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Old January 15th, 2009, 05:20 PM   #1
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Short Film Pre-production phase. A very big project with an obstacle... HELP!

As the title suggests we are in preparation phase for a short. This particular short is very important to us as we are hoping it will give us recognition. We believe we have a very strong and original story (for a short), however, we have a HUGE obstacle in our way or you could say a big challenge we must face. We are putting everything we have into this movie and are very passionate about it. In our minds, if we are able to accomplish this and make this movie the way we envision it, it will be a huge step for us and I think a good step for all indie film makers. Here is the basic storyline, and after reading it, you'll be able to tell what our challenge will be...

The basic storyline of the short is about a guy who hasn't done much with his life and is a really smart guy but just lazy. His girlfriend constantly nags him about getting a job and doing something with his life and to stop wasting it because he is smart and can do something worthwhile. It eventually sinks in and he sort of loses his perception of reality (due to various events in his life) and decides he does need to do something with his life and that he is destined for greatness. So he gets a "vision" that the prop ark used in the first Indiana Jones movie is the actual real Ark of the Covenant and that it is currently being stored in the prop storage department on the Paramount Studio lot. He tries to convince his friends that it is the real Ark and has a crazy but believable story of how the Ark ended up in the movie and finally in the prop storage. His friends join him on his quest to save the Ark (more so because they want some action in their mundane lives than actually believing it's the real Ark) because the Ark doesn't deserve to be boxed up and stored in a prop storage warehouse... it belongs in a museum.

There is a bit more to it than that and we may make some minor changes but as you can see, location is essential to this. If we can't shoot some vital scenes on the lot, we can modify the script and somehow and get around it... however, it just won't be the same, and it'll take away from a lot of elements of the movie. It'll almost not even be worth doing it. We've discussed that, but I'm leaning towards a do or die attitude on this. So it's either we make it the right way or not even do it at all. Hence, we are at the mercy of Paramount.

We are going to prepare a package to present to Paramount which will outline the shots we need (they are all very simple). We already know that we need to be insured to be on the lot (that shouldn't be a problem) however, there is a $6000/day shooting rate to be on the lot. Even though we just need some outdoor shots on the sidewalks and streets, etc.. within the studio lot. Unfortunately we are not rich and on a VERY VERY VERY tight low budget. What we've heard is that sometimes and I mean sometimes they might make exceptions. Some people are telling us that since they are so vital to the story and that we are indie film makers and not going to use the movie for profit (just recognition), they may go for it, if we don't get in the way and be quick.

The question is, has anyone been in this type of situation. Is there any advise you can give us. Dos and don'ts? We need help. :-(
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Old January 15th, 2009, 06:21 PM   #2
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Skip Paramount.

Fake the lot scenes in your typical industrial warehouse sort of locations. Create your own mock-up of the prop. Shoot greenscreen.

Or simply ask for permission. But when they say 'no' - you'll be prepared.

That sounds like an awful lot of story for a 'short' by the way.

RULE NUMBER ONE: In short film making, work with WHAT YOU HAVE AVAILABLE.
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Old January 15th, 2009, 07:57 PM   #3
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Skip Paramount.

Fake the lot scenes in your typical industrial warehouse sort of locations. Create your own mock-up of the prop. Shoot greenscreen.

Or simply ask for permission. But when they say 'no' - you'll be prepared.

That sounds like an awful lot of story for a 'short' by the way.

RULE NUMBER ONE: In short film making, work with WHAT YOU HAVE AVAILABLE.

It's not the same unfortunately. I've been on the Paramount years ago and it has a certain atmosphere. Sure we can do some digital effects and green screen, but... it would be nice to actually be there.

You are right, it is a lot of story. We are determining how "short" this short will be, haha.
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Old January 15th, 2009, 08:57 PM   #4
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I don't think you could shoot on the Paramount lot even if it was free -- it's union lot and I don't think a non-union crew would be allowed to shoot there. When I worked on that lot in the 80s, I once had the temerity to try to change a light bulb in my office, and before you knew it there were two huge union thugs in my office threatening to file a grievance.

Also, the entire backlot burned down in the early 80s and I don't think there are any exterior sets left to lend "atmosphere." I suppose they may have rebuilt some of it since then. But otherwise it's just a bunch of big buildings that are the same on any studio lot.

But you live in SoCal so you know there are tons of studio backlots everywhere, and you could probably find a much cheaper lot if you felt you had to be near a real soundstage. But Richard is right -- with the right amount of creativity you can make anything look like anything. You could even just shoot an establishing shot of the Paramount front gate from across the street and then fake everything else "inside" the studio. You might even get the shot off before the cops arrived.

Except you'd be violating their trademark -- the Paramount logo on the gates -- and your film won't ever be allowed to be shown publicly. And this points out the whole problem with your story. If you even mention the title, characters, studio or other trademarked name, you're out of business. You'd have to fictionalize all the elements.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course, but it's something you should think about and be prepared for.

Before you go any further, you need to talk to an IP/Trademark attorney. My hunch is you'll never get this thing off the ground because of the legal roadblocks, no matter how cute and charming the story is.

Last edited by Adam Gold; January 15th, 2009 at 09:29 PM.
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Old January 15th, 2009, 10:07 PM   #5
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I don't think you could shoot on the Paramount lot even if it was free -- it's union lot and I don't think a non-union crew would be allowed to shoot there. When I worked on that lot in the 80s, I once had the temerity to try to change a light bulb in my office, and before you knew it there were two huge union thugs in my office threatening to file a grievance.

Also, the entire backlot burned down in the early 80s and I don't think there are any exterior sets left to lend "atmosphere." I suppose they may have rebuilt some of it since then. But otherwise it's just a bunch of big buildings that are the same on any studio lot.

But you live in SoCal so you know there are tons of studio backlots everywhere, and you could probably find a much cheaper lot if you felt you had to be near a real soundstage. But Richard is right -- with the right amount of creativity you can make anything look like anything. You could even just shoot an establishing shot of the Paramount front gate from across the street and then fake everything else "inside" the studio. You might even get the shot off before the cops arrived.

Except you'd be violating their trademark -- the Paramount logo on the gates -- and your film won't ever be allowed to be shown publicly. And this points out the whole problem with your story. If you even mention the title, characters, studio or other trademarked name, you're out of business. You'd have to fictionalize all the elements.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course, but it's something you should think about and be prepared for.

Before you go any further, you need to talk to an IP/Trademark attorney. My hunch is you'll never get this thing off the ground because of the legal roadblocks, no matter how cute and charming the story is.

We know it's a union lot, however, we won't be doing anything that involves the union. We won't be inside any stages nor will be powered by the lot. We're not building any sets or even moving anything around or disturbing the environment. Our camera, monitor, and any basic lights are all battery powered.

The backlot has been rebuilt. I was there in the mid-late 90s and it was all up.

I'm confused about the trademark thing. We won't be using any likeness or anything to do with Indy. As far as referencing Indy, the ark or movie verbally, how is that any different than Star Wars being referenced in the original Clerks (Kevin Smith) movie or numerous other movies?

We will talk to them and give them our game plan. They'll either say yes or no. It never hurts to ask. As I said earlier, if this goes through, it'll be huge for us and really for indie film making.

Thanks for your incite. As you listed, there are many elements to think of. This is a project that we only will do with their blessing so to speak because it's based around them. If it's shot down, we'll stick it on the back burner and make our Sci-fi zombie alien movie instead, haha. Or we can always take the same concept and change it to a different movie and try with a different studio... perhaps... Universal and the time machine in Back to the Future, haha.


Actually, we have another short film production called, "The Letter". Luckily that one is easy to shoot.
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Old January 15th, 2009, 10:36 PM   #6
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We know it's a union lot, however, we won't be doing anything that involves the union. We won't be inside any stages nor will be powered by the lot. We're not building any sets or even moving anything around or disturbing the environment. Our camera, monitor, and any basic lights are all battery powered.
I don't think that makes a bit of difference. If you're not in the union, you cannot push the button on your own personal cam or anyone else's while you are standing on the lot or in one of their stages, to my knowledge. But I could be misinformed.
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I'm confused about the trademark thing. We won't be using any likeness or anything to do with Indy. As far as referencing Indy, the ark or movie verbally, how is that any different than Star Wars being referenced in the original Clerks (Kevin Smith) movie or numerous other movies?
I'm not sure, but I think there's a difference between an offhand comment and using their trademarked elements to drive the story. I would bet that you'd be prohibited from saying "Indiana Jones," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Paramount," or even using the word "Ark" in this context without their permission and paying huge license fees. But that's just my guess. As you rightly point out, it never hurts to ask.

The only reason I'm pessimistic about this is, having worked there early in my career, and then later working for the people who now run the place, I can tell you these people are the worst people on earth.
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Old January 15th, 2009, 10:48 PM   #7
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I don't think that makes a bit of difference. If you're not in the union, you cannot push the button on your own personal cam or anyone else's while you are standing on the lot or in one of their stages, to my knowledge. But I could be misinformed.
I'm not sure, but I think there's a difference between an offhand comment and using their trademarked elements to drive the story. I would bet that you'd be prohibited from saying "Indiana Jones," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Paramount," or even using the word "Ark" in this context without their permission and paying huge license fees. But that's just my guess. As you rightly point out, it never hurts to ask.

The only reason I'm pessimistic about this is, having worked there early in my career, and then later working for the people who now run the place, I can tell you these people are the worst people on earth.

We'll write down a list of questions such as the situation with the union, trademark, etc... My co-worker's brother is in the union. He's an electrician on various TV shows (I think he currently does Reno 911), if someone from the union is required, maybe I can speak with him to help us out.

I know they are fairly ruthless and you'd think they would help "the little guy" in Hollywood and make "dreams come true", haha. However, recently I have heard some positive things. A friend said a friend of theirs filmed a TV commercial on the lot and Paramount let them do it for free and only requested mention and credit. I've also heard that maybe our story is "cute" enough that they just may go for it. So I've been hearing positives and negatives which is good because that's the point of this thread , to hear other people's opinions and experiences. We want to make sure we are prepared when we talk with them.
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Old January 18th, 2009, 04:01 PM   #8
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I'm not sure, but I think there's a difference between an offhand comment and using their trademarked elements to drive the story. I would bet that you'd be prohibited from saying "Indiana Jones," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Paramount," or even using the word "Ark" in this context without their permission and paying huge license fees. But that's just my guess. As you rightly point out, it never hurts to ask.
As long as they aren't using logos/footage/dialogue, etc... and are simply talking about the film without infringing on or diluting the brand, I don't see what copyright laws they would be violating. Would love to hear one of the copyright experts/lawyers jump in on this one?

I agree with you on the huge issues with shooting in Paramount though.
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Old January 18th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #9
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I think what we're talking about here is Trademark, not Copyright. I think it's the same as if you decided to write a new Indiana Jones story without licensing the character from the creators.... even though you would only be referencing a fictional character in this case -- it appears to be a driver of the story, not an incidental mention.

Why was "Galaxy Quest" called that and not "Star Trek"? It was clear what it was but you have to change all the names because someone else owns exclusive right to use the originals. It's never for creative reasons; it's all business and legalities.

But as I said it's just a guess, me not being a lawyer or anything.
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Old January 19th, 2009, 03:30 AM   #10
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Parody allows a bit of leeway (Galaxy Quest). And the names were changed to enhance the comedic value...

I'm going to guess offhand that "Indiana Jones" is protected 8 way to Sunday given the value of the franchise and the level of industry names involved... trademark, copyright, and anything else that a gaggle of studio lawyers could cook up and defend should you choose to use it in any way shape or form as a plot device... unless you got George or Steve on board, I think you're going nowhere any wise film making man wants to go...

The Ark... well I think the copyright on that expired a couple millenia earlier... and not sure who you'd clear rights through <wink>
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Old January 19th, 2009, 08:10 AM   #11
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Ever see the animated Christmas show "Robbie the Reindeer"? All about how the son of "What's his name" had to live up to old 'Red Nose's" reputation.

Since the character of Rudolph is still owned by Montgomery Wards ( who created him for a coloring book) - The filmmakers couldn't actually USE the name "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" - so they made a big plot point out of NOT using his name.

That's what you'd have to do to get around the trademarked names and characters.

For a short film, you are setting up ENORMOUS obstacles to overcome.

Good luck.
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Old January 19th, 2009, 10:48 AM   #12
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Thanks for everyone's input. I've been doing some research and this is what I have come up with so far...

- You need insurance. No way around it. Shouldn't be a problem as there are many film insurance companies that will insure you for a day. We have no animals, stunts or live action special FX so the cost should be small for 1 day.

- The union issue should be no problem. I am told if your budget is below $300,000 which ours is, hell it's below $300, haha, then the union doesn't need to be involved, especially if we are not using any studio equipment, sets or sound stages. Nor are we powering any equipment from the studio power outlets. Batteries only.

- This trademark issue is still a mystery. How is it possible that so many movies make referance to Star Wars for example? As I said before, remember Kevin Smith's movie Clerks? He makes Star Wars mentions in there and even does it in the sequel, Clerks 2. Not to mention tons of movies where Star Wars and the characters are mentioned. We are not making an Indy movie nor a spoof of it like Galaxy Quest was to Star Trek or Spaceballs to Star Wars. I don't see how there is a trademark issue with just saying the words Indiana Jones or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Obviously if we get permission to shoot on Paramount, then we can actually say Paramount and show the gates. There can't be a trademark on the Ark, that is like putting a trademark on The Grand Canyon. If anyone owns the rights to The Ark, it's Moses and well... he's dead for a while, haha. We'll never show the Ark visually, so the version of how it looks in the movie won't be an issue as it's only ever verbally mentioned.


We have decided if we can't shoot on the studio we won't make this movie. When we speak to Paramount, once we get our presentation to them ready, we will discuss this trademark issue.
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Old January 19th, 2009, 11:14 AM   #13
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Trademark

In terms of the trademark issue - there are lots of mitigating circumstances. A passing reference to popular culture is probably okay - unless you are seriously denigrating it. Okay to say "He stopped at a McDonalds on the way home" or "He's a huge Star Trek fan, spends all his time at the conventions" - you have a right to make a realistic film.

On the other hand, if your entire PLOT centers around the existence of a particular trademarked character - you're going to have to have permission to use it.

FANFLICS have a history of controversy in just this regard. Basically, you're betting AGAINST yourself if you create a fanflic without permission. You're betting the film is so unsuccessful, that no one of any importance sees it or cares enough about it to pay attention. I don't think that's what you're hoping for.


Insurance can cost you more than you think -- assuming you can get it.

Really, its all a mute point if you really really feel you HAVE to shoot on Paramounts lot. Untill you get permission, you're just speculating.

Good luck.
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Old January 19th, 2009, 11:43 AM   #14
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In terms of the trademark issue - there are lots of mitigating circumstances. A passing reference to popular culture is probably okay - unless you are seriously denigrating it. Okay to say "He stopped at a McDonalds on the way home" or "He's a huge Star Trek fan, spends all his time at the conventions" - you have a right to make a realistic film.

On the other hand, if your entire PLOT centers around the existence of a particular trademarked character - you're going to have to have permission to use it.

FANFLICS have a history of controversy in just this regard. Basically, you're betting AGAINST yourself if you create a fanflic without permission. You're betting the film is so unsuccessful, that no one of any importance sees it or cares enough about it to pay attention. I don't think that's what you're hoping for.


Insurance can cost you more than you think -- assuming you can get it.

Really, its all a mute point if you really really feel you HAVE to shoot on Paramounts lot. Untill you get permission, you're just speculating.

Good luck.

Thanks. We'll get a chance to talk to them and go down our list of questions. As you said, it's a big challenge, but we think it's worth trying to pursue. If we are successful, I think it's a big step for us indie guys.
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Old January 25th, 2009, 03:22 AM   #15
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I dunno about Paramount but I shot a short at Universal, on their lot, we had full access, and they didn't charge us -- but it was a short for AFI. They even let us use their lights. But maybe you could say you're from "AFI" also, just don't let them see your fine print that says Armenian Film Institute or something.

Btw, you would not believe how beat to h*ll Universal's gear is -- at least the stuff they loaned us.
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