Film Contracts

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Film Contracts

Brief Introduction About Film Contracts

Film-making has evolved into a huge business with many different aspects. It involves many different stages. It is a lengthy and complex process. There are many categories of people associated with a film- financiers, producers, directors, writers, technicians, actors, crew members, and distributors. They have different roles at various stages of film-making. To ensure that they carry out their roles efficiently, the producers of the film enter into contracts with them. These are called film contracts.

They are executed between the producers and every person or entity associated with the film. They specify the conditions of work and obligations of the parties. The producer will have a separate contract with each party. If there are intellectual property rights (IPRs) to be acquired, there will be a contract to address that too (called rights purchase agreement).

Purpose of Film Contracts

They are important to prevent misunderstandings between the parties while making the film. They help to build a strong professional relationship. The contract takes care of any unpleasant situation that may arise. For example, the filming may extend to a longer duration than expected. In this case, the contract will cover how the people involved will be paid for the extra hours. With so many stages involved, there are multiple such contracts. There are production company contracts that the production house enters into with the financiers or media corporation to develop a film for it. There are contracts with writers, music producers, actors, dancers, and technicians. With such high stakes, these contracts offer legal protection to the parties.

How to Write  Film Contracts

Planning of a film is broadly divided into three stages- pre-production, production, and post-production.

  • Pre-production: In this stage, the script is prepared, and all the planning about the film takes place. This involves scouting and finalizing locations, casting, budget, and schedule.
  • Production: This is the filming stage. The film is shot in the agreed locations. It is vital to stick to the schedule; otherwise, there may be unnecessary delays. 
  • Post-production: This stage involves editing, adding special effects, and soundtracks. After it is ready, the film is given to distributors who show it in their cinemas or video streaming platforms.

The work in pre-production and production stages generally involves using filmmaker templates. They include storyboards, shot lists, and logging sheets. Storyboards are used to plan how a scene will be shot. They include drawings of the scenes. If a filmmaker does not want to use a storyboard, she can go for a shot list. It contains information about the shots that are required for the film. Logging sheets are helpful to review clips and note down observations about them.

Contents of Film Contracts

They generally contain the following key terms:

  • Names of the parties
  • Date of the agreement
  • The intent of the contract
  • Details about the film
  • Term of the agreement
  • Role and responsibility of the party
  • Payment details
  • Working hours
  • Ownership of IPRs
  • Limitation of liability
  • Accommodation and travel expenses
  • Termination
  • Confidentiality
  • Governing law
  • Signature of the parties

All these terms must comply with applicable federal and state laws.

How to Draft Film Contracts?

When drafting a film contract, keep in mind the following points:

  • State the objective of the contract. If it seeks to engage a music producer, it should mention that the film producer and the music producer have agreed to work together under the contract as per its terms.
  • Details of the film: This clause should include the film’s working title, duration, locations, filming schedule, and the key people (director, producer, writer).
  • Payment: One of the most important clauses, it must state in clear terms how much money the party will be paid. It must also mention the time and mode of payment. It should address the overtime charges that will be paid if the party has to work for a longer time than stated in the agreement.
  • The term stating the working hours should mention the number of hours that the party will be required to work for each day. It must also state what will happen if these hours exceed the prescribed limit
  • IPRs: This clause should define who will have ownership of the IPRs. For instance, if it is an agreement with the music producer, then who will own the IPRs in the songs? Similarly, a writer’s agreement must mention who will get the copyright in the script. 
  • There must be a provision stating the circumstances under which the agreement can be terminated. This is to protect both parties from unfair cancellation of the contract by the other.
  • The governing law clause must mention the state whose laws will govern the agreement. This term prevents issues regarding jurisdiction.

Negotiation Strategy

During negotiations, both parties have to realize that it should be fair to all. People with strong bargaining power, like established actors and technicians, can negotiate better terms. Even then, they should discuss those terms that matter to them.

Benefits of Film Contracts

  • They help stick to the budget and schedule of the film.
  • They prevent misunderstandings between the parties and ensure the efficient execution of the film project.
  • They protect IPRs by contractually assigning them.

What Happens in Case of Violation?

In case the contract is violated(1), the defaulting party can be sued in the local court of the state whose law governs the contract.

Producing a film involves a lot of stages and a lot of people. Film contracts ensure that each stage is smoothly executed. They protect the rights of everyone involved in the filmmaking process. Though there are many different types of film contracts, their main aim is to make sure all parties are aware of their responsibilities, and there is no ambiguity. They are important documents that must be executed before bringing anyone on board a film project.