Movie contracts have to be signed before cameras roll on one scene. I think the “pay it forward” theory works great when you are in the entertainment business. Sure, there are always going to people that take advantage and do not “pay it forward” after they get what they want. That is just the way life is. I make an effort to answer most emails I receive about screenwriting, directing, and producing. Most questions are answered in detail in The First Movie Is The Toughest, a helpful filmmaking resource for writers, directors, actors, producers, and any casual reader with their own great story idea for a movie. But sometimes cash is tight and people are not in the position to spend money to buy the book, so I share a bit of what I know gratis.
When I started out there were a couple of filmmakers that used to answer my questions and share what they knew with me for free. Hell, I still hit up amigo Tim Beachum aka The SEO Bully regularly for answers to questions I have about SEO for filmmakers and all things related to computers and tech gadgets. When he has questions about screenwriting, directing, or producing I share what I know.
Lately, I have been receiving emails from visitors to the Slice Of Americana Films blog that are asking how movie contracts work and what they need to say. I never take for granted what I have learned about movie contracts over the years. It can get confusing if you do not have an entertainment attorney on board to draw up all the contracts needed to sell your movie yourself or through a distribution company. If your budget does not allow for you to pay for the services of an entertainment attorney, you can still make sure your contracts for actors, crew, and contributing music artists to a movie soundtrack are legally solid. Signed movie contracts beat handshake deals and oral agreements.
Getting movie contracts signed are an absolute must. There is no way around not having anyone involved in even the remotest way with your film sign a contract. Handshake deals and oral agreements are too risky to rely on when it comes time to sell your film. Movie distributors want clean paperwork that includes, signed actor and crew contracts, music license agreements, location agreements, etc. Their legal departments want to know that you have all the required contracts signed, sealed, and delivered. Over 65 Complete Entertainment Law Contracts!
It might seem silly to have someone close to you sign a contract, but it is necessary. If it is not in writing and signed, it does not exist. From working with entertainment attorneys, film sales agents, and going through distribution deals for projects, I have gained valuable experience on what type of language contracts need to have to satisfy major retail outlets that will be selling your movie, reality program, and other content. I tell people that email that it is always better to invest in hiring an entertainment attorney before you start shooting. But that is not always an option for every producer. It could be you are working with a tight budget and need to put every dime available into completing your project. If that is your scenario, I recommend downloading movie contract templates to protect your interests as a producer before investing a single dollar into your project. It is a waste of time, money, and sweat equity to finish a film that cannot be distributed because the contracts are not in order or properly worded.
I personally think about legal paperwork before I start preproduction on a project. Slice Of Americana Films produces hard-hitting and bold entertainment. One thing I learned early on that I would have missed without the advice of an entertainment attorney, is roles that have an actor shown nude have to have a “nudity rider” attached to their actor agreement.
It might sound crazy to some filmmakers, but having movie contracts ready to go for every aspect of production should come before worrying about firing up production. Never depend on a handshake deal or oral agreement over a signed movie contract. This is indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing: SMASH CUT
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