Even if you are making a low-budget, independent production, you might still need to budget for legal advice. Entertainment law, also known as media law, covers a wide range of services; from intellectual property rights, copyright and contracts, to taxes, liability claims, and insurance.
Entertainment lawyers are experts in all of these areas, and can provide useful insight that you as a filmmaker may greatly benefit from. Understanding when you need to hire an entertainment lawyer is invaluable for any film producer to know. This article will break down what an entertainment lawyer does, where to find them, and the cost of their services.
What Does An Entertainment Lawyer Do?
In short, entertainment lawyers work with filmmakers to provide legal advice and counsel on a range of specialty topics. Entertainment lawyers mainly work with producers and executive producers. However, talent such as actors, directors, and writers may also need to hire one during their career.
The services they offer can vary depending on the individual lawyer or firm. Some will be able to help you with comprehensive advice throughout the filmmaking process. Alternatively, you might hire a specialist to advise you on a particular issue. For example, a copyright & fair trade consultant or a lawyer who focuses on overseas distribution.
One primary reason you need an entertainment lawyer is to get approval on your film’s distribution. When you sell your film, a distributor might ask you for a chain of title before you can sign a distribution deal. A chain of title is a collective phrase for all of the documents you need to show to prove you hold your film’s rights.
Here is a list of duties an entertainment lawyer can do –
- Negotiating Contracts
- Protecting copyright
- Creating all legal paperwork
- Manage union/non-union issues
- Manage any licensing issues
- Provide advice if you get sued
- Grant a film as being secure for distribution
Do You Need An Entertainment Lawyer?
The answer to whether or not you need an entertainment lawyer is: it depends. While beginning filmmakers and screenwriters typically don’t need a lawyer to start out, as your career advances, you may find yourself needing professional legal advice. It’s never too early to start learning the basics about entertainment law and establishing a relationship with an entertainment lawyer.
If you are making a union film or dealing with a budget of over $1 million, you should hire an entertainment lawyer to look over the whole project. Different unions have different contract negotiations, and on a large film set, this can get complicated. Hiring a lawyer will only protect you and save you money in the long run.
If you are working on a low-budget, independent film, then you have the choice to hire a lawyer for individual tasks. Independent producers need to be extra careful when drafting up contracts, such as talent release forms and location agreements. You might decide to re-use old contracts, and they might not fully cover you on a new project. For a movie to be released, you need permission to use everything you see and hear on screen, and it’s crucial to not overlook these steps. Mistakes can lead to a film losing out on distribution deals, including cinema, TV, and streaming services.
In another scenario, a screenwriter may need a lawyer to secure intellectual copyright. If you believe someone has stolen your script or has broken a contract, you can hire a lawyer to try to enforce your copyright claim.
There are many different scenarios that might require an entertainment lawyer. If you’re unsure, chances are it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to an entertainment lawyer and simply ask them for their input.
Pre-Production Paperwork Bundle
How To Find An Entertainment Lawyer?
Like all jobs in the film industry, most work comes through recommendations. If you know anyone who has previously hired an entertainment lawyer, ask them about their experience. Alternatively, a production company you know might be able to endorse a firm.
You can hire lawyers as individual freelancers or go through a company. Each will have different specialties, and you will need to check that they cover your film’s needs. Media law can also differ per state, so whoever you hire must be familiar with your filming location.
Finding a company can also be done through a google search. If you type into google entertainment lawyer followed by your filming location, you will get many suggestions. To sum up, the person you hire needs to be a perfect fit for your project requirements and location. You can hire a lawyer fit for your specific filmmaking stage, from pre-production to distribution.
What Is The Cost Of An Entertainment Lawyer?
Whether you hire through a law firm or work with a freelancer, every individual will have a unique cost. Most lawyers have an hourly wage, but you can negotiate a flat fee for their services throughout the whole project. Many lawyers will also give a free consultation and use this time to ask straightforward about their services and costs.
As a reference, lawyers can charge 5% of an individual’s income but expect no less than $250 per hour. One thing to ask during an initial consultation is how they add up their work hours. For some lawyers, every phone call and message will count towards the cost. It would help if you had an exact conversation about payment terms before you hire.
There may also be a retainer fee to cover future services, and prices can be in the thousands. Before hiring, make sure to negotiate and run through all additional costs to the service. On some occasions, a lawyer might accept payment based on a settlement offer or future sales.
Entertainment lawyers advise and provide essential legal advice for filmmakers. Finding a good lawyer can be difficult, and you will need to negotiate terms in detail before hiring. They are also expensive, and you should consider their cost during your early budget breakdown. Even the most low-budget production may need to hire a lawyer when selling their film.
Overall an entertainment lawyer can be a worthy investment. Will you hire an entertainment lawyer for your next project? Do you have experiences with entertainment lawyers you’d like to share? Leave your feedback in the comments section below.
Talent Release Agreement