Indie Film Q & A Forum

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686 Question Posted On: Date: 12.11.2018 Time: 16:29:21 Posted By User From: Hollywood
Subject: re: Promise to Actor
Question Posted:
Hi Greg, thank you so much for this forum. We know you do this pro bono to help indie filmmakers and hope people will pay it forward by hiring your wonderful firm.

Tough question: Back in January 2011, we promised a well-known actor the lead role in a movie we will be shooting soon. But now, we can no longer afford him. There was no formal pay-or-play offer as he was a friend, but we did tell him he would get a 5% share of the profits. Can we still make this movie now without him? Or should we try to resolve with him now? Any input would be great and we know it's just a suggestion and won't rely on any of your advice! THANKS GREG!
Greg Answered:

You may have liability depending upon the facts. An oral agreement is binding. But whether you have one depends on what was said, what was agreed. Simply “promising” him the role is probably not enough. Was there agreement on the compensation? Dates to shoot? Credit? etc. Probably not. Not to mention its 7 years ago. And I assume not much if any contact since? Putting aside the legal issues, there is also the professional one. Whether you will face any backlash from the actor or their representatives. Again, being 7 years ago, probably no issues. But, as the legal determination depends on the facts, I suggest having a lawyer take a look at it.

685 Question Posted On: Date: 09.27.2018 Time: 20:44:26 Posted By User From: Santa Monica, CA
Subject: re: Motorcycles?
Question Posted:
Hey Greg, quick question: If we want to portray a Harley Davidson motorcycle gang as thugs, can we show the Harley bikes without getting permission from Harley Davidson?

Sticky question and thanks so much for any thoughts.
Greg Answered:

If you are going to show their logo or name, you will need to get permission . but if you are not showing those things, just the motorcycle, then you wont. permission is needed to show logos, trademarks etc. The fact you are showing the bike in a negative light only means they may not approve the license

684 Question Posted On: Date: 08.10.2018 Time: 17:10:29 Posted By User From: Santa Monica, CA
Subject: Using Real Stories
Question Posted:
Hey Greg! Thank you so much for this forum again and we look forward to working with you someday. Many filmmakers recommend you and we appreciate you doing this pro bono - may all of us pay it forward for you kindness.

QUESTION: If a friend shared a true story, but it didn't make the media rounds (newspapers, online articles, etc), can we use this story without permission? We've searched online to try to find whoever and get their rights, but it's impossible and the friend heard it from another party. THANK YOU FOR ANY INPUT!
Greg Answered:

Since the story is not public, nor is he a public figure in any sense (such as the event was in the news) you would be invading his privacy. Also, usually, filmmakers embellish the story to make it more exciting. That might also lead to other causes of action. Long story short, you should get a release.

683 Question Posted On: Date: 12.06.2017 Time: 12:09:26 Posted By User From: Los Angeles
Subject: Indie Film Contract
Question Posted:
I was a producer on an independent film and I was terminated without cause. The contract allows for me to collect $50,000 at the time of pre-production for the film (which has not begun) if I am terminated without cause. How do I ensure to be paid?
Greg Answered:

This all comes down to the contract. In general, if there was a binding agreement and the other side just decided they did not want to pay you, that is breach of contract and you could sue to get what is owed to you, and maybe your credit too. You should speak to a litigator who could review the agreement and the facts and determine if you in fact have a case. As your claim, or lack thereof, is all based on the facts, a lawyer needs to review it. Finally, many times the threat of litigation by a lawyer might trigger payment.

682 Question Posted On: Date: 11.25.2017 Time: 18:16:41 Posted By User From: LA
Subject: Libel and Slander on Facebook
Question Posted:
Hi Greg,

Recently some disgruntled actor who didn't get the part made some stark lies about me and our film on his Facebook page. He lied about our production being in turmoil, etc - really immature. What do you suggest? Should I sue this guy or let it be? It's like someone punched you in the face when this happen. Thanks for any tips!
Greg Answered:

First, I am not a litigator, so you would need one to evaluate if you have a claim, the likelihood of obtaining redress, and the cost. That said, the typical issues with defamation is not just that its something untrue, but a) what damage was suffered by reason of the statement (most but not all defamation claims require a showing of actual damage), and b) the cost to pursue. The non-legal answer is that I have found such postings to be frustrating but do now warrant taking any action. The likelihood of recovery, or obtaining an injunction for such comments would be difficult. Not to mention, people posting things like this are disgruntled and responding only emboldens them to do more. Moreover, ultimately the film speaks for itself. Not how you got to the finished film or what issues, true or false, happened a long the way. Distributors don’t care about the back story. So, all in all, I say move on.

681 Question Posted On: Date: 09.17.2017 Time: 12:47:06 Posted By User From: LA
Subject: Shooting on Public Land
Question Posted:
Hi Greg, so appreciate you doing this for indie filmmakers - I hope they return the favor by HIRING you!

Anyway, quick question: we shot our feature film and one location (a beach) we honestly didn't get a permit for. Can the government sue us? Do they have a trademark or copyright to the beach if it's state owned?

Many thanks for any input!
Greg Answered:

Assuming you did not photograph and use any signage there is not a copyright or trademark issue. They could have fined you for being on the property without a permit. I have no idea if they can still come back to you if they find out. But the film you footage you can use.

680 Question Posted On: Date: 05.18.2017 Time: 07:28:17 Posted By User From: New York
Subject: Finders Agreement
Question Posted:
Hi Sorry to bother you again. Reading up on shopping agreements it seems that most of the online articles revolve around Producer/writer relationships. In my case I am acting as Producer until I find the right producing partners and the people I am currently working with are people who simply may be able to get the script to known actors and/or investors.

Would a finder's agreement perhaps be what I am looking for? Ideally I'd like to have one contract that I can use with anywhere from six to eight people who might be able to introduce the project to known talent/producing partners/investors.

I understand that I would still need to use an entertainment lawyer for the job but it would be great to know what exactly I need. So thank you in advance for any insight you might have.
Greg Answered:

Whether you need a shopping agreement or a finder agreement depends on what it is the people you are teaming up with you want them to do. Finder and shopping are fairly similar . Finder is more typical for someone who is going to go out and find the financing (or could be for other elements). Shopping is more typical with setting a project up (such as with another production company , distributor or financier). Either way, you need a lawyer to help navigate you through this.

679 Question Posted On: Date: 05.12.2017 Time: 06:51:20 Posted By User From: New York
Subject: Response to Q # 678
Question Posted:
First, thank you so much for your quick response and for what you do with this forum. I've read many pages of it and find it amazingly informative.

I did get a strange feeling from the lawyer I called because I have had initial consultations in the past where I was not charged.

Though my project is episodic I am developing it independently with the idea of trying to partner with known talent so in that regard the approach is similar to one sometimes taken with feature development.

I didn't mean to minimize the importance of having legal ducks in a row and I appreciate your pushing me in the direction of taking a more cautious approach. That said, I am only acting as a producer out of necessity. I am a writer/director living a pretty right-brained existence which can be tough in a business where knowing your way around contracts and spreadsheets can be very helpful. So in that respect I might even be more in need of expert legal assistance than others. There are scores of filmmakers out there who struggle because they love the art of film and are not particularly business savvy and they invariably have a harder time getting their films off the ground. There are also scores of filmmakers who have substantial family money behind them and seem to be able to cut to the front of the line so to speak. So it shouldn't be a sore spot as some of the best actors and directors have had to go through very lean times before getting their voices heard.

Most people would never write twenty episodes over the course of 6 years because it would seem impractical. I did it because of my love of the subject and the medium. I've sacrificed a lot to do this and certainly hope that the script itself will propel the project along despite my not having a strong personal source of backing.

Having said that, what would you suggest is the range I should expect to pay for an initial contract that I can use to incentivize my producers to actively shop the script to their name actor contacts? These are not full fledged producers with production companies looking to option the script just people who would like to help the project move forward and be compensated if it is a success and, if it is in the cards, play some kind of role as a producer or participant in the production or business end.

Thanks again for the great work!
Greg Answered:

What you are asking for is a shopping agreement or attachment agreement. Basically, you give them a period of time to do something (attach cast, find financing or distribution) and if they do, then they are attached as producers. These agreements you have to be very careful with so I would only recommend using an experienced lawyer. Pitfalls include everything from being stuck paying and crediting them even though they did nothing, to them pitching the project all over town so the project is “burned” and no one else can come in and help get it made. I myself charge an average of $3k for such contracts, based on my hourly rate and the typical time it takes between drafting , negotiating, and several drafts back and forth.

678 Question Posted On: Date: 05.11.2017 Time: 11:02:48 Posted By User From: New York
Subject: Compensation for introductions
Question Posted:
I have written the first twenty episodes of a series and have a specific wish list of A list actors (who have all been outspoken about the subject of the film) who I would like to enlist as producing partners. I currently have three aspiring producers with contacts to at least three of the actors on the list and are ready to approach them with the script. I spoke to a lawyer who said I should come and meet with her for $500 to discuss the matter in an hour after which she will outline a general direction to take(?) before coming back and paying her several thousand more to make some contracts.

When I told her I could not afford to just pay her to talk and would have to move things forward before being able to afford larger fees she warned me against the risks of taking any other approach. I didn't bother asking her what she would advise someone in my predicament I.e not having the funds to pursue the proper legal approach, because by the end of what felt like a long winded sales pitch for her services she just didn't seem like the right lawyer for me even if I had the funds.

So my question is this: Is there some simple contract and standard back end offering that I can use to unleash those who are eager to help get the project in the right hands without my having to incur serious legal fees yet that completely protects my intellectual property?

In other words how does a cash strapped filmmaker figure out what to offer would-be producers to motivate them to move quickly and pitch with passion without giving away the store and how does said filmmaker formalize such offers before they have the funds to create the full legal strategy and documentation?

Thank you for the website which has been very educational.
Greg Answered:

First, I don’t know what lawyer you spoke to , but something sounds very strange. No lawyer I know or have worked with in this business would charge you just to meet and talk about whether you want to hire them as your lawyer. Now some lawyers charge an initial consultation fee to talk about your project and the issues, but most of the lawyer in this business who really know what they are doing probably would not charge like that . As for your question of simple contracts, TV is not my area. Only film. And nothing is ever simple. The reason you pay a lawyer to do a contract is because these things are complex. We lawyers not only deal with the deal itself, or the legal wording , but also think of the issues and situations you might not think of . I cannot tell you how many times I have a producer finally get his film off the ground, and then he has all kinds of legal problems because of deals he did earlier without a lawyer. And most of the time, it ends up costing him thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars more than if he had a lawyer do it from the beginning. As for your last question about cash strapped, you hit a sore point with me. I never understand how people think they can get into this business as a producer with no money. This business is a very capital intensive business. Not just legal fees, but all aspects of development, production and distribution.

677 Question Posted On: Date: 05.09.2017 Time: 05:54:20 Posted By User From: L.A.
Subject: foreign rights sale?
Question Posted:
Hi Greg,

Many thanks for offering your expert input here. I am a screenwriter with a script under option to a UK-based producer, but I just received an inquiry from a producer in Asia who wants to produce a foreign language version of my script. I realize I cannot make any sort of deal with this producer with my script under option to another party, but if the UK producer wanted to assign rights to this foreign producer to allow that foreign version to go forward, would the producer first need to execute his option on my script? Or could he just make the deal without any additional compensation to me?

My option deal includes remake terms, so I'm guessing that those terms would apply to me in the event the foreign version reached production, but the larger question is whether the current producer could assign (sell) the rights to another party while merely owning the option to the script. Thanks again for your input!
Greg Answered:

The answers to your questions depend on the agreement you have for the current option. That said, the normal option would give the producer the unlimited right to assign the option to another party, or exercise the option and have one or more works made based on the script, including a foreign project. No permission by you would be normally required. Nor any notice. But again, it depends on the terms of your deal.

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