While you are assembling your team for representation, you may overlook how important it is to have a lawyer on your side. Entertainment lawyers take 5% of your earnings, but what can they do for you besides reading over contracts?
Well, the answer is more detailed, but in a word, tons!
Lawyers have your back and you do not change them as frequently as you might change agents or managers.
In a recent interview with lawyer Mark Litwak, Backstage asked him about all his areas of expertise. As an entertainment lawyer and the founder of the Law Offices of Mark Litwak and Associates, he gave some incredible answers.
From the article, "Litwak works with filmmakers in roles ranging from producer representative to executive producer to production counsel. The author of 6 books, including “Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry,” which is directed to lawyers and filmmakers alike, Litwak also serves as an adjunct professor at the USC Gould School of Law and provided legal services to over 200 feature films."
This guy knows his stuff, so let's go over a few of his answers together.
The video above was an interview with Litwak, and while it's old, it felt really relevant for today, so I wanted to include it for you. However, let's dig into his current answers.
When asked about who he works with closely on a day-to-day basis, Litwak said, "We work primarily with producers and production companies but some of our producers are also writers, directors, and performers. This firm is primarily a firm that provides production counsel. Other entertainment lawyers only represent talent, that is, they represent writers, directors, and actors and negotiate their deals with production companies, networks, etc."
When it comes time for you to pick a lawyer, ask them who they specialize in and why—it can matter when it comes to your contracts.
But how do lawyers actually help within production? Litwak says "As production counsel, we are often asked to review the completed film and issue an opinion letter stating that, in our opinion, all the rights needed have been secured."
Those rights can be important—you don't want to make a movie or web series that you cannot release. Or one that gets you sued later.
One of the most interesting things to our readers will be how a lawyer thinks you should finance your film. See, there are a lot of options out there and you want to pick what's best but also what's most legally sound.
Here's Litwak's longer answer, "There are many different ways to finance films. For first-time filmmakers, it is often family or friends who finance the project...To qualify for equity crowdfunding one must meet specified requirements, including the following: the amount raised must not exceed $1 million in a 12-month period, individual investments in all crowdfunding issuers in a 12-month period are limited to the greater of $2,000 or 5% of annual income or net worth if annual income or net worth of the investor is less than $100,000 and 10% of annual income or net worth (not to exceed an amount sold of $100,000) if annual income or net worth of the investor is $100,000 or more, and the funding portal must be registered and follow the rules that govern it. And, of course, there are companies like Kickstarter that seek donations for film projects."
Those are things I never think about, but then again, I'm not a lawyer.
Finally, I wanted to show you what Litwak said when he was asked about cutting legal counsel from your film's budget, even an indie film. It might save you upfront money, but it might backfire significantly. He elaborated, "Many independent low budget filmmakers try to conserve their funds by not retaining a production attorney to handle their contracts and releases. They often rely on forms from prior productions and assume that these agreements will suffice to secure all the rights they need. Sometimes they are lucky and the forms are sufficient. Most of the time, however, the forms are not suited for the circumstances and are deficient."
So there you have it, when it comes to entertainment lawyers, they can help you with a ton of stuff. This is not to mention the most important stuff, like negotiating contracts, suing people who owe you money, and protecting the copyright on your screenplays.
Got questions about entertainment lawyers?
Let us know and we will try to include them in future posts.
Just put them in the comments!