Filmmaking is not just a business but emotion and craft. As a media and entertainment lawyer, I frequently interact with passionate Indie Filmmakers. They may not have an adequate budget. However, they have a solid vision to make artistic and creative films within a limited budget. In the last decade, we have seen a sharp rise in low-budget cinema. With the expansion internet and smartphones, there is grand scope for independent filmmakers in short films, web series, and web cinema domains.
You being an Indie filmmaker, can use your money creatively and minimize your expenses. Still, this does not mean what you are immune to consequences and especially the legal ones! Being legally prepared from the beginning is a smart move. It shall save you from litigation threats, assist you in conveniently raising funds and selling your film to prominent platforms. Hence, if you are a new and small budget filmmaker/aspiring filmmaker, I am giving you few essential legal tips to avoid legal troubles and protect yourself and your films’ interests.
a. Create a separate business entity: You should incorporate a business entity to minimize the risk of your business. It is a smart move considering the risk factors in filmmaking. Instead of acting as a producer yourself, it is advisable to start a limited liability partnership or private limited company. You should execute all your commercial contracts in the name of your business entity. If you suffer any loss in the business, your liability shall be limited to the asset of your business entity. You shall not be personally liable towards your creditors.
b. Clear your chain of title: Suppose you have written the script yourself. Still, ask yourself questions regarding the chain of title. Was the idea original? Who has contributed to scriptwriting and, have you signed an agreement with them? Is it based on real-life personality or a book or a play, or any other original work? Have you taken the requisite rights in the underlying work? You must document everything, even if a contributor is your friend! You need to have a contract with your investors, co-producers, actors, director, musicians, author/owner of underlying works, and all other contributors of your film. You should also take the requisite permissions required to do shooting in a particular location. Do not shy away from taking the help of a media and entertainment lawyer. I know keeping too much documentation might appear tiresome. However, trust me, benefit outshines the drawback. Mind you, a clear chain of titles shall play a crucial role in selling your film to reputed platforms.
c. Be aware of copyrights, trademarks, and privacy rights: Be mindful that you do not use a copyrighted work or trademark of another person without their consent. For example, in a scene in your film, your protagonist has taken her romantic partner on a date. They are sitting across a table. On the wall, there is a beautiful artwork by famous painter Mr. Jatin Das. A waiter brings a red wine bottle with the visible brand name ‘Sula’. In the background, a beautiful romantic song is playing i.e. ‘Aap ki Nazaro ne samjha, Pyaar k Kabil Hume…’ Beautiful setup, right? Now, have you taken the requisite approvals? You need to take permission from Mr. Jatin Das to picture the painting. You need to blur the brand name of the wine to avoid any trademark infringement claim from Sula. Likewise, you need to take a license from the owner of the song to use it in your film. Also, if you are featuring any real-life person, you should take a release document against infringement of privacy. It’s a good idea to get a legal review of your film before releasing it to avoid legal complications.
d. Understand the employment law and take group insurance: A filmmaker must understand the implication of labor law. You need to sign an employment contract or a work for hire contract (as the case may be) with people working for you. It is also a good idea to take group insurance to secure yourself from any accident that may happen at your shooting sites.
Please note that entertainment law is complicated and, each filmmaker’s situation is different. So, none of these comments should be construed as official legal advice. While these tips should help with generalities, feel free to reach me @ email@example.com with specific queries.