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Taking Care of Business
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Old August 20th, 2007, 12:40 AM   #1
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Legal & Copyright Issues.

I do hope this is in the appropriate forum.

This is somewhat a long story, so I will try to keep it brief. I'm wondering how much of my wasted time in filming an independent feature can be salvaged as the movie isn't finished and the producer and investor both have turned into very shady dealers.

First off, the producer never delivered contracts for my wife and myself to sign. I was to be their DP, special effects director, digital compositor and editor. My wife was to be the Art Director. There was only a verbal agreement that there would be contracts and compensation for travel expense, as well as payment for services rendered.

We began principal photography April 28th. At this point I had already done some previsualization work for them and began planning the special effects sequences. We shot every weekend following for six weeks. At this point we had tried to show the producer a contract we made up ourselves since we were tired of waiting and he never looked at it.

Then something came up unexpectedly in our lives and i had to take a hiatus for health reasons. Since that happened, they cussed us out, and threatened us with violence if we showed up on set again. They still have 5 or so tapes with footage that I filmed exclusively, as well as footage they filmed with my wife's artwork in it.

There is no question about my wife's ability to deny them permission to use any footage with her artwork in it, however, I am curious as to how much leverage I hold in preventing them from using footage that I filmed. It can be proven that I filmed those tapes because my voice is on them and I have witnesses. There are two tapes that I used my camera on and it does record a unique thumbprint to the tapes so there is proof there as well.

Can we prevent them from taking us entirely by denying them permission to use our work? Doesn't the footage I filmed have a copyright under my name? If these seem like amateur questions it is because they are, and we've never tried to work with anyone else on a project this large before. Thank you for any help in advance.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 04:05 AM   #2
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Sounds to my layman's ear like you absolutely own the rights to the work you shot.

But that's kinda meaningless since you don't have physical posession of the tapes - and based on your story I doubt they'll return them unless you're willing to take them to court to compel them to return your property.

As you've learned, this business is long on hope, promises, and scoundrels and short on cash flow at nearly all levels.

There's only three paths from here as I see it.

Talk them into returning your work. (delicate and unlikely)
Sue them into returning your work. (expensive but somewhat more likely)
or write it off as a painful lesson. (free and EXTREMELY likely)

If it salves any of the pain, remember you're left with the experience and the increased ability to DO work. They're left with the tangible expression of your efforts, but if they try to leverage YOUR work to obtain more work - they now have to find someone ELSE capable of similar work - while dragging along a poorer reputation behind them.

You're out the time and effort you expended on their behalf - but left with more experience to enhance your ability to do more and hopefully better work in the future.

You win if you look at it that way.

Good luck.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 06:40 AM   #3
 
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Don't mean to rub salt into the wound, but why did you start the job without a contract?

No contract. No work.

The simple answer... Hire an attorney to send them a letter demanding payment.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 12:01 PM   #4
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We've definitely learned a huge lesson here, one of them being you can't start to gauge new friends unless you've known them for at least a year. Another being contracts must be present before we lift a finger at all.

I do happen to have three tapes shot on a camera we used our credit card to buy for them and we were reimbursed for that camera, so there is somewhat of a paper trail on our end.

Thanks for the swift reply Bill, it helps me keep things in a proper perspective.

Thanks for moving this for me Chris, it was late at night for me and I must have overlooked the "taking care of business" forum.

Jay - We had thought these people were our friends, however after working with them for a few weeks we had started noticing shady behaviour and outright slander about the original writer of the script whom they still have no permission from to use. They refuse to answer his calls or let him on set as well. We've written a letter to send to them outlining their breach of our verbal agreement, and denying them authorization to use any materials we had rendered for them. Legal consultation is most likely the next step.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 12:08 PM   #5
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there's too much unknown here ... what was the verbal agreement for pay , use of artwork, who owns the project etc..

looking at it all in a different way :

you agreed to be DP & wife art director ... you had a verbal agreement of some sort
you shot X days = so up to this point everything is good so doesn't the producer have rights to the tapes & the art work ... you shot X days then YOU got sick and had to leave ... i would assume the producers found another cameraperson shot more ... and perhaps they still need the artwork to finish some scenes ???

so are you saying that because you didn't finish the project you don't want them to use any of the scenes you shot and your wife deny's them use of the artwork that she hung on the walls ?? or you deny them use because they have not fullfilled the verbal agreement ? or are you claiming ownership of the shot scenes ???

without knowing the verbal agreement it just seems to me that a unfinished projects serves nobody ....

a writer ( evern ones paid millions) has no rights to go onto a set ... if his script is being used without permission then it will be up to the writer to take some action ... he should have seen a attorney by now and served a letter stating the production has NO permission to use his/her script ....
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Old August 20th, 2007, 03:12 PM   #6
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This project would be considered a "no-budget" independent motion picture, with a budget of only $8000 approx.

The agreement for pay was a few hundred dollars for camera work after principal photography, and compensation for travel expenses on a daily basis. We would inform them of the amount spent to get to the set, and they would conviniently "forget" to pay us or change the subject time and time again. We both agreed upon ownership of the project and covered percentages of profits to be shared. The verbal agreement also covered me working on the digital compositing and editing for a price to be outlined in the written contract (not sure if this constitutes an agreement). The verbal agreement also covered producing written contracts with much more specifics covered.

Once I was diagnosed, they didn't just try to shoot scenes without me, they blatently discriminated me for my illness. I was recently diagnosed as bi-polar and don't feel comfortable sharing this with people specifically because of the discrimination I had to put up with. I didn't stop working on the project, once I told them about my recent diagnosis they stopped being "buddy buddy" with us and started over reacting by threatening us with violence. Specifically guns.

My wife didn't hang the artwork herself, she produced it, showed it to the producer, and the producer went ahead and hung the artwork himself.

I am saying because they discriminated against me and my wife, threatened us with violence for absolutely no reason, I am refusing authorization to use the scenes I shot and my wife is refusing authorization to use the artwork she produced, including company logos. They agreed to pay her for the artwork and logos, and they did not. They agreed to compensate us for travel expense each day on set and they did not. I am also claiming ownership of the footage I shot.

This project is a first for all of us involved, and they have no other cameraperson with any amount of knowledge or skill to assist them. In the middle of principle photography the producer decided to get married and put shooting on halt for roughly 3-4 weeks. At this point I in no way want to work with them any more due to the discrimination and breach of agreements.

I agree that it seems like this project serves no one, however they are trying to finish it with footage I shot, artwork my wife provided, and we've spent roughly $300 on gas, put in about 20 hours each weekend, and have nothing in return.

The writer is working on the legal end already.

Sorry about the long post, there are many details to the story.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 04:52 PM   #7
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Without knowing too much more, I'd say stick a fork in it...

1. you have a script whose writer apparently is not going to agree to the use of his work and allow the release
2&3 you and your wife are not going to agree to release
4 Unless this is some huge market potential project, the lawyers will be getting more than ANYONE who has worked on it...

I'd send a clear letter stating they may not use any of the art unless and until compensation has been worked out, and I'd leave the discrimination and "illness" out of it - if no one else is filming or doing art, they are dead in the water. While you may feel they "discriminated", you're adding issues that aren't going to help solve the situation. Oral agreements in absence of a written contract MAY be enforceable, but how many years to you have to waste on this?

I'd take a few minutes to put on paper what your demands are - obviously compensation for work done/expenses, and perhaps sketch out what you'd want should the producer and investor wish to complete the project using your "stuff".

Be realistic - bad blood won't serve anything and attorneys are expensive - I'll suggest your best bet is to either cut your losses and send notice in case this is a big blockbuster through some quirk of the internet or whatever, or try to negotiate a buyout, and be done with the situation. If anything can be patched back up, don't do ANYTHING without getting caught up and under a clear contract...

HTH some...
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Old August 20th, 2007, 04:54 PM   #8
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Power

Since we're just kicking this around...

One subtle aspect of the production/movie business that escapes most newcomers is how often it's not about the work at all, but rather about individuals obtaining and wielding personal authority and power over others.

Sounds to me like that's what you're in the midst of now. The power to banish someone from an exciting endeavor like a video shoot is pretty intoxicating. And while a good producer or director will use it only when it's necessary for the survival/good of the work - its REALLY easy for a bad leader to use that authority to demonstrate how "in control" they are.

In my experience, the more INSECURE a producer or director is, the more ready they are to banish anyone who doesn't "tow the line." They aren't smart or skilled enough to understand that moviemaking is, at it's core, is about teambuilding, motivation, and collaborative effort.

And when you discover someone who treats it like their own private power preserve - it's best to pick up your gear and just go home.

Content creation is, at it's best, somewhat stressful and difficult. Add an unhealthy dash of ego-tripping and power lust and it's a nightmare.

FWIW
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Old August 20th, 2007, 05:39 PM   #9
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You really need to consult a lawyer on all this. The basic law, as I understand it, is unless a copyrightable work (ie, your video footage, your wife's artwork) is created as a "work for hire" the copyright is owned by the person who created it and exists automatically from the moment of the work's creation. Since the production company "hired" you to shoot the film it probably would be that they'd own copyright as a "work for hire" EXCEPT that hiring you also means you're getting paid as an employee and since they haven't paid you anything, you really weren't an employee after all and until you're paid for the work performed, they can't do anything with the footage. Of course, without physical possession of it you can't do anything with it either but so what, do you really want to? Other than a "work for hire" transfer of copyright has to be in writing and since they steadfastly refused to sign your deal memo, there's no copyright assignment there either and you own the rights to the footage and she to the artwork.

The first step would be to send them a notarized certified letter asserting your rights to the works in question and expressly refusing them permission to use any of it.

Low/no budget filmaking is fine and can be honest and honorable. But sleeze and exploitation isn't required or justified simply because the production company doesn't have much money and shouldn't be part of the deal. I say you have every right to go after 'em. Talk to a lawyer and go for it!
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Old August 20th, 2007, 05:58 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Christopher Reynolds View Post
. . . and started over reacting by threatening us with violence. Specifically guns.
To heck with the copyright claim . . . if you live in the same jurisdiction as this bozo you should file a complaint about the threat of violence with the police immediately. In the situation you describe such a threat might well be considered extortion (because he used a threat of violence as a way to avoid paying for the services you rendered) and is a criminal act, a felony. The threat itself may also be a crime.
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Old August 20th, 2007, 09:20 PM   #11
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Thank you all for the immense feedback Dave, Bill, Steve, and Peter.

Bill hit the nail on the head with the situation. In this case, it isn't just the producer who is insecure, it is also the investor/actor. The writer is obviously on our side, however he didn't write the whole script. The producer wrote the last half and revised it, but it is still a collaborated effort between the two.

As far as the movie being any success at all, it wouldn't be. It's mostly about suicide and "stylized" cutting a la Pulp Fiction. The work I was doing was purely for aesthetic purposes and editing as well as showing off my special effects abilities for a portfolio. This guy doesn't know the first thing about character development or directing, despite his "experience" as an actor for renaissance fairs.

Steve - I'm not sure if I can afford a lawyer, but I know they can't either. I can however, obtain a notary to stamp a letter asserting our rights as you said, which we already have written. The illness and discrimination aren't covered in the letter, but would be covered in person if we had a meeting somewhere to discuss things. I wouldn't try to use the footage for anything, but I don't want the producer finishing the POS, stamping my name on the credits for their poor camera work, and waving the thing in peoples' faces in LA when he moves there.
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Old August 21st, 2007, 01:05 AM   #12
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You really need to consult a lawyer on all this. . . . . Talk to a lawyer and go for it!
This is the only accurate advice in this thread. There are far too many unknowns -- I certainly couldn't advise the Original Poster based on what is here. The OP should understand, as well, that there is potential liability on his part -- there is no such thing as a "health hiatus" defense to breach of contract.

This is not appropriate for amateur speculation.

To the OP: call your local bar association and ask for a referral. Most lawyers will provide an initial consultation for free. Find out exactly what your legal rights and potential liabilities are before doing ANYTHING else.

Last edited by Chris Hurd; August 21st, 2007 at 05:12 PM. Reason: inserted "Original Poster" for first instance of "OP"
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Old August 21st, 2007, 04:07 PM   #13
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I never said I was going to use "health hiatus" for defense for a "breach of contract" which I most certainly did not breach. Remember, we were there every day they asked us to be, without compensation for travel. Their breach, not ours. Also, my leave occurred while the producer took a month for himself to vacation and get married. When they came back, they were informed of my diagnosis and immediately started treating me like trash and threatening me with violence. So its more discrimination for something that wasn't interfering with the shooting schedule.

If we can get a free consultation somewhere, we'll call around, then we will do that. However I don't care about the travel expenses anymore, and they aren't going to get permission to use our work anyway so I'm not concerned with payment for services rendered. I just want what is ours to remain ours, and they can re shoot everything themselves then deal with the writer. This couldn't have taken up more of our time and resources so I don't consider this a cheap lesson, however, I'm not about to make it cost more for my wife and myself.

I know they were going to try and copyright the script under the producer's name behind the back of the original writer, but never did.
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Old August 21st, 2007, 04:35 PM   #14
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I never said I was going to use "health hiatus" for defense for a "breach of contract" which I most certainly did not breach. Remember, we were there every day they asked us to be, without compensation for travel. Their breach, not ours. Also, my leave occurred while the producer took a month for himself to vacation and get married. When they came back, they were informed of my diagnosis and immediately started treating me like trash and threatening me with violence. So its more discrimination for something that wasn't interfering with the shooting schedule.
Which illustrates why you should speak with a lawyer. I couldn't tell from your original post exactly what happened and would still have a number of questions before I'd be able to assess your rights and obligations in this matter.

Quote:
If we can get a free consultation somewhere, we'll call around, then we will do that. However I don't care about the travel expenses anymore, and they aren't going to get permission to use our work anyway so I'm not concerned with payment for services rendered. I just want what is ours to remain ours, and they can re shoot everything themselves then deal with the writer. This couldn't have taken up more of our time and resources so I don't consider this a cheap lesson, however, I'm not about to make it cost more for my wife and myself.
I have no dog in this hunt, other than I get concerned when I see people drawing all sorts of conclusions about fact and law that I couldn't draw based on what is posted. One area you DO need to address is ownership of the IP. I could make some guesses, but wouldn't do so without an awful lot more information. As I noted, a call to your local bar association will put you in touch with a lawyer who will give you a free initial consult. If everything looks good, there would be no need to go any further.

Quote:
I know they were going to try and copyright the script under the producer's name behind the back of the original writer, but never did.
Sounds like a charming bunch. ;)
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Old August 21st, 2007, 05:14 PM   #15
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Thread closed, for the reason which Paul has stated above: not appropriate for amateur speculation.
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