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June 2nd, 2017
SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum: Legal Aid
This Legal Aid session featured a pair of leading attorneys from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz (FKKS): Jeffrey A. Greenbaum, managing partner and regarded as one of the country’s leading advertising lawyers; and Victoria S. Cook, a partner at the firm whose focus is on motion pictures and television. Cook is a regular mentor at the Sundance Institute Creative Producing Conference and the Sundance Institute Catalyst Conference for film investors. She has moderated the State of the Union panel at the Sundance Summit for the last several years.
Greenbaum and Cook discussed director contracts with production companies, considerations for filmmakers who are — or would like to be — active in commercials as well as features and TV, and pitfalls that can impact helmers’ careers.
Greenbaum noted that while day rates, financial guarantees and other perks were common areas of discussion and negotiation in director contracts of 10 to 15 years ago, that’s not as much the case today. Back in the day, assorted production companies were willing to invest in directors, knowing that chances were good that money could be made. By contrast, the current marketplace — despite the emergence of different channels and platforms--is marked by what seems like less work for fewer directors, with a diminishing number of companies willing to make major financial commitments to directorial career building.
The decision a director makes to join a production company, continued Greenbaum, carries potential long-term consequences. He advised that rather than focus just on money when considering a new roost, directors should first and foremost assess which company they believe in — and which company really believes in them. Then the money and success will follow.
“Which company will take the time to develop you and your career?” said Greenbaum, suggesting that along those lines directors ask, “Who at the company is going to be shepherding your career?” Among other key questions to pose include: Are there sales reps at the company who believe in you? Is there a senior exec who is going to make sure you are going to be successful? What does your reel look like today and where do you want it to be down the road? How much money will a company invest in spec jobs? Will the production house take on lower budget projects and how will they manage those jobs so that they are successful and add to your reel?
Another key piece of advice was that directors “commit but don’t overcommit.” Companies are generally asking for directors to sign contracts covering longer periods of time. In the previous era, the norm was a two-year contract. Today, contracts are more along the lines of three or four years, sometimes more. Production companies justifiably want a longer window of exclusivity so that they have the time to realize a return on their investment in a director. It behooves a director to give a production company ample opportunity to deliver--but at the same time he or she should try to negotiate some wiggle room if certain goals aren’t realized in year one for example. That way if an arrangement isn’t working, a director can move on to explore other opportunities.
Cook noted that for those commercial directors with TV and feature aspirations, it’s important that they have an understanding with a spot production house that they have the freedom to block out time for long-form commitments. An indie film, she related, will take “at least 18 months of your life” from development through prep, production, post, festivals and promotion.
Cook cautioned young directors not to be too enamored with a production company that has a couple of IMBD feature credits. While production companies courting a director may promise feature filmmaking opportunities, not all shops have the wherewithal to truly get a movie made. Very few companies are Anonymous Content, she said. And an IMBD credit or two doesn’t necessarily signal feature proficiency or the ability to provide or access the proper funding.
Sometimes, observed Cook and Greenbaum, success in commercialmaking can cause directors to fall short of their feature goals. With a lucrative advertising career — in which they grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, as well as working with the best DPs, production designers and like — certain directors can’t figure out a way to stay committed enough to bring that feature script they’ve been carrying around to fruition. Cook and Greenbaum affirmed that it’s imperative for directors to remember their roots and to “stay hungry” if they truly want to realize their feature filmmaking promise.
This article was posted by "A SHOOT STAFF REPORT" on SHOOTtonline .
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