The business of film
The business of film

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The business of film

2.1 Making sure your project is legal

With the kind of complex and iterative processes that film production entails, it’s really important for a producer to know that they fully own the rights needed in order to develop the project.

This is where lawyers come in. Lawyers have a very important role in the film industry because so much of the value chain works on the basis of agreeing contracts. The terms of those contracts vary depending on the circumstances of the property and the deal. Here’s lawyer Charles Moore talking about how he approaches the development process when working with his clients.

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Transcript: Video 2 Charles Moore talks about the development process

 In terms of the development process, unlike the production process, there aren't a whole lot of movable parts. But the key thing to deal with is to make sure that your deal with the underlying rights owner is cast-iron and in place. There are too many producers who waft around two-page option agreements saying that they have the rights. Even if they may have done a very simple deal with the rights, there's often a lot that's missing. For example, are there any reserved rights? Did the author actually have the rights, or did the rights belong to the publisher of the book? Is there some kind of need for a holdback?
Is the author expecting there to be some sort of holdback on reserved rights, or have they actually given the rights only for a limited period of time? So there's a huge amount of- there's probably 20 or 30 specific things that you need to be very careful of when you actually deal with this, because there's no point in going out there and then spending lots of money on a writer, and then going off to a financier and finding out that actually, you haven't quite got the deal that you thought you had with the underlying author.
Whether you're working with an underlying play or a book or another film or a television programme, you are generally going to want to option the rights in that underlying work for a certain period of time. And what an option does- it just buys you time, and it gives you an exclusive right to work with that particular underlying material for a certain period of time. So when you pay an option fee, you're not actually buying anything, apart from a year or six months' exclusivity. And it ensures, from the producer's point of view, it gives them the comfort that that underlying author, or the playwright, cannot give those rights to someone else.
In many situations, it's not just a question of entering into an option agreement. A bit like when you're buying a house, you've got to make sure that the chain of title is solid, because what you're dealing with is intellectual property, is a series of contracts- or whether it's a will and a grant of probate, or whatever it may be- but a series of contracts which start at the originating author and come down to the company that is actually trying to option or licence you the rights.
End transcript: Video 2 Charles Moore talks about the development process
Video 2 Charles Moore talks about the development process
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