While it may be boring to some readers (who should skip ahead), those interested in launching their own film projects probably would like to know about some of the less exciting aspects of preparation. One of those is getting legal issues in order. Although I recount the process in a few paragraphs below, let me advise people who are undertaking a similar effort that these steps are remarkably time-consuming. Not only do you have to figure out what to do, waiting for other people to act can take longer than expected and the process often is slowed by the fact that some things have to be iterative.
I had copyrighted the screenplay in 2005, but I decided also to register it with the Writers Guild of America. That was easy, but everything else from this point on required my acute attention.
It is important to set up an organization separate from yourself as an individual for protection in event of future lawsuits of any kind. That meant that I needed to create a limited liability corporation for the sole purpose of Revenge In Kind. I decided to name my company Pono Productions, LLC. Pono means “most excellent, upstanding” in Hawaiian, and was the name chosen by my husband for our cat. Having a Hawaiian name was emotionally important to me for another reason too. I wrote the screenplay in Hawai’i, where I’d lived for 13 of the best years of my life. I wanted this film, this project, to have a thread of the spirit of Hawai’i sewn throughout.
On the Internet I found instructions how to set up an LLC in Texas and set about filing papers and paying the various fees for registration of the company. Meanwhile, I also obtained a federal employer tax identification number. Once I had the fees paid and the requisite ID number, I was able to open a corporate bank account for Pono Productions. The day I walked out of the bank after transferring the first tranche of my savings to the film, I was almost shaking with a mix of fear and relief. Fear, because now I was officially spending my life’s savings on the film, and relief that I had finally taken the steps that would enable the project.
Also on the Internet, I found a number of models for contracts with crew and cast which I used as templates for my own drafts. I was wary, however. What if something were missing from these contracts? My unease was accentuated by the fact that I received a one-page draft director’s contract from Fred, but a multi-page, highly detailed draft producer’s contract from Angel. They were very different in content and Angel’s contained several clauses I had trouble understanding. I decided to look for an entertainment attorney in Dallas who could at least review my drafts.
The first attorneys I interviewed who billed themselves as “entertainment” met with me for a half hour in early April. The two of them were exceedingly careful to give me no information, which left me wondering whether they knew anything about film contracts. Also, the price of their retainer would be a huge chunk of my film budget.
After emailed to one of them declining their services, I received a reply saying that his wife was also an attorney and would be prepared to draft two contracts, one for crew and one for cast. I decided to use her services, although they were expensive at $500. Unfortunately, the two drafts she provided were boilerplate, poorer quality than what I myself had prepared, had typos, and were almost exactly alike. I was unhappy.
I decided to try one more local attorney, who also billed himself as an entertainment lawyer. The previous experience was duplicated, but this time I objected. I called him and said that the two contracts were alike and were the same as what I could pull off of the Internet. He reduced his bill by half, reinforcing what I already knew to be true in life: if you object to people mistreating you, you often get treated better.
After two misfires, I decided that I would forgo an attorney and do it all myself. Later I will explain why this was a mistake and how I narrowly missed a legal disaster.