A Film Production Lawyer is a Must

Is it really necessary for a film producer to have an entertainment lawyer as part of their professional practice? The biases of an entertainment lawyer and my stacking of questions might indicate a “yes” answer 100%. However, the truth is that it depends. Many producers are film attorneys, entertainment lawyers or other types of lawyers these days and can often take care of their own affairs. The film producers to be concerned about are those who pretend to be entertainment lawyers but don’t have the licenses or the legal experience. Unfortunately, filmmaking and motion picture practice are an industry in which “bluffing” and “blustering” can sometimes replace actual knowledge and experience. Entertainment attorneys who work for banks, distributors, banks and insurance companies will not overlook “bluff” production documents or inept production procedures. This alone explains why the job of entertainment lawyer and film production counsel is still safe.

It is possible that there will be some lucky filmmakers, who manage to stay under the radar throughout the entire production without the assistance of an entertainment attorney. They are likely to avoid potential pitfalls and liabilities, just like flying bats can be said to avoid hair. An analogy: One of my closest friends hasn’t had health insurance in years and is still financially afloat. This week anyway. In the end, luck will be a factor in some people’s lives, and people will be more likely to win the lottery than others.

It is easy to say that you will avoid having to hire film lawyers by staying out of trouble and being careful. A motion picture producer can benefit from the assistance of an entertainment lawyer in film production. If the entertainment lawyer for the producer has experienced film production before, then he or she will have learned many of the lessons that the film industry and the commercial world has to offer.

Producers can avoid many of these pitfalls by consulting a film and entertainment lawyer. How? Clear thinking, careful planning and – and this is the key – meticulous, thoughtful, and complete documentation of every film production and related activity. The film lawyer is not to be seen as someone who enforces compliance. The entertainment lawyer might sometimes be the one saying “no”. The entertainment lawyer can also be a positive force in production.

A film lawyer can also assist the producer in their business consulting efforts. The motion picture producer who hires an entertainment lawyer will benefit from their experience in handling multiple film productions. Although it may sometimes be difficult to budget for legal counsel, professional filmmakers view legal costs as a fixed, predictable and necessary expense. This is similar to the rent obligation for the production office or the cost for film for the cameras. Some film and entertainment attorneys may be priced out of reach of an average independent producer, but others are not.

These are just generalities. What specific tasks should a producer retain an entertainment lawyer or film lawyer? :

1. INCORPORATION OR FORMATION AN “LLC”: This entity-formation issue is usually the entertainment lawyer’s “wake-up call”, telling the producer that it’s time. The entertainment lawyer warns that if the producer fails to properly create, file and maintain a corporate entity or other suitable entity to conduct business, the film producer could end up hurting themselves or others. Entertainment attorneys warn that without the protection provided by an entity, personal assets such as house, car and bank accounts are at risk. In the worst case scenario, they could be taken to pay the liabilities and debts of the producer. This is how it works:

Patient: “Doctor it hurts my head when you do that.”

Doctor: “So? Doctor: “So?

The film lawyer entertainment attorney says, “Film business is speculative and most motion pictures can fail financially – even at the San Fernando Valley level.” It is absurd to operate a film business, or any other type of business, from one’s personal bank account. It is also unprofessional and can be a problem if the producer hopes to attract talent, bankers, distributors, or other business people in the future.

Entertainment lawyers often help with the decision of where and how to file an entity. However, they are sometimes driven by specific variables such as tax issues relating to the movie or motion picture company. An entertainment attorney should be consulted by the film producer to ensure that it is done correctly. Entity-creation can be affordable. Because of the potential for new business, good lawyers won’t consider incorporating clients as a profit-center. The film producer should know that the U.S. law allows clients to fire their lawyer at will. However, entertainment lawyers who perform entity-creation work often get asked to continue work for the same client, especially if they are reasonably priced.

I wouldn’t recommend self incorporation by a non-lawyer. I wouldn’t tell a film producer-client which actors to hire for a motion picture, or tell a D.P. client what lens to use for a particular film shot. Everyone has their job on a film production set. The film producer should allow a competent entertainment lawyer to do their job. This will make things easier for the production.

2. SOLICITING INVESTOR: This is often a wake-up call. Let’s suppose that the film producer wants money from other people to make a motion movie. This is not an uncommon scenario. Film producers will most likely begin soliciting funds from “passive” investors in a variety of ways. They may even start to collect some money as a result. Sometimes, this happens before the entertainment lawyer hears from the client.

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