A Good Lawyer Isn't Hard to Find
An entertainment lawyer is more than a filmmaker's best friend
By Jen Wareham
"Ninety-nine per cent of this business is grants and applications," says Canadian writer/director Michael Mabbott whose film The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and went on to win the Top Ten Award for Canadian film. Without the help of a lawyer who knew what grants to apply for, what applications to submit and how to do both, Mabbott's film would not have been made.
Who needs an entertainment lawyer?
Stephen Fraser, an entertainment lawyer who divides his time between Toronto and L.A., says any producer or filmmaker who is making a film and wants it to be seen by an audience needs to consult a lawyer. "You can't be producing practically anything that's going to go for broadcast without there being an entertainment lawyer involved."
A lawyer needs to see the rough cut of the film, "to identify any potential concerns," says Andrew Tolomizenko, another Toronto entertainment lawyer. If, for example, a building or "recognizable premises" appears in a film, a lawyer will know to check that releases have been obtained by the building's owner before the film is seen. Without a release, a producer can be sued by the building's owner if the film is broadcast.
A lawyer will ensure appropriate rights and licenses have been obtained before making a film, like rights to a life-story and operating licenses. Most broadcasters will not consider releasing a film if a lawyer has not been involved in the production. In fact, to obtain errors and omissions insurance, the insurance that covers producers for publishing copyrighted material like names and places accidentally without the necessary permission, a lawyer needs to have been consulted. Without the insurance, a broadcaster won't touch it.
What do they do for their clients?
" Typically [producers and filmmakers] approach an entertainment lawyer when they have a contract reviewed or they need a contract prepared for them," says Tolomizenko who considers himself a specialist in writing and negotiating contracts. Different contracts need to be negotiated between producers and investors, actors, directors, writers and almost everyone else involved in a film project, outlining working conditions and financial agreements.
Entertainment lawyers can also help in raising finances, dealing with immigration and labour issues, and in making clients aware of liability.
How do filmmakers find lawyers?
The best way to find a lawyer is to ask around among friends and colleagues who have lawyers and find one with a good reputation. Both Fraser and Tolomizenko get their clients through referrals.
"The other way is by looking through the trade magazines," says Tolomizenko. The Canadian Film and Television Producer's Association (CFTPA) puts out a guide each year, as does Focus Toronto and Film Toronto, all of which can be accessed on-line.
What considerations should go into choosing a lawyer?
Fraser suggests finding someone whose personality fits because the relationship between client and lawyer is important. Cost is also an issue. Toronto rates vary from $250 to $750 and hour.
Tolomizenko adds another consideration. "You should look at lawyers that work in your area." Most lawyers have niches, so it pays to find one who understands your project.