All too often the idea of preparing, negotiating, and signing a contract in the film industry is seen as a burden to the creative process. However, Coat of Arms and our buddy, Travis Life, Esq. would argue otherwise. Contracts force us to hone the creative, get realistic about due dates, and protect not only our company, but also our contractors and our clients! Read on for some words of wisdom from our Esquire extraordinaire, Mr. Life of Life Law Office.
COA: We read on your website that you attended college on a theatre scholarship. Tell us about how you got started in theatre and why you chose to pursue law after what sounds like a successful start in the world of theatre?
Life: Well, I started theatre in high school, honestly for a girl. But I discovered that, at least at the time, I was pretty good at acting silly. My school had a traveling children’s theatre troupe, which meant we could miss class and travel, which sounded great to me! In college, everything started very well. I was cast in each of the three main stage shows, but the following year I could not land a part to save my life. That’s when I figured that I had better have a better plan to survive than the theatre. I come from a long line of attorneys, I’m a fifth generation attorney myself, so law seemed like an easy transition.
COA: What kind of law were your predecessors attracted to? Did that influence your decision to practice entertainment law?
Life: My father, great uncle and great grandfather all practiced together for a time in Iowa. My father was just starting out. They were general practitioners, meaning that they did everything. And for a small town, which is where I am from, you basically have to do everything. My father still practices today in that same small town. I believed that I could practice law, but I was concerned that I would not enjoy it. So I told myself that if I was going to do this (become a lawyer) then I would do it in a field that I enjoyed, which for me was the arts.
COA: What is considered Intellectual Property? When should an artist copyright or register their art (e.g. a logo, a script, a film, etc.)?
Life: Intellectual Property is basically any and all art. Most people think of property as land or a tangible item, intellectual property may not be so tangible, like music or a story. An artist should register their copyright as soon as possible. This registration is a protection provided by the federal government, which entitles the artist to certain relief that would otherwise not be available. Always protect your art by registering it.
COA: When we first met you, we asked you to write a contract that would protect our clients, our freelancers, and our business. You prepared such a contract, and we use it! What advice do you have for companies, freelancers, and individuals, who don’t use contracts?
Life: STOP! Any business, including freelancers and individuals should have their agreements in writing. This is not only to protect the business, but should also provide a very clear understanding of the expectation of the business relationship between the two parties. Not to mention that not having a written agreement can cause a lot more headaches and time away from your business than having one would.
COA: In the world of film and creative services, clients often refuse or brush off the idea of a contract by stating, “A contract is not necessary.” What should one do when facing this situation?
Life: I would make a policy argument with that client. Tell them, that it is the business’s policy to have an agreement in writing. Explain to the client that it is the company’s policy to have an agreement in place prior to starting any work. Explain that this agreement will not only lay out the financial terms, but also the parties responsibilities to the project. Hopefully this will persuade the client that a contract is not the end of the world.
COA: What details are often overlooked when drafting a contract?
Life: Who owns the intellectual property in the final product and when. For example, if a client fails to pay should that client own the intellectual property for your work? Also, are there any penalties for late payment? There are many others, but these two are often overlooked.
COA: Often times the scope of a project changes after boards and concept are approved. How is a change in scope defined legally? And what should an artist and a client do when the scope changes?
Life: I suggest that the scope be clearly defined in the original agreement and have a clause that if this scope changes, then X will also change. This scope can be adjusted by having an Attachment to the agreement. If the scope then changes, then the artist should notify the client that the scope is changing and no longer is within the defined scope listed on the agreement and if the client wishes artist to continue, then client should be aware that X is changing with the scope. X can be many different things: money, time, etc.
COA: It is said, “Art is subjective.” How can a client ensure that their creative vision is fulfilled?
Life: That is an excellent question. I think that is a feeling that each artist must believe within themselves. I don’t think that a lawyer or an accountant or anyone for that matter should tell an artist how to feel about their own art.
COA: What advice do you have for someone experiencing difficulty getting paid for his or her services? What if a client is dissatisfied with the creative after approving the concept, boards, and roughs?
Life: If a business is having difficulty getting paid, then I would say review the contract and talk to your lawyer as to what recourse you may be available. If a client is dissatisfied with the work, then that may be a business decision on how to proceed. If the client is someone you want to keep happy, then you may make concessions. Otherwise, you should be paid for your work, regardless of whether the client is happy with the final outcome or not.
COA: What are some of the main problems filmmakers/artists face legally? And what is the best way to avoid them?
Life: Clearances and co-workers’ expectations. Clearances, meaning that any and all art which is displayed in the film has been approved by the artist to display, this can include photos or other art work. Co-workers’ expectations meaning that each individual who works on the project has a clear understanding of what that individual expects in return for their work.
COA: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Life: I really like seeing artists succeed. I love seeing the final project and know that I had a very small part of making that happen. That is pretty cool.
COA: What interests/hobbies do you enjoy outside of practicing law?
Life: I am a newlywed, so I enjoy spending time with my wife. We like to go to shows, plays and listen to music and travel.
COA: Are you accepting new clients? If so, how can they get in touch with you?
Life: YES, always! Haha! Anyone can call my office at 312-488-4163 or email me at email@example.com.
COA: Anything you’d like to add?
Life: Just keep up the great work at Coat of Arms LLC!!
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