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Pro Tip: Call Me Before You Begin

Consulting an attorney before you begin a new project is critical. Attorneys can help you think through future what-ifs and identify for you hidden issues you should resolve at each stage of your project.

If you called me seeking legal advice before starting work on a new creative endeavor, I would have a long list of questions for you. Here are five examples:

  1. How do you plan to finance the project? If people are investing in your project, then you need to organize a business entity so that you can accept investments.

  2. Are you using any material protected by copyright or other intellectual property regimes? Even if you think what you are doing would be protected by the Fair Use doctrine, you should consult an attorney for in-depth, project-specific analysis. There is nothing worse than creating something you cannot legally release.

  3. Are you working with other partners? If you are working with partners, you should formalize your relationship before you begin, decide how to apportion the monetary profits and losses, and have a plan in case the project stalls out.

  4. Are you hiring employees or crew members? You will need to be sure you comply with applicable guild and union guidelines (e.g., the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild) as well as local, state, and federal employment laws and regulations.

  5. Will you be doing anything that might involve risks to the health and safety of others? We’ll talk about ways to minimize risk and the necessity of liability insurance.

  6. How do you plan to monetize the project? For example, if you are making an independent film and will be seeking distribution, you’ll need to keep in mind delivery requirements a distributor would expect, including clear chain of title, errors and omissions insurance (may need an opinion letter about the use of intellectual property in the film), and copies of all contracts related to the project.

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