Chain of Title Creator Jordan Clark Explains How His Website Could Save Your Film
Last week we covered the new innovative website, Chain of Title, which at its launch will provide filmmakers with invaluable legal information, forms, and resources for the reasonable price of — totally free. Headed by independent filmmaker and producer, Jordan Clark, Chain of Title will feature, among other things, information described using both layman’s and legal terms accompanied by videos, accessible forms, and easy and creative navigation. We were lucky enough to sit down with Clark recently and ask about his project, its Indiegogo campaign, and how it intends to help independent filmmakers once it goes live.
If you don’t know or quite remember what Chain of Title is all about, check out the video posted on Jordan Clark’s Indiegogo campaign page. Keep scrolling for the in-depth interview.
NFS: Jordan, for people like me who just don’t get legal jargon, can you explain exactly what a “chain of title” is and why it’s important enough to dedicate an entire website to helping filmmakers get a clean one?
JC: Simply put, the chain of title is a series of agreements assigning individual copyrights and granting various permissions to the owner of the film. There are hundreds of copyrights being created on a film set. The writer, cinematographer, actors, director, make-up, FX, wardrobe etc. are all creating individual copyrights. It would be a laborious process to get permission from all of them every time the film was exhibited, distributed, or sold. This is why everyone on your film must assign their copyright to the production company. The production company can then license those rights to distributors and broadcasters.
Chain of title is the most ignored part of DIY and independent filmmaking. Granted it isn’t the sexiest part, but is an absolute necessity if a filmmaker wants their project to be distributed or broadcast. As part of your deliverables to an interested distributor, broadcaster, or purchaser you will be required to get Errors and Omissions Insurance. In order to do this, you must have a clean chain of title for your film.
It is often overlooked because filmmakers don’t realize their mistake until it is too late. If your film is acquired for distribution, you will have to get a lawyer and they will have to look at your contracts. No matter how guerilla you tried to be, you will still need permission for every copyright in your film. If you can’t provide that, you will not get Errors and Omissions Insurance and your film will not be distributed or broadcast.
NFS: How do you know about all of this? (I’m both very impressed and very confused.)
JC: When I went to film school back in 2000, the business aspect of filmmaking was completely overlooked. They provided contracts for us to use but only had one half-day workshop with an entertainment lawyer on what those contract meant. I didn’t remember the 2.5 hours of legalese that I felt assaulted with. This was when I realized that private, creative education is set up completely wrong.
Years later, I was offered the opportunity to head up the film program at a private school. I was able to develop a mentorship program where students were not only creating, but being walked through the chain of title in their films step by step. I knew the program was working because some of our graduates were getting hired in production offices instead of the usual production assistant positions.
Every year I held a free chain of title workshop and opened it up to the filmmaking community. I would get film school grads, university film program students, local television professionals, and local filmmakers. It became clear the independent filmmaking community had a gaping hole in available resources and education.
NFS: What led you to start Chain of Title?
JC: I began volunteering my time to DIY filmmakers who were trying to make a marketable product. This introduced me to Denver Jackson (animator) and Marc Junker (graphic Designer/ Composer). We started working together on sci-fi and animated projects.
Then last September, Marc took the chain of title graph I use in my workshops and designed a really cool infographic print. I thought it would be amazing if you could just click on any aspect of the design and be given all the information you needed to know visually – the idea for chainoftitle.ca was born.
JC: Chainoftitle.ca will be a free resource that walks users through the process of securing, maintaining, assigning, and protecting the copyrights created while making a film. We will do this with an interactive infographic that will, when any aspect is clicked, display an animation of how that works and why it is important, followed by an entertainment lawyer who will explain the legalities of it, as well as what contracts you need and what those contracts mean.
When we say free, we mean it. There will be no sign-up, memberships, or waiting for ads to play before getting to the content. We want this resource to be accessible to everyone. We are in talks with law firms about us providing advertising in exchange for content and services. The ads will be sidebar ads and not interfere with the content (that is important to us). In return, they will provide content, printable contracts, and vetting of information.
So, we will show filmmakers exactly what they need to secure, and how to organize it so they can clear Errors and Omissions insurance, minimize legal fees, and maximize their film’s potential.
NFS: So, what do you hope to accomplish with your website?
JC: We genuinely just want to create a resource that we wished had existed when we needed it. We want to help educate filmmakers. It would be wonderful if filmmakers could use the resource in conjunction with other online resources to gain a full film education for free. It’s amazing how many filmmakers solicit legal opinions online from non-lawyers. The only advice you should take is that from a qualified attorney, which is why all of our information will be vetted by lawyers in the United States and Canada. We want independent filmmakers to have a place to get definitive answers and information tailored for them; a place that will walk them through the chain of title in a film from idea to delivery.
NFS: Just to hit it home, can you explain the processes one would have to go through without having a resource like Chain of Title?
JC: After my first documentary, Bangkok Girl, was acquired by CBC in Canada, I ending up spending $3,600 on legal fees and my E&O Insurance was $7,000 — an exorbitant amount for a documentary in 2005. This was due to the poorly worded contract templates that I used and my lack of ‘fair use’ understanding. With my second film, The Aswang Phenomenon, I spent $450 on legal fees and my E&O Insurance was just under $4,000.
The difference was understanding the contracts I used to secure depictions, music, images and film clips, and how I organized them for review by my lawyer. Understanding chain of title cut my legal and insurance fees in half. There are so many contract templates floating around the web, and most of them are good enough. I found that out the hard way. With chainoftitle.ca, we are helping everyone learn from our mistakes and from common errors we see other filmmakers make.
NFS: Common errors, huh? What are the costs of these errors?
JC: Unfortunately, for every film that made it, there are thousands that didn’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t generate revenue and find an audience, it just means it is going to be much harder. What breaks my heart is when a film receives a moderate distribution offer and a filmmaker can’t accept it because the legal fees to clean up their film’s chain of title exceeds the offer.
This happens all the time. Quite a few years back an independent documentary was screened at Hot Docs International Documentary Festival. It received 5 licensing offers for broadcast in different territories. The filmmakers were unable to accept any of them because they did not have a clean chain of title and were unable to secure Errors and Omissions Insurance.
This story is not a one-off, it really happens all the time. The chain of title resource will hopefully eliminate this problem.
NFS: Alright, last thing! Tell us about your Indiegogo campaign.
JC: If there was a way that we could create the entire resource for free, we would. It is going to take about 5 months to build — we launch in November. We want this resource to be free and unrestricted to users, which is why we are asking for help on Indiegogo. The more we can raise there, the better the resource will be, and the more tools we can provide.
I know the business part of filmmaking is boring and cumbersome, but it is essential to understand it in order to maximize your film’s potential. Why limit yourself?
Some exciting news came in after this interview about Chain of Title. Clark explains:
Thanks to the positive response we have been getting about the campaign, we received our first site sponsor! They are covering almost 60% of our expenses! To reflect the changes, we put in the request and supporting documentation to Indiegogo yesterday. If you look now, our campaign goal is $20,000 and we are over 10% there!
What this means is this resource is a little bit (or a lot bit) closer to being accessible to you online, which is great, because I think this website is going to help a lot of us in the independent film world.
Our sincere thanks to Jordan Clark for letting us interview him. If you’d like to make a contribution or simply see what all the fuss is about, head on over to Chain of Title’s Indiegogo campaign.