A lot of lawyers will offer a “production package” that covers a range of items such as location agreements and clearances. This is definitely a better deal than having them bill you by the hour, which will end up costing more 99.9999999% of the time. However, you’ll only be saving money – not time – by doing this, so keep in mind how long it will take for your lawyers to complete all the paperwork in their package deal. And you absolutely need to have these agreements taken care of before you roll cameras on set.
Legal Considerations in Pre-Production
The lawyers will definitely be involved with the financing – after all, it’s money and they’re lawyers. But really the toughest legal obstacle in pre-production is dealing with agents and lawyers in contract negotiations. After all, whatever your production is offering will never be enough for the reasonable and even-tempered representatives of cast members you’re probably settling for in the first place. Thankfully, everything else is relatively cut and dry.
Your lawyer should go through to make sure there are no potential legal issues that could arise from the script. And yes, you will be surprised by what constitutes trademarks and copyrighted material. For instance, you may remember that Taylor Swift copyrighted the phrase “this sick beatTM” – so if that also happens to be one of your character’s catchphrases, you may run into problems even if you mean it as a fond allusion to the poetry of Ms. Swift. In fact, we’re running a huge risk simply printing those words on our educational use page here. Product names, logos, even individual character names: same deal. If a fictional character says something remotely negative, your lawyer will make sure that no one can sue the production for this. And all this is before you get to music clearances, which is a whole other issue that you will likely need a music supervisor to handle.
Let’s say your financiers are investors who have such good faith in your production that they haven’t required any kind of collateral against their investment. Maybe they haven’t even made you get a completion bond, which is a de facto insurance policy in the event you don’t finish the project. On the surface, all this sounds like a good thing. And that’s true until you deal with unions on your production, because they will make you sign an assumption agreement. This agreement basically serves as a bond that ensures payment to their members who work on your production. You’ll get this money back only when you’ve paid the union members in full. Just think of it as yet another insurance policy you have to take out to get this thing done, with the added bonus that you can actually get the money back.
Animals | Kids
There’s kind of an unwritten rule for smaller productions not to use kids or animals. This isn’t because they are difficult to work with, though the Coen Brothers did say the toughest performers they ever directed were the cats from “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Mainly there are a bunch of different agencies that get involved when child and non-human actors come on board. Because these agencies are literally looking out for the safety and well-being of their entities, they will be extremely diligent in monitoring all aspects of the production. In addition to the increased oversight, there is also the added expense of having teachers and animal trainers on set, as well as the mandatory breaks in production. That said, kids and animals are awesome so…you know, your call.