Indie filmmaking is kind of like lion-taming: if everything goes right, you’ll make money and people will be really impressed; if it doesn’t, you’ll be eaten alive. One of the biggest places where things can go wrong is not on the set, or in the editing suite, or during writing sessions (although some badly-written Hollywood scripts make me wonder); it’s in the business and legal areas of the pre-production stage. If errors are made in these areas before the production even starts, it can have disastrous results. In his book The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide, Jon M. Garon shares his experience and knowledge to show indie filmmakers how to not set themselves up for legal and financial trouble.
The book is divided into three main sections: “Making a Film Company to Make a Movie”, “Filming the Movie: Preproduction and Production” and “Selling the Movie: Distribution and Marketing”. (An additional section contains four Appendices.) The first section alone is 155 pages, which indicates the importance of this part of the filmmaking process. Garon explains the types of business structures for film (partnerships, corporations, LLCs, etc.), their potential risks and benefits, and what the best structure would be for your type of film. He also outlines in detail the responsibilities of the film company, the specifics of copyright (as pertains to your creative/intellectual work), the process of making contracts, and the monetary aspects of financing, budgeting, and investors. All of these are incredibly important –and often overlooked—foundational aspects of filmmaking; Garon manages to break them down into small, manageable chunks and explains them in a way that is easy to understand. While the overall content is very well organized, this section would’ve greatly benefited from the use of some diagrams and/or flowcharts, especially when explaining business structures, roles and relationships (e.g. investors, partners, etc.), and the flow of money pertaining to taxes/investments. It’s not a huge issue, but it would’ve helped.
The second section covers all of the diverse areas from preproduction to post. Preproduction includes securing proper documentation and contracts (for cast, crew, equipment, and locations) and defining the specific roles and responsibilities of members of the production team. The chapters on Production gives information on how to deal with business/legal issues on set, as well as special considerations that pertain to documentaries. The chapters on Postproduction –music licensing, credits, editing, etc—are brief and to the point. One nice addition at the end of the section is an entire chapter of special considerations for microfilmmakers. Many authors (unintentionally) neglect to address the needs of no-budget filmmakers, so the fact that Garon included this pertinent, helpful information is a definite plus.
The final section deals with marketing and distribution; while the material is not complicated, it feels extremely out of place (more on that later).
The entire first section is full of excellent, vital information. Garon sets this book apart from other indie film business books by going beyond the basics of contracts and budgeting, and explaining the differences and setups of various business structures for film. Also, he sheds light on the often-hazy area of copyright by explaining what constitutes an “original concept”, how to protect it, and how to obtain rights for other peoples’ stories/concepts. While most microfilmmakers (and even their producers) understandably have a hard time understanding the complex aspects of business structure and appropriate copyright protection, it is essential that these things be taken care of properly at the very beginning; if they aren’t, the company, project, and people involved can be in serious legal and financial trouble. While the second section covers topics that I’ve seen addressed in other similar books, Garon goes into a lot of detail about how to (legally) protect yourself before and during production, bringing up different things that filmmakers may not otherwise take into consideration.
Unfortunately, the final section is woefully and disproportionately short (a mere 43 pages, compared to 155 and 135 pages in the preceding two sections) and feels rather out of place. While it seems logical to follow the process of filmmaking to its logical conclusion (e.g. distribution), it feels as though this was just tacked on the end as an afterthought; in addition, the overall information in this section was much more basic and not nearly as detailed as the information in the previous sections. For this reason, it would’ve been better to limit the book to just pre-distribution information (planning, preproduction, filming, and post), and have the author suggest a few good books that deal specifically with marketing and distribution. (Like Jon Reiss' Think OUTSIDE the BOX Office, which is reviewed in this issue, as well.) It is far better to refer readers to a more knowledgeable source than to inadequately address a topic yourself.
It’s a business book, so it’s not going to be a page-turning thriller; but for the kind of book this is and the material it deals with, it holds the reader’s interest quite well, and won’t have you nodding off as soon as you open it.
The information here can be applicable for a bigger-budget ($50K+) indie film, a $10K microfilm, or a $500 short. This is an essential book to add to your library if you are an indie film producer.
Even if the section on distribution and marketing was completely omitted, this book would still be worth its current price. The amount of time, headache, and hassle that can be avoided by following (or at least consulting) the information in this book will definitely save you in the long haul. Totally worth the cost.
This book is very well organized, beginning with the “pre-pre-production” aspect of creating a film company (often overlooked by low-budget indie filmmakers), then progressing through to the production, post, and distribution stages. The information is vast, detailed, and pertinent, but is presented in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner that helps remove some of the intimidation factor inherent to this topic. The biggest drawback is the inclusion of the section on distribution and marketing. It’s a weak and awkwardly-placed finish to an otherwise strong book; it should either be more fully developed or dropped altogether. That being said, that drawback isn’t enough of a detractor for not getting this book. No matter the size budget, cast, or crew you’re working with, if you’re an indie or microcinema producer, this book belongs on your shelf. Now.