Many mediamakers know they need a lawyer out the gate and yet initially they are often fearful of employing a lawyer as they fear they can't afford it. That is why I am frequently asked: "When should a mediamaker engage an entertainment attorney?"
As a general rule, this should be done when the client is entering into a contractual relationship with another person or entity, such as two co-producers, two writing collaborators, a producer and a writer, a producer and a director, etc. It is a sort of pre-nuptial agreement that, once signed, can be put in a file or a drawer and referred to if and when a dispute arises.
A client should also consult with an entertainment attorney when they are planning on accepting money from a third party for funds that would pay for development or actual production. The attorney can counsel the client when structuring the deal and provide the appropriate documentation for such funds. Often the first agreement may be between a producer and an investor for development, so a producer can then hire someone, usually a line producer with some experience, to prepare a full budget for the project, also an attorney and an accountant to work with the producer on the many legal and/or business issues which may arise.
Since the script is the blueprint for the project, agreements should be negotiated and prepared when a producer options the rights to a screenplay for a period of time, with the possibility of exercising that option and purchasing the necessary rights. If a project is going to be based on an underlying property, such as a book or a play, that same option with the right to purchase agreement is required for the underlying property, as well as a separate agreement when a producer hires a writer to write a screenplay based on that property. Obviously if a producer wishes to develop an original screenplay, then he or she has to hire the writer for writing services as well.
This is all part of what is called the 'chain of title' that a producer needs to assure funding sources, sales agents and distributors, so that the rights to the project can be exploited without a third party coming out of the proverbial woodwork to challenge or 'place a cloud' on a project’s chain of title, which could impede or prevent a project from being produced or entering the marketplace.
Clients who wait too long to hire an attorney put the client (and the attorney) in the difficult position of trying to undo problematic agreements and negotiating new agreements much later in the process, often when many parties have left the project and moved on to another one.
The attorney can also help with key components, such as business relationships, money-raising and rights securing, which will help the client while in the process of developing and producing a project, so that once it enters the marketplace, the attorney will be called on to negotiate and review distribution agreements.
About Robert Seigel
Robert has more than twenty years experience in the counseling and representation of producers, writers, directors, distribution companies and foreign sales agents concerning development, production, marketing, distribution and exploitation of fiction and non-fiction film, television, publishing and new media projects. His clients’ projects have appeared theatrically and on network, syndicated, public and cable television and have earned Academy Award and Emmy nominations and awards as well as prizes at major film festivals.
You can connect with Robert here on Stage 32 or check out his website (http://www.rlsentlaw.com/).
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