I'm the director assistant of an independent film to be filmed in Maryland and DC this summer. My director asked me to look for an entertainment lawyer (He is Chinese and doesn't speak much English.) It's his 1st time making a movie in the U.S., and he wants to know:
1) What's the roles and responsibilities of an entertainment lawyer?
2) How much would it cost to find an entertainment lawyer in the area (the shooting will be 2 months in the Summer and 1 month in the Winter)?
3) Since the movie is about Chinese students in the U.S., he also wants to know if we can legally film on college campus and also if we need to get permits to film on the street?
4) Some Chinese students on F-1 student visa volunteered to be extras for the movie and help out on set. Is it legal to have them?
The role of an entertainment lawyer can be very malleable and is often dependent on the needs of the client. An entertainment lawyer in your director's situation would likely advise him of what he can and cannot do. Costs of an entertainment attorney will vary and you'll have to contact individual attorneys for their rates (for ethical considerations). Good luck.
The answer provided is for general information purposes and cannot be relied upon. In order to provide legal advice, one must engage with a live attorney; this answer does not create such attorney-client relationship.
The role of any attorney is to advise you regarding the legal issues that affect your operation. You should confer directly with an attorney,who can set forth a legal strategy for you.
The response by Bryan Bockhop is given for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. It does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader and it may not be relied upon any person reading the response. One should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to this inquiry.
Making and distributing a film is a business enterprise. An attorney must be involved to ensure that the production company complies with all the applicable laws [just like any other business]. If the production company does not have a full time attorney then its management must learn at least the basic laws that control the film-making business. Management -- NOT a low-level employee -- needs to read a few books about the laws that apply [visit the link below]. Then a local entertainment attorney must be hired. If those laws are not complied with, it's quite likely that those held responsible will be the production company's management team [in addition to the company itself], especially if they were willfully ignorant of those laws. Good luck, you'll need it.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
(1) The role of an entertainment can vary. But generally, he or she will (1) prepare investor agreement, (2) draft crew deal memos, (3) assist with licensing agreements (e.g., music used in the film), (4) assess any liability (e.g., fair use issues), and (5) help with any other legal issue.
(2) Costs vary depending on the amount of work that will be required. You may want to use the Avvo tool.
(3) To film on a campus, you'll need to contact the campus and get permission beforehand. Most campuses will have a department that will handle such requests.
(4) The best practice is to always have a release and/or contract for anyone who appears on set or who performs services for the movie.
Making movies is difficult and there are a lot of legal issues that could arise, so I would consider hiring an attorney to represent you. Any distributor will want to minimize any potential liability, so it's best to handle such issues before premiering at a festival.
I agree that you shouldn't produce a film without first consulting with an experienced entertainment attorney, but it isn't as bad as some of the other attorneys make it sound. First, it is usually the producer that hires the attorney, not the director. Is your director also the producer? Second, although there is some advantage to using a local attorney or someone in your region (mid-Atlantic) for union connections, in the entertainment industry it is not unusual to hire someone outside your immediate area. Finding an attorney with significant experience with independent filmmaking should be most important to you. Regarding fees, usually a production attorney will work on a flat fee that is included in the budget of the film. It would be too expensive or too restrictive to hire someone on an hourly rate because a good production attorney should be intimately involved in the entire process, from advising on rights issues (like making sure the script rights have been properly acquired by the production), hiring all of the cast & crew, union issues (if any), insurance, etc. An attorney with significant experience in indie filmmaking can help a producer avoid many problems and help resolve any problems that do come up. Also, a good entertainment attorney will make sure that all of the paperwork is in order for delivery to an eventual distributor - which is a very important and often overlooked part of filmmaking. The attorney is a key crew position & should be treated that way. Good luck.
Please note that this answer should not be considered "legal advice" and no attorney-client relationship is formed by answering this question. You should hire an attorney licensed in your state and familiar with the relevant areas of the law to conduct an analysis of your situation and provide you with fully informed legal advice. This answer is posted for general purposes only.
As noted here by other attorneys, the role of an entertainment attorney can be expansive. If you have taken investor funds an attorney would need to advise you on complying with all applicable securities laws. An entertainment attorney would have hopefully ensured that any intellectual property the film uses (rights to the screenplay, music, subject matter [life rights or publicity] have also been secured with appropriate acquisition contracts. Throughout production, your attorney needs to ensure that all applicable labor and employment laws are observed (it is not clear whether the production company you work for is a signatory to SAG). Without proper permitting production could be disrupted. The production company needs have an attorney review its operative agreements (if any) and its shooting schedule to even begin to give you the scope of services their representation would entail. Good luck.
The above response is general information and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should not be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel in the relevant practice area before taking any action related to your question.
From the questions you are asking it sounds like you are in need of "production counsel." As the other attorneys have mentioned, the projects are usually segmented into different areas, namely pre-production, production and post-production. Pre-production deals with setting up legal structure, acquisition of ip rights and financing. Production stage is mostly negotiating all agreements with directors, talent and below-the-line personal (including immigration/visa, location releases and other IP matters) and on-going day-to-day legal and business affairs. Post-production deals mainly with securing the IP protection and negotiating distribution agreements, licensing and other commercial exploitation opportunities. These areas are not exclusive areas and often overlap. I suggest you retain an entertainment attorney with specific production counsel experience. The industry norm is for the production counsel to charge a percentage of the overall production budget, payable at different intervals throughout the process.
Hi. Since the students are on F-1 visas, generally they can participate as extras if certain requirements. At this juncture, you will also need the advice of an immigration attorney. If you have questions about permits, then I suggest you contact the local film commission in your area. Usually, that type of organization is a great resource for indie filmmakers. Overall, my colleagues have given you great advice and helpful resources as well. But there is simply no way around the reading and learning necessary to be a part of the entertainment world. And the director cannot delegate his responsibilities to you either. He has to be fully invested not only in the making of the movie...but in the legalities of it as well. PWK
The answer provided is general advice and does not constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Potential clients may contact me directly for actual legal advice based on their specific facts and needs.
1) WHAT'S THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER?
As other learned counsel noted, the role of an entertainment attorney can be ever-changing and vast. Examples of deliverables can include but would not be limited to drafting various legal agreements like employment agreements for investor(s), crew, and actors/actresses, helping obtain permits and permissions (more on that below), and handling unanticipated legal emergencies.
2) HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST TO FIND AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER IN THE AREA (THE SHOOTING WILL BE 2 MONTHS IN THE SUMMER AND 1 MONTH IN THE WINTER)?
Lawyers have a variety of payment options and rates. For instance, some attorneys charge a single flat rate up front for all of their services. Other lawyers charge an hourly rate and bill clients for hours worked on a matter. Most often in the entertainment industry, attorneys charge incrementally over the life of the project. Also, the amount of work the attorney must do may also affect legal costs. It is probably best for clients to meet with prospective lawyers to get the most accurate estimate on legal costs.
3) SINCE THE MOVIE IS ABOUT CHINESE STUDENTS IN THE U.S., HE ALSO WANTS TO KNOW IF WE CAN LEGALLY FILM ON COLLEGE CAMPUS AND ALSO IF WE NEED TO GET PERMITS TO FILM ON THE STREET?
An entertainment attorneys responsibilities are most often to advise clients of federal, state, and local laws that will affect production of the movie. For example, necessary permits to film on streets and permissions to film on private property. In this instance, you will likely need permits from the city and permission from the university.
4) SOME CHINESE STUDENTS ON F-1 STUDENT VISA VOLUNTEERED TO BE EXTRAS FOR THE MOVIE AND HELP OUT ON SET. IS IT LEGAL TO HAVE THEM?
Under the law, F-1 Visa students are allowed to work under specific circumstances. You should contact an attorney to determine if what you are proposing meets those circumstances. http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment
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