Get Over Your Ego

There is more to making a film than being creative.

Yeah, those may seem like fighting words, but such true words are rarely spoken. Don’t get me wrong, creativity is at the heart of the film business. Even the most derivative, seemingly-uninspired work has more creativity in it than most 9 to 5 jobs. But all the creativity in the world will not make a successful business. It’s a great foundation, but kind of like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest… he’s going to fall down unless he has a partner holding him up.

I have been working with creatives for decades and many, I almost dared to say most, have difficulty setting aside their creative hat for the requirements of running a business. Which is fine if they will admit that they need help and partner up with a strong, business-minded individual. You know: a producer.

Sam Raimi teamed up with Rob Tapert. Now both produce, but Sam initially stayed more in the creative chair and Rob more in the business side of things.

Eli Roth’s breakout was Cabin Fever, but it wouldn’t have broken out without a great producing partnership with Evan Astrowsky.

And there are more examples. Don’t get me wrong, both crossed over, but they specialized where they were best suited. Sam and Eli have even gone on to produce projects that they don’t direct.

And I’m not talking about on set. I’ve been working with many first or near first time film makers that are trying to get their projects off the ground. These film makers through their creativity and vision have even been able to find people that are willing to help financially to get the film makers’ projects off the ground. That doesn’t mean, though, that they are willing to just throw their money away… and that’s where these creative individuals stumble and, often, fall down.

The money to their next creative project is dangling right in front of them but they don’t know how to put together a business to show that the money will not only be well spent, but returned to the financial partners. Honestly, who has $100,000 USD just sitting there to be flushed let alone one million? Multi-millionaires didn’t get that way by just throwing good money out the window.

So team up with someone that can talk intelligently about the numbers, the business, the sales, and the return. That knows how to deal with taxes, lawyers, payroll, distributors and all the little minutia that get in the way of you being creative.

I was recently told, “But they are investing in me so I need to know this stuff,” literally a day before they were sitting down with money people. I tried to explain that you couldn’t just teach them the words in a few hours. No script could be written that would cover a face to face meeting with unpredictable Q&A. That a real investor will know you are faking it and get turned off. I explained that their potential financial partners are investing in the film maker’s vision and creativity and will fully understand someone else on the team helping with the financial and business side of things. Heck, qualified investors hire accountants and lawyers for that too.

So, get over your ego.

The biggest part of being a film maker is surrounding yourself with people that know more than you do, and that includes the business.

“Don’t chase the paper- chase the dream” — P. Diddy

“Don’t chase the paper- chase the dream.”

The quote is by Sean Combs (P. Diddy, Puff Daddy) to Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known by his stage name The Notorious B.I.G, in the movie “Notorious.”

I’m guilty.

I had a project, that was getting a lot of press.  I had spent tons of my time working on drumming up the hype and chasing the money and I lost sight of the dream. A mentor of mine has told me repeatedly over the years, and so I reminded myself (and sharing the quote with you): “Set a date and move forward. The money will come. It always comes.”

I took this advice on my first feature, and she was right. It all worked out. People saw my dream unfolding an wanted to be a part of it. It worked on my second feature too. Somewhere between then and now, even with the other feature films I have produced, I forgot her advice and have spent too much time chasing the paper.

Don’t get me wrong. The job of the producer, or at least one big job, is to raise the capital to make sure that the dream can be realized, but more than that it is to create the passion and drive the team forward in spite of all the business headaches with which you are dealing. Always remember:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy, ‘Ode’ (1874)

So here’s to the movers and shakers, the dreamers of dreams, the writers, film makers, and creatives making things happen. Get out there and chase the dream. Let others see your passion and your successes will follow.

What is this Chain of Title of which you speak?

Great question and there tends to be some confusion among first time film makers about Chain of Title so don’t feel bad for asking the question.

To put it simply, Chain of Title is the complete set of documents that establishes a persons (and companies are people too) right to take action with respect to a piece of property, in our discussion the property is a film, but can be anything including a passel of land, a building, an automobile, etc.  With any property the chain runs from the present owner back to the original owner of the property in question.

In entertainment, this means a whole slew of documents that establish that a producer/production company owns/controls the right to produce a whatever it is they are trying to create/sell.

The chain of title typically consists of a series of rights agreements between the creators of works on which the production will be based or assembled to create the final product.  OK, that wasn’t so simple, but this list will give you an idea:

  • Copyright registration certificate for any underlying material (ie, the screenplay)
  • Option for right to adapt any underlying work(s) (Stageplay, song, screenplay, life-story rights, etc.)
    • Yes, that means just because you read a book or play that you can’t adapt if for film without permission.  Heck, just because someone is dead still doesn’t give you a clearance to produce their life story.
  • Agreements with anyone (the writer or composer or lyricist or other contributors) hired to adapt the source material
  • Agreements with any additional writers hired to do re-writes, etc.
  • Certificates of authorship from any of those writers
  • Documentation on any option agreements
    • Evidence documenting that the option on the material was properly extended before its expiration
    • Evidence that the option was properly exercised before its expiration.
    • Documents transferring or assigning the rights granted under the option to the producing entity
  • Contracts with creative and production personnel stating that their work-product has been created as a “work-made-for-hire” and therefore belongs to the producer.  Strangely enough, this includes you, the producer.
  • Contracts with performers authorizing the use of their names, likenesses, biographies, etc., in connection with the exploitation of the project.
  • Releases for stock footage used
  • Releases for photographs or artwork used
  • Releases for props used
  • Releases for locations films
  • Releases for any music used in the scoring of the production
  • Crowd/Extra release forms
  • Trademark Clearances for any trademarks used in the film

…and the list can go on, but you get the idea.

A film is an assemblage of many things and you have to prove that you have the right to use ALL OF IT in your film.  Yes, even if you wrote the screenplay yourself.  It may sound silly, but you even need to transfer the rights of the screenplay you wrote to yourself as the producer/production company to have a clean chain of title.

Film distributors won’t agree to distribute a film without complete documentation.  They don’t want to risk getting sued because you used something in your film you didn’t have permission to use.

It’s best to start as early as possible documenting the chain of title.  No one likes to pop-out a release form or go all business-like when they are developing the idea for a production, but, trust me, it gets much more messy and difficult to try and do it later.  When you complete an outline, treatment, screenplay, etc, keep records and register your copyrights.  If you are working with someone else, PLEASE, have a written agreement that details your relationship and addresses ownership of the project.  Great projects have been lost to a fallout between friends and no formal terms on what happens to the work itself.

Oh, and nothing verbal.  It all needs to be in writing.  Its to everyone’s benefit… and you can’t put a verbal agreement in a file.

Yes, ultimately, the chain of title is a big folder containing copies of each and every document we just discussed… in chronological order.  And this documentation will be needed everytime that the project is sold or transferred to someone else.

Now the big question: Do you need an entertainment attorney to do all this for you?  Absolutely not.  You just need to be good at paperwork and organization, or have someone working for you that is.  That doesn’t mean you might not need one to handle certain steps along the journey.  Only a fool has himself for a client.


Set Terminology

General Crew WATCH YOUR BACK – A warning said by anyone coming though or around the set with an object that could potentially hit someone. CROSSING – A warning said by anyone who must cross in front of the camera during a…

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Production Glossary

ACTION! – The command from the director for the scene to begin. It also means that the camera is rolling. A.D. – The Assistant Director. AD LIB – Extemporaneous delivery without relying on a prepared script. ADR – Automated Dialogue…

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