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The pen and paper aspects of DV -- put it in writing!

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Old April 22nd, 2003, 06:39 PM   #1
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Producing short films and all the legal concerns

Hi forum,
I have finally saved enough money to produce a short film on a fairly large budget (everything is relative - last time I checked).

I have spend a lot of time reading various posts about the legal aspects of shooting a film. But many of the posts doesn't really fit my profile, as I am currently only producing films on the side as a hobby i.e. I have a day job (office), and don't want to establish a company yet (although I may end up registering the company name soon).

Here is how I am going to do it:

With a little help from friends, I have created a 'Work For Hire Agreement' where I as the producer hire everybody affiliated on the film as contractors.

Basicaly, I let it be up the contracters' responsability for all payroll or other taxes (including federal, state or local income or withholding taxes, unemployment insurance, social security, Medicare, etc.). Since I am not incorporated I am hiring the contractors personally.

The producer will get full rights of their work, performance etc. in return of a compensation.

I also have a section about insurance that anything which is lost, damaged, stolen, shall be the sole responsability of the contractor.

Finally, I have a section about limitation of liability where the producer is not responsible for any direct, indirect loss, damages etc.

I know that it would be preferable to have a general liability insurance, since anyone can basically sue you.

I would of course appreciate any feed back.
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Old April 22nd, 2003, 09:00 PM   #2
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Good for you! I salute your initiative.

I am no expert on this topic, so take my remarks within this caveat. You may encounter difficulties in securing the use of locations without fairly large liability coverage (personal and vehicular). It generally may not cut it to belay responsibility to your "sub-contractor" crew. Property owners, and their insurers, are not going to be interested in chasing down every member of a crew for compensation in the event of a costly accident. As producer, you are ultimately responsible. No coverage, no permission.
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Old April 22nd, 2003, 09:35 PM   #3
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Hi Ken
I forgot to mention that I deliberatly left out location release in the 'Work For Hire Agreement' above since this is something quite different.
Luckily, I will be shooting in my own loft where I have a commercial lease (live/work) and a location release from the landlord already. But you are right, that without a proper liability insurance it is or will be difficult to secure locations in the future. But I will cross that bridge when I get to it.
As for it 'may not cut it to belay responsability' to my sub-contractors, you may be right but assuming (in good faith) that I am indeed hiring crew as contractors, I should be legally be able to pull it off.
But as I read in some book about producing your own low low low budget film. You can't 'pluck' hair from a bald person i.e. sueing a person who has no money would probably not be worth anyones time and effort. Although it would totally suck to be sued.

Having read a lot of threads in this forum, there is a general consensus, that you should have the proper insurance, papers etc. in place before shooting. And I truely agree. That is in a perfect world. And in a perfect world we would probably also all be shooting with a nice 35mm film camera and the whole nine yards.

But I bet that there are many filmmakers who are shooting films today without the proper insurances, papers etc.??? Or am I completely wrong?

Has anyone ever experienced any problems (liability or being sued) arising from crew, talens, location owners or third persons?
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Old April 23rd, 2003, 03:36 AM   #4
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One catch--if someone does want to sue you but hesitates because you're not rich, you have to hope that you aren't discovered and make it big before the statute of limitations for your particular offense runs out. ;)
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Old April 25th, 2003, 12:20 PM   #5
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your crew will not be independent contractors.. as they will be working under your direction. you will tell them time/day to work. on the set you will be telling actors what to do , you will be telling crew what shot is next, you will tell crew that's a take or it's not a good take , you will tell them when lunch can be taken, and you will tell them when the day has ended... perhaps if you arrange for a painter to paint the set by a certain date and he BIDS on it then he would be a independent contractor as he will show up on a day/time he chooses. now all the good faith/belief that you are hiring all as independent contractors has NO weight in law ( kind of like i didn't know it was against the law) ...

you could sub out the work. you hire a producer ( they are your independent contractor) .. the producer now hires crew and they are the producer employee's not yours. you are exe producer and director ... it would still be advisable to have liability insurance to cover anything that went beyond your producer's coverage.. like if you burn down your building etc ...

you can have a person sign anything you wish BUT in most states a person cannot sign away their LEGAL rights therefore liability/damages/loss will end on your door step as IMO in the end your relationship will be employer-employee ... infact you can have a persons say/sign agreement they will work for $2 hr BUT if they file a complaint with labor board the agreement is not binding as state laws come 1st .

IMO if you have any assets protect your ASSets. if this is a hobby your home/renters policy may cover you OR on most of these you can pick up a floater ( $ 1mil around $150 year for hobby..if pro then $1 mil will cost 900 year for documentary , around 1500 for dramatic ) ...

IMO once you write up a contract stating you don't want to be responsible which really says you are aware you are responsible.

most video hobby persons just get together and shoot. no contracts, no agreements ..they do it for FUN ... you get releases from actors ...

2 years ago i bought workmans comp for cast/crew ( they were not paid) i think it was $640 for 3 months ..
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Old April 25th, 2003, 03:39 PM   #6
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Don is correct. For the most part, if you tell someone what to do, and when to do it, they are your employees.

Yes, I've been on both sides of the legal dance.

You DON'T want to go there.
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Old April 25th, 2003, 06:24 PM   #7
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I shot a film last summer, and like a lot of people, decided to skip the insurance and buy some extra pieces of gear. The whole movie was about people standing around smoking. What could go wrong? In one scene, a character has his shoe stolen and runs out of frame muttering to himself. The actor decided it would be funny to stub his toe on a metal rowboat that happened to be on the set, and it was, until the fifth take when he caught his foot on the edge of the boat and ripped off a patch of skin the size of a silver dollar. I aged ten years. You can literally see my hair turning white on the tape. He was a friend of mine, and didn't sue, but he could of. He didn't even let me pay for the medical bills, which included a trip to the emergency room and stitches. Despite that story, you should keep one thing in mind -- workman's comp is pretty limited protection. When people buy insurance they think they don't have to worry about beng sued. I don't think workman's comp works that way. It's a legal requirement obligating you to cover a person's expenses if they are injured and unable to work. I don't think it's going to protect your assets if someone, say, loses an arm shooting your movie. I may be wrong. (It's hard -- impossible really -- to get a straight answer about this kind of thing from insurance agents.) But if there is general liability insurance that will protect you from this kind of an event, I was unable to find a company willing to sell it. If someone here knows of a company that sells that kind of coverage, I would love to hear about where to get it, because I don't think I will ever tempt fate like that again.
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Old April 25th, 2003, 06:59 PM   #8
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Lots of great information.
1) Start a LLC that will create a buffer between you and your business activities.
2) General Liability Insurance is Bidded on. You cannot just go out and buy it.
3) In the contract state that they are a volunteer, otherwise you are subject to pay and they become an employee. If you state that they are Idependent Contractors then they have to be Licencesed by the state and you cannot tell them how to conduct business. Only point and say job here and this long. If you do pay and dont pay personal taxes on employee's then you can endup with fines from the government.
4) Locations usually want General Liability to cover both parties. I got mine for 1million per occurance and 2mill per year.
5) good luck. Mine has taken along time just to get it this far. Still not ready to shoot.

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Old April 26th, 2003, 01:19 PM   #9
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workmans comp covers all medical expenses. in most states will pay % of wages while person is off work, they also will pay for re-training if person is unable to return to current type work.
AND workmans comp limits suit's against you/employer provided you were NOT negligent.
in most states they have RATE books that already state what they pay ( settlement) if one was to loose a arm based on that persons age/earnings ... if one disagrees with that $$ .. then they file a suit against workmans comp ( unless they can prove your negligence your assets are not at risk) ... you provide workmans comp insurance in a employer-employee relationship.

roberts suggestion of a LLC is excellent. in most states a single person can start a LLC ... LLC takes on liabilty ( only the LLC's assets are at risk) provided you are not negligent (you can't do something you know is wrong and try to hide behind LLC)
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Old April 26th, 2003, 08:20 PM   #10
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Thanks. That's a much more lucid explanation than I was ever able to get from the insurance people I spoke with.
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