February 1, 2016 at 7:15PM, Edited February 1, 7:35PM

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I am producer, DP, and editor. Who has the rights to the film?

I'll try to keep this short. I was an unpaid producer, DP, and editor for a short film. The writer was also the director. He turned out to be a real jerk on set (I know, a real shocker, right? - this is sarcasm).

He is an amateur and was angry from 10 AM - 11 PM over every lens change, batter change, lighting change, little tweaks needing to be made, audio issues, actors showing up on set late, you know the run of the mill B.S. that happens on just about every film set. He was a control freak and manhandled me at some point to get certain camera angles by grabbing my wrist (I have finger marks and bruising), he grabbed MY camera several times, sometimes out of my hand or my entire tripod with camera attached and would adjust legs and also while I had the strap around my neck, jerking my head and neck at times. The entire cast and crew were shocked by the way he handled me and spoke to me as we were all doing this as a labor of love.

He barked at me relentlessly for absolutely no reason and got angry when the shots he wanted were in front of a store front window and I informed him that I could see my reflection and he refused to listen to my recommendation for the best place to set up for the shot. Once we tried his three other spots to run into the same problem with my own reflection or the boom operator reflection, he finally moved to said recommended spot I had first made note of.

He had no understanding of how a 50 mm lens works and was furious when I informed him that you don't have a zoom option with that lens and why. Just as we were filming the last scenes of the night, I was getting an overhead shot of the actors as they lay in the bed and as I stood there, I had already asked my assistant to stand behind me with hands lightly held to my hamstrings just in case I lost my balance. She was capable of doing this job. When I had her run the memory card over to the laptop to make sure we had what we needed, he put his hand on my rear end and not in a way that was to support me. (Assistant told me when I was on bed she could tell he really wanted to grab my rear - that was via text the next day) I said absolutely nothing. No one realized what was happening. I just wanted to finish and leave. I felt demoralized in every sense of the word and just fought back tears.

As I am editor, he wanted to sit and edit with me, which I cannot stand to edit WITH a director especially a first cut in the first place, but I do not trust this guy one bit to spend hours upon hours alone with him nor do I care to have him yell and belittle me any further or try anything physical.

He signed a crew member release as screenwriter/director assigning the producer rights to use or distribute the film and has no injunction or right to interfere or hinder the production of the film in any way. This is my first time producing and certainly the first time experiencing this kind of behavior. I guess I have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented, yet nice, genuine people in the past. So, my question is, do I have the right to edit as I see fit, have say over the final product and distribute as I choose to film festivals, etc? Also, how would any of you handle this as I have not spoken to him since the filming took place 2 days ago. I have emails and text messages stating that he found me attractive, which I never remarked on other than the first time when I thought it was because he was trying to cast me in the film and I stated, "you are very kind". I appreciate any input and I thank you for your time regarding my issue. Thanks!

8 Comments

Let me preface this by saying that I don't have any real legal experience in this area, but as I work in healthcare full time and pursue film in my spare time, I believe in the concept of "covering your ass." No pun intended as that was a literal problem on set it sounds like. So what I mean by this for starters is make sure you document, document, document, as it can be harder to recall specifics the further you get away from the shoot. Also, get statements from other cast & crew that witnessed his behavior. Furthermore I would in no way allow him to be in the edit room alone with you. Always have a witness. If his advances & behavior persists, involve the police & get a restraining order.

As far as rights to the film, it sounds like you did due diligence in having contracts in place. I'm sure that no one wants to go to court over an unpaid project, but one trick I keep in my bag in any circumstance is to involve my "lawyer friend." Now I don't have a lawyer friend but the other person doesn't need to know that. It's all about bravado & presentation. And now a days it is likely that you are not that far removed from a friend of a friend who is a lawyer.

Hope all this helps & on future projects you can create some sort of boundary to avoid such behavior, even if it means shutting the project down or removing yourself from the project. At the end of the day it is not worth engaging such people.

February 2, 2016 at 3:25PM, Edited February 2, 3:25PM

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Derek Armitage
Filmmaker & Vlogger
617

Without seeing the contract it would be tough to say, but if he signed over the usage and distribution rights you would just need to pay him the agreed fee in the contract and/or the agreed percentage of sales and distribution if there was one agreed.

I regard to the edit, usually the director would have to sign off on the final edit, but if this isn't in the contract it would leave it open to your discretion.

NOTE: I am not a legal professional, but I have dealt with similar scenarios in the past. Also, note: I'm from Ireland so the laws could be different here.

February 3, 2016 at 9:05AM, Edited February 3, 9:07AM

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Andy O'Neill
Filmmaker / Cinematographer
2223

I commend you taking voice to this issue. I would make sure the crew understood your desire to work through the production, but MAKE SURE they understand his disregard for boundaries and personal safety.
How important is this project to you? It sounds like you are a screenwriter away from having this never come up again. You've already got so much figured out, how big of a stretch would it be for you to direct as well?
Get this done, or get out. Either way, move on. It might be worth making a big enough stink that this guy has no community left to push around. Take your positive relationships with the crew and build on those.
Best of success to you.

February 3, 2016 at 1:26PM

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Gordon Byrd
Owner, Byrd Pictures
375

I'm not a lawyer, and I haven't seen your contract, but unless it is written expressly in the contract that he gets a say in the edit or distribution, I would simply never talk to him again and do what I wanted with the film. If it sells, give him whatever his agreed cut was. Other than that, just forget about him. You don't owe him anything.

February 5, 2016 at 2:36PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1205

KM, yes, unless your contract or his specifically says that he owns the rights, then you can do whatever you want in this situation. I am guessing that your contracts were not written or vetted by an entertainment lawyer, or else I'd hope you'd be talking to them, so really this probably doesn't matter anyways. Worst case, you walk away without editing, but I would not give him any footage. You shot this with your equipment, you are the producer and he is an ass-hat. If you like this project then you finish it your way.

Since you're talking to us instead of a lawyer, and you say that you're working three positions unpaid, and this director was a complete and utter amateur clown, I can't imagine this was a professional production in any sense of the word. If it was, as producer, why didn't you fire this guy after day 1?

You have physical proof of abuse (take pictures NOW) and several eye witnesses to that and the verbal & sexual harassment. Have everyone else that was involved write a signed statement as to what went on. Inform the director in writing that he is fired from the project. DO NOT engage him in person or via phone/text. Email or certified mail only, and do not engage in any conversation beyond the formal notices. Do not even read his responses, if any. After a week passes if he tries to contact you or if he objects in any way, threatens you in any way or harasses you in any way, get a lawyer (or tell him you have one if getting one is not an option). Inform the director that your lawyer is filing a restraining order. With the threat of a lawyer and police action this guy will almost certainly disappear.

You should also absolutely put the word out to your network and local film community about this jerk. He should not work with anyone again, period.

February 6, 2016 at 2:09AM, Edited February 6, 2:16AM

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John Morse
Producer + Director
2551

I have no legal advice to offer, but do agree with the end of your statement, sink this guy. Save other people from having to go through this harassment by spreading the word about him. There are too many people like this in the film world and we all need to make sure we protect those around us from them. I nearly gave up starting out in film because of working under jerks like this, and I'd hate to see young talented people think this is acceptable or in any way how the film industry works.

John Haas

February 6, 2016 at 2:45PM

Poeple like this should never make it in film industry period!

Keith Kim

February 8, 2016 at 2:17PM

You write:

"I was an unpaid producer, DP, and editor for a short film. The writer was also the director....."

Hard to tell with this little information but wat you write seems to imply that someone asked you to do something unpaid, the one who asked would technically be the producer, so if it was the writer who asked then he is factually the producer of the video. If there was an understanding you worked for him or his production, even when not payed, the rights belong to the producer.

February 21, 2016 at 10:51PM

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Cary Knoop
Member
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