Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Stuff: The most boring blog post EVER - Do Your Paperwork!

Sure, I can hear ya: "Paperwork?! What's this talk about paperwork? I'm a filmmaker, not a bureaucrat!" Although ignorance can sometimes be bliss, it can also wind up sticking it to you harder than a 250-pound cellmate on Viagra.

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If you are shooting digitally with some actor friends, posting on your FCP, then showing the film at festivals, private screenings and family gatherings before putting it on the shelf, the idea of paperwork is probably foreign and even irrelevant to you. And if you have a big enough budget, there are A.D.s and UPMs and other such folk to shield you from the mundane drudgery of it all. But if you are doing a "professional" production - one you ultimately hope to distribute commercially - and the budget is south of half million, then you will indeed need to get your hands dirty with... *gasp!*...paperwork. As overwhelming as paperwork can seem, I would however, strongly suggest tackling it even for the $200 digital feature since you never know how any film is going to catch fire. And whatever time you save not doing paperwork will be lost 10 times over (along with money) when it comes time to deliver your film to the marketplace.

There are many, many reasons to do your paperwork, not the least of which is that most distributors (theatrical and/or home video) require E&O insurance and to get it, you need to have your paperwork in order. It will also ultimately protect you in a myriad of unforseen ways. What paperwork am I referring to? Well, I'm not an attorney nor a UPM, so the following is probably a partial list, off the top of my head, of paperwork you should at least consider addressing:

Chain of title paperwork (film copyright, script registration)
Investor agreements
Cast and crew agreements
Clearances (music, cast - including extras, location)
Production stuff (Call Sheets, camera reports, script notes, production logs, expense reports)
Union and/or Guild paperwork
Production Insurance paperwork

And tons more, I'm sure, but you get the idea. I especially like to do a production log, which for me, is a kind of daily diary of production. It's great as a reference, after the film is made, for production notes, interviews, DVD commentary or just plain ol' reminiscing. It can also help you if a crew member later claims something happened that didn't.

If you're working with guilds and/or getting production insurance, you need to jump on that paperwork early. There's a lot of it and some of it requires additional work on your part. Your shoot can completely fall apart if you don't have things squared away with your guilds and/or insurers prior to shooting. Also, if a location demands special wording in your insurance certificate, it may require special endorsements from the insurance carrier (not the broker) which can take several days to process. No special endorsement, no location. That can suck.

Much of the other paper work is either required for commercial release of your film and/or protects you from future legal and financial hassles. I know paperwork is a real pain in the ass, but try to think of it as a big, protective blanket over you. Of course, part of indie filmmakers is about about cutting corners, but cutting corners with paperwork creates holes in your blanket. When your film steps out into the big, bad world, you'd be amazed at how many hands reach through those holes to get at you. Am I paranoid? Probably. For good reason? Definitely.

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