Insights

Anatomy of an Independent Film Business Plan

Planning is key to the successful development, production, release, and profitability of independent films. As an indie filmmaker, you’re in the business of making and selling a product that just happens to involve entertainment. Like any entrepreneur, your business plan should be considered essential. You wouldn’t start making a movie without a shooting script. Probably not without storyboards or some other form of pre-visualization of your shots. Think of your film business plan the same way.

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Start a year for successful filmmaking with a solid business and legal foundation.

Register now to join DeepFocus Entertainment Law for a virtual coffee get-together monthly in 2023. The first online event kicks off January 27, 2023, from 8 AM to 9:30 AM PST. Clients, prospective clients, and friends are welcome. Register now here. In the meantime, enjoy these suggestions for New Year’s resolutions to start your next film or television project on solid business and legal ground:

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Three reasons your independent film or television project needs a clean chain of title.

Where is the title to a film or television project? If your first thought was something like in an animated opening sequence starting off with James Bond turning abruptly to camera with raised .25 Beretta, in a continuous opening shot of “The Player” heading across a studio lot, or in disturbing typography like Se7en, you’re thinking of the wrong titles. This kind of title is critically important, of course. But unlike the title in your film’s chain of title, it’s unlikely to stop your project from ever being seen.

That’s because chain of title in the film industry refers to the ownership of intellectual property rights, life rights, and other rights involved in a cinematic project. The “chain” is a series of documents that link current ownership of those rights to their original owners. One link might be rights of publicity that belong to the subject of a life story. Another might be copyright in a screenplay or the literary fiction, short story, or comic on which it is based.

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Independent contractors and indie films: Police officers not production employees on low-budget shoot per California Court of Appeals.

Entertainment law case updates

Michael Estrada v. Scars of the Mind Motion Picture Company
Cal Ct App August 31, 2022

Whether production crew members on low-budget indie films are employees rather than independent contractors is an extremely important business and legal affairs issue for film producers. That’s because a production company that allegedly fails to pay workers as employees if required to do so can face wage demands, fines, penalties, and the need to defend themselves in court. It’s exactly what happened to the filmmakers behind “Acts of Desperation,” an indie motion picture filmed in Los Angeles in 2018 by Scars of the Mind Productions.

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YouTube fails to block Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider’s Content ID litigation as district court denies motion to dismiss.

Film-Television-Case-Law-Update


Entertainment law case updates

Maria Schneider, et al. v. YouTube LLC, et al.
USDC ND Cal August 1, 2022


The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently denied defendant YouTube’s motion to dismiss the first amended complaint filed by Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider in her copyright infringement class action against the popular video streaming platform.

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Bill & Ted’s Excellent Licensing Agreement: Ninth Circuit holds that damages for undiscovered copyright infringement are not limited to three years.

Film-Television-Case-Law-Update


Entertainment law case updates

Starz Entertainment LLC v. MGM Domestic Television Distribution LLC
USCA Ninth Cir July 14, 2022


In Starz Entertainment, LLC v. MGM Domestic Television Distribution, LLC,11. No. 21-55379 (9th Cir. July 14, 2022). the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss copyright infringement claims as barred by the three-year statute of limitations under the Copyright Act.22. 17 U.S.C. § 507(b).

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Why you should consider using product placements to finance and promote your independent film production.

Porsche logo on the back of a car in an action movie scene

Advertisers are increasingly searching for more and better opportunities to place brands and products into films and television productions. Variety this week reports that global advertising group Interpublic has announced a new data analysis product planned for internal use in finding movies and broadcast and streaming series that “will serve as a good fit for in-show product placement.”

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Orphan works, fair use, and criminal copyright infringement: First Circuit upholds conviction for copying movies from old VHS tapes.

Film-Television-Case-Law-Update


Entertainment law case updates

United States v. Gordon
USCA First Cir June 23, 2022


In United States v. Gordon,11. No. 21-1023 (1st Cir. June 23, 2022). the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the criminal conviction of “a film buff since childhood” on two counts of criminal copyright infringement. The Copyright Act prohibits any person from “infring[ing] a copyright willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain . . . .”22. 17 U.S.C. § 506(a). The defendant, Douglas Gordon, testified to believing that selling DVDs of movies copied from old VHS tapes was not infringement because nobody appeared to own the rights and argued that the evidence was insufficient to find willfullness. While perhaps mildly sympathetic to the “orphan works” problem in copyright law, the court concluded that the jury could easily have found knowledge that unauthorized duplication of even not widely available movies was illegal.

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Hollywood star Mary Pickford’s landmark million dollar deal, 106 years ago today.

On June 24, 1916, Mary Pickford signed an agreement rivaling the best that any modern Hollywood dealmaker could negotiate. Adjusted for inflation, the $10,000 per week in compensation that her motion picture contract with Paramount Pictures co-founder Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company provided for is equal to about $270,682 today. On top of that, profit participation gave her 50% from each film, with guaranteed compensation equal to about $19,600,000.

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Oregon film and television tax incentives for labor and vendors increase July 1, 2022.

The glorious rain-free days of summer in Oregon will soon be here. Even better this year are new increases to the state’s film and television production tax incentives effective July 1, 2022. Using Oregon’s film and media incentive programs, producers may be able to rebate 20% of Oregon-based goods and services. An additional cash payment of up to 16.2% of payroll wages paid to production personnel working in the state may also be available. Oregon Film has announced that “this will increase to a 25% rebate for both labor and vendors as of July 1, 2022.”

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Indie producer film budget alert: SAG-AFTRA film and television performer minimum scale goes up July 1.

Independent producers know full well how important it is to keep production value high and film budgets low. Productions using SAG-AFTRA talent should be alert to the pending increase in scale rates under theatrical, television, new media, and other SAG-AFTRA agreements. As of July, 1, 2022, rates for union performers are expected to increase by several percent. Exact figures await final decisions by the union on pension and welfare plan contribution amounts.

SAG-AFTRA rates are the minimum amounts that actors and other performers represented by the guild are required to be paid on a project. Rates are set in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), which is the entertainment guild contract to which a production company that wants to use union talent needs to agree before the talent can work on the film or show.

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Motion capture tech inventor’s intellectual property claims alleging infringement by Disney moving closer to termination?

Film-Television-Case-Law-Update


Entertainment law case updates

Rearden LLC v. Walt Disney Co.
USDC ND Cal June 8, 2022


Several years ago in 2017, Rearden LLC, inventor of the MOVA Contour Reality Capture Program (“MOVA”) software for capturing facial expressions filed suit alleging copyright and trademark infringement by the Walt Disney Company and Twentieth Century Fox arising out of several summer tentpoles. Dismissed in part since then, the case’s remaining intellectual property infringement claims now appear closer to fading to black. The District Court for the Northern District of California recently granted Disney’s motion for partial reconsideration of the court’s denial of summary judgment for the defendants as to three films: Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Deadpool. The court granted summary judgment as to four other features: Terminator: Genisys, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and Fantastic Four. Disney did not move for reconsideration as to Beauty and the Beast.

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Copyright licenses and your indie film’s production budget: What the Top Gun lawsuit can teach about the bottom line.

copyright-infringement-top-gun-maverick

As any line producer knows, the production budget on an independent film can nearly always be higher. Production legal services can sometimes seem more a luxury than a line item—especially when the question of using someone else’s creative work comes up. A chance to discuss this important issue for independent filmmakers has appeared in the form of a new civil action filed against Paramount Pictures alleging copyright infringement based on the studio’s recent release of Top Gun: Maverick, and it’s too good to just let fly by.

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Country songwriter’s complaint alleges copyright infringement against Mariah Carey. “All I Want for Christmas” is sue?

Film-Television-Case-Law-Update


Entertainment law case updates

Stone v. Carey
USDC ED LA June 3, 2022


This DeepFocus Law case update is about music, not film or television, but the case raises a copyright law issue too important not to discuss. A civil action by Andy Stone a.k.a. Vince Vance alleging copyright infringement against the popular singer and her co-writer on their modern holiday radio staple, “All I Want for Christmas is You” was filed on June 3, 2022, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Named defendants include Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Corporation of America. The action seeks $20 million in compensatory damages for alleged violations of copyright based on a 1989 Vince Vance & the Valiants song with the same title.

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Getting to Greenlight Series: Life rights for film and television


DeepFocus Law’s Getting to Greenlight series presents entertainment attorney explanations of key business and legal affairs aspects of film and television development. This post turns the lens on the life rights acquisition agreement.


As the California Court of Appeals noted in a case involving Hollywood icon Olivia de Havilland, “[b]ooks, films, plays, and television shows often portray real people. Some are famous and some are just ordinary folks.” Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”, which recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, is one example. There are many others, from eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (“The Aviator”) to figure skater Tonya Harding (“I, Tonya”).

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