Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas A. Crowell

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Second Edition: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers, Second Edition: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers by Thomas A. Crowell

I'd visited Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in NYC for advice on reviewing a distributorship agreement. Since I wasn't certain of receiving legal help, I'd asked if there were any resources that they'd recommend. They suggested this book - The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers.

The book is divided into these sections: (1) Contracts and Intellectual Property; (2) Financing Your Movie; (3) Creating, Acquiring, and Managing Film Property; (4) Production Service Agreements, Product Placement and Hiring Cast and Crew; (5) Production - depiction releases, location releases, copyrights on the set, artwork license, representations and warranties, trademarks on the set, E&O and contractual obligations; (6) Post-Production issues: Music Licensing, Prerecording Music Licensing, Composer's Service Agreement; Film Clip License Agreements; Credits & Copyright Notes; (7) Distribution Agreements: traditional distribution deals, distributor's fee deal, major deal points, distributor's expenses, tips for attracting a distributor, a DIY plan, dvd distribution, DIY online distribution, content aggregator deals; and (8) Law Library and Appendixes with A Filmmaker's Guide to Intellectual Property; A Filmmaker's Guide to Contract Law; A The Clause Companion; and A Filmmaker's Guide to Labor and Employment Law.

The book can be read by topic or in order. I did a particularly close reading of the section on distributorship agreements. In his discussion of distributorship agreements, Crowell provides a clear explanation of how money from ticket sales gets to the distributor and producer and approximate percentages and amounts that the distributor usually reaps. I found his chart of the Theatrical Distribution Money Pipeline particularly helpful. Crowell also gives helpful notes on what an independent producer should pay particular attention to and where a distributor might try to pass on costs that are traditionally their responsibility. Crowell's expertise and experience are particularly helpful in this regard and in spotting different sources of revenue, media and markets where a distributor can distribute a film (e.g., theatrical, free tv, pay tv, VOD and PPV, home video, commercial video, internet, airline, ship, hotel/hospitality, scholastic, and military). Crowell's advice on what is market (particularly in the areas of "distributor's recoupable expenses", nonrefundable advances from distributor, territorial minimums for distributor, financial thresholds in terms of gross receipts when negotiating the term period of a distribution agreement), what a producer should be careful not to grant (or to carefully negotiate), and when not to cede control is critically important, is worth the price of the book.

As the book stresses, each contract is different. This book isn't a contract form book, it's a book that introduces readers, producers and creatives on the legal and financial aspects of producing, marketing and distributing a film. Appendix C: The Clause Companion lays out the major deal points that should be negotiated and agreed upon before the contracts are prepared and signed. Here are some of the areas that Crowell explains: approval (resolving creative differences); types of compensation (fixed, contingent, deferred, participation, residuals, royalties and bonuses); conditions precedent to the agreements; credits; engagement (service contracts); special clauses, such as favored nation clause, holdback provisions, key man clauses, kill fees, net profits, option on future services, and pay or play clauses; representations and warranties; rights granted, reserved rights and the reversion of rights.

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
is a strong resource, written in clear language, with a detailed and helpful index. I highly recommend it for film producers, people in the film industry, and lawyers who want a better understanding of the business side of filmmaking and "what is market."

ISBN-10: 9780240813189 - Paperback $34.95
Publisher: Focal Press; 2 edition (January 20, 2011), 472 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Thomas A. Crowell is a New York-based lawyer who counsels his clients on a wide range of entertainment law and intellectual property rights issues.  He graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, cum laude, and was awarded membership in the Order of the Coif -- the national legal honors society.  For over a decade, prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. Crowell produced television news and award-winning children's entertainment. He is a member of the bars of New York, New Jersey, and the United States Supreme Court.  Learn more about him at www.thomascrowell.com



  1. This is the kind of book any lawyer would love to have. Even my car accident lawyer orlando friend appreciated it.