The full Prenups document contains perspectives from filmmakers and funders on how best to work together. Below are a few of those perspectives. We hope you’ll tell us your own stories and ideas in the space provided at the right.
BUILD IN BENCHMARKS : One film investor remarks, “One way to avoid disaster is to have clear contracts, and to have signposts that money is triggered to—for example, you give a certain amount of money for a rough cut, a fine cut, etc. At each stage, both parties have to communicate, and if they don’t, then money doesn’t flow. Setting up successbased signposts for when money moves can be very helpful.”
NEGOTIATE COPYRIGHT AND LICENSING : One filmmaker offers this cautionary tale. “We [the filmmakers] thought we had a pretty ironclad final cut clause in our contract. When we came to loggerheads with a funder who wanted changes that were literally impossible to make, they simply withheld the money. If we had owned the rights to this project, then as filmmakers we would have had equal power with the funder we could have withdrawn from the contract on the grounds that they had breeched it, and looked for finishing funds elsewhere. But since they contractually owned the rights to the film they ultimately had all they power. End result: the film was never finished. A tragic waste.”
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE GRANT ARRANGEMENTS : One small foundation has given critical support to some documentary film and theater projects that went on to earn substantial money for their creators. “Good for [them],” the grantmaker says. “But it raises the question of [whether] we ought to either get our money back, or have an equity stake in the film.” One successful tactic has been to make what the foundation calls “returnable grants,” which the funder says is a term of art. The grant agreement looks like an average grant letter, with the added clause that if a film turns a profit, then someall of the grant money will be returned so the foundation can support other projects. Even then, the funder says, “We’re not going to go audit some film company. Most of this runs on trust.” Only some of the grants the foundation makes are stipulated as “returnable” it’s just one more option for funding film. However, one documentarian says that loose language in contracts can lead to legal quagmires for the filmmaker. She suggests that terms be spelled out in writing, and that the funder cover the extra expenses of accounting and reporting that the filmmaker may incur for this type of grant.
TAKE STOCK OF PUBLIC TELEVISION RULES : If a filmmaker or funder wants a film to be considered for broadcast on PBS, it must fulfill certain requirements, such as technical standards and a prohbition on any funder owning the copyright. From the PBS guidelines, “Generally, the producer, coproducers andor presenters hold copyright. If the copyright holder is a station, the legal licensee name is appropriate for copyright notice. Underwriters cannot hold or share copyright to the program. If any other entity holds or shares copyright, Program Underwriting Policy must approve the arrangement.” http://www.pbs.org/producers/guidelines/introduction.html#a
Share Your Perspective
Tell us about your own thoughts and experiences in dealing with the issues raised in the Prenups.
The Prenups are a work-in-progress and need your input! Did we miss an important question? Did you have a great collaboration you want to tell us about? Or do you believe that all independent films need heat-proof editorial firewalls to protect the filmmaker?
Let us know—we may ask your permission to publish your perspectives, either attributed or anonymously. (You decide.)