning rights, clearances and fair use. Sandra provides consultation and legal support for her clients as they move through all phases of their projects, from financing and development through production and distribution.

In addition to her legal practice, Sandra has served for over 13 years as project director and legal counsel for the Eyes on the Prize Re-Release Project. She is also a proud member of the Board of Directors for Filmmakers Collaborative. Sandra began her career in the entertainment field at WGBH Public Television in Boston and is a frequent guest speaker at universities, conferences, film festivals and media organizations.

Response to that evening’s talk generated lots of interest and feedback. Just what we always hope for! We followed up with Sandra after the discussion, for the benefit of those who were not able to attend.

What legal services do you offer independent filmmakers?
My primary focus is the representation of independent film and television producers with a specialty in documentary filmmaking. My clients include filmmakers, directors, producers, screenwriters, book authors, talent, distributors, and new media makers. I provide consultation and legal support for my clients as they move through all phases of their projects, from financing and development through production and distribution.

How has the independent filmmaking business changed in ways that make legal consideration more pressing?
With ever increasing opportunities for wider distribution in both the domestic and international markets, including numerous digital platforms available to media makers, filmmakers need to make sure they have done their due diligence and secured in writing all necessary rights in any third party-owned materials incorporated into their projects (unless the filmmaker wishes to assert fair use in his/her errors & omissions insurance application with the support of a legal opinion letter) and secured proper releases for persons appearing in the film and in general have all their ducks lined up with respect to clearances, including a clean chain of title, before exhibiting or otherwise distributing their projects.

Are there particular areas of legal concern that you’ve seen filmmakers neglect to their later regret?
Yes, there are a few areas of legal concern that come to mind. First off, filmmakers often regret not obtaining signed appearance releases at the time of shooting from those persons who are either speaking on camera or the focus of a particular scene since it’s often difficult to track down these folks later on. They can also often regret not entering into work for hire agreements with individuals/companies who are contributing creatively to the project before the commencement of services. And, lastly, they fail to lock down the deal with a co-producer/collaborator before moving forward with a project so that their respective roles, rights and expectations are reduced to writing.
When this is not done, and something goes wrong with the relationship during production, it can be very challenging to put an agreement together when the parties are not getting along – working out an agreement at that point can get ugly and expensive (not unlike a divorce).