TV & Film Agreements
Producing a film or television series is an exciting endeavor – but it can also be a complex process. Our job is to take care of the nuts and bolts of the legal aspects of your production, so you can focus on the creative side of your project. Our team’s goal is to protect you from unexpected legal claims that can arise even after the cameras have stopped rolling.
Our entertainment attorneys can assist with all stages of the production process – from development and financing to pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution. We’ve worked with clients on matters related to ABC, NBC, Amazon, Netflix, PBS, Showtime, Bravo, A&E, TLC, HGTV, Food Network, MTV, VH1, Discovery, Red Bull, Animal Planet, CNBC, Curiosity Stream, and Quibi, among others.
We have experience drafting and negotiating various production-related documents, including:
An option agreement is a contract between the original owner of a specific work (e.g., a novel or a screenplay) and a producer who is interested in turning the work into a film, play, or television series. Through the option agreement, the owner gives the producer the exclusive option to purchase the rights in the work during a limited time. An option agreement typically includes a set purchase price to be paid to the owner in the event the producer exercise the option. Other examples of crucial provisions that should be negotiated between the parties include the option fee, option period, purchase price, rights granted/reserved, set-up bonus, contingent compensation, and reversion rights.
However, before an option agreement can be signed, the producer should have documentation that the appropriate intellectual property rights have been or can be secured and ensure that there is a clean chain of title. A chain of title is all necessary documentation—such as copyright registrations or licensing agreements—required to show establish ownership in a particular project. Such documentation should address the rights to any underlying works (book, screenplay, etc.), as well as the rights to use the story in sequels, prequels, remakes, and merchandising.
Additionally, when the story for a film or television project is based on a person’s life, the producer should obtain a life rights agreement from the person (or, if deceased, his or her heirs). Through a life rights agreement, a person gives someone else permission to tell his or her life’s story and agrees not to sue that person for defamation, invasion of privacy, or other potential claims. There are several unique provisions to consider in life rights agreements, including exclusive rights to the story, requiring the person to participate in marketing efforts, additional adaption rights, and other terms.
An attachment agreement is a contract between a talent and a producer in which the talent commits himself to the specific project. These agreements are important to securing financing because they make investors confident in the project and indicate the financial terms of the talent attached to the project, which can impact the investor’s ability to recoup their investment. In exchange for committing to a project, the talent typically receives some benefit, such as an upfront payment, salary or set rate, share of the profits, or other terms.
Generally, when a production is filmed outside a studio, a location must be leased. A location agreement covers when, where, and how the location will be used. It also contains a clause indemnifying the owners of the property for any damages arising out of the use of the premises and protects the owners from tort liability that might arise as a result of filming.
A production typically involves many agreements with the project’s talent, such as the actors and director involved in creating the final project. Typically, under these contracts, the talents’ contributions are considered “works made for hire,” which, under U.S. copyright law, ensures the producer, studio or network has rights to their work. However, contracts must specifically include such a provision.
An appearance release grants the producer permission to use a person’s likeness in a film or television production. Otherwise, the person can claim they did not consent to the appearance and ask for compensation and credit.
Product Placement Agreements
Product placements can be a good source of funding for productions as many brands are willing to pay to have their products shown in a movie or TV show. Product placement agreements must be carefully drafted and include terms such as which products will be used, how they will be featured, payment methods, and whether competitor products will be featured. FCC rules also require disclosure of sponsorships, which typically appear in the credits of a film or TV show.
Sales Agent Agreements and Distribution Agreements
Once production is complete, the finished project is distributed. Several outlets for distribution exist, including streaming services or home video (DVDs, Netflix), video on demand, television, and foreign distribution. Distribution agreements may be entered into before, during, or after production. In some cases, a distributor may have financed the production in exchange for the right to handle all distribution. If a sales agent is used to find distributors, a sales agent agreement may be needed in addition to a distribution agreement.
Film and TV projects can be lucrative but involve many complex pieces and multiple parties. An experienced entertainment lawyer can assist in guiding each aspect of the project and representing the best interests of a party in all negotiations.
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