The dense and complicated jungle of entertainment law is rarely, if ever, explored by microcinema filmmakers. The Producer is usually the one assigned to take care of “all the legal stuff”, and we usually try to avoid it as much as possible; we only venture in as far as we absolutely have to, and even then we’re skittish about it. Much like the Amazon rainforest, Entertainment Law is massive, impenetrable, and confusing. A producer can spend hours exploring on the Internet or by phone, desperately trying to track down a single form, only to find that they need a completely different form. In addition, forgotten or unforeseen dangers (e.g. a missing form/permit/contract, or a lawsuit, etc.) can pull a project to a grinding halt, if not shut it down completely.
Enter The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers. Entertainment lawyer Thomas Crowell is our tour guide as he leads the reluctant, but resigned Producer on a trek through the tangled territory of contracts, rights, releases, forms, waivers, trademarks, copyrights, agreements, and permissions.
Surprisingly, this book is not very difficult to read or follow. Crowell makes an easy-to-follow progression through the various areas of entertainment law as pertains to “indie” filmmakers. The first section covers the basic legal building blocks of copyright/intellectual property and making/negotiating contracts. Next comes the production company: how to set it up, the various legal/financial people you’ll likely need when making your film (attorney, accountant, etc.), and how to finance your film. (Note: the Financing section covers only the legal aspects and obligations of funding; it does not go into detail about how to obtain funding for your film). The next section addresses the story and script, including copyright/authorship protection, and acquiring various rights and permissions. The book then goes on to discuss preproduction (contracts and service agreements), production (location/personal releases, copyright/trademark items on set, etc.), post-production (acquiring licenses for footage/music, copyright, credits, etc.), and distribution.
Although there is a tremendous amount of information coming at you, the layout of each section/chapter facilitates comprehension. Rather than confusing the reader with long paragraphs full of legalese and rambling sentences, Crowell makes great use of bullet points and headers; this breaks the information up into much more concise and easy-to-follow pieces. He is also good about giving succinct, clear definitions to the dozens of terms encountered in the book.
Depth of Information
It goes without saying that a book that deals with any aspect of the legal system is going to have load upon loads of information. This book is no exception; however, the nice thing is that this book comes with lots of indexes, guides, and appendices to organize all of that information!
The tricky thing is that trying to explain entertainment law is a lot like trying to take down a Hydra: for every head you chop off (or every question answered), two more spring up. For this reason, Crowell constantly uses cross-references to connect or explain related topics throughout the book. For example, in Chapter 2, when explaining film contracts, he cites 14 separate references on one page alone! Now, all of these references are within the book itself, so you’ll be doing a lot of back-and-forth in your reading. On one hand, I found this rather annoying, because I’d much rather just get all of my information in one place without having to flip around. But on the other hand, that’s the nature of the system; almost every aspect of entertainment law is closely entwined with at least two or three others.
I must say that I am pleasantly surprised with how relatively painless it was to read this book. Don’t get me wrong, it can be mind-numbing to read about all of the ways you can be sued as a filmmaker, and every little thing you have to do to prevent it. But considering the nature of the book, it held my interest surprisingly well. The succinct, simple layout helps keep the reading from being boring; this in turn helps the reader stay focused, and thus, interested.
I cannot stress enough that microcinema filmmakers need to do what they can to make sure that they cover all of their legal bases. The problem is that the task seems so huge and overwhelming, that most of us don’t even know where to start. This book does an excellent job of breaking it down for you: what you can do, what you need to do, and what you will need help doing. And although some of the minutiae will change over the years, the basic principles and topics in this book will stay the same, making this a book that you will be able to come to again and again for information.
Value vs. Cost
Maybe I’m a cheapskate, but I prefer my information books (unless they’re just huge or have lots of color graphics) to stay around the $25-28 range. This one doesn’t have any graphics in it at all (just a handful of charts), and no color. The paper is of a different quality than your regular book, so maybe that’s what brings the price up, I’m not sure. The book is priced at $32.95, which I personally feel is a little steep. However, the long-term reusability you will get from this book, together with the amount of valuable information, make it a definitely worthwhile purchase.
Microcinema filmmakers are especially vulnerable to potential legal problems because of a general lack of legal knowledge and/or resources. For this reason, The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers is a must-have if you’re a microcinema producer. It addresses many of the legal questions/problems that you will encounter in making your film, and provides answers and explanations in a well-organized, easy-to-follow format. Crowell does an excellent job of organizing the tremendous amount of information by using concise bullet points and headers; in addition, he connects related topics with the use of helpful cross-references. This, in turn, helps keep the material from being too boring, thus aiding interest in the material. Or, at the very least, making it less painful! Most of the topics discussed in this book will change little within the next few years, making this a book that you will be able to use repeatedly. While the cost is a little higher than what I’d like, the reusability and the amount of information make it worthwhile.