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Pre-production is the process of preparing all the elements involved in a film.  In the pre-production stage, the film is designed and planned.  A production company is created and a production budget is drawn up to plan expenditures for the film.  The producer hires a crew.  A typical crew includes a director; assistant director; casting director; location manager; production manager; director of photography; director of audiography; production sound mixer; sound designer; composer; production designer; art director; costume designer; make up and hair designer; storyboard artist; choreographer; and other supporting.

The first task of film production is to select and set up a business entity for the film.  The producer should have all the documentations ready, and should be legally equipped to manage and maintain control of the film project.  It is eminent that the answer to certain questions like “who is to own the film’s intellectual property,” or “who is to have the right to manage the creative, financial and business aspects of the film project” are to be predetermined.

Producers should have all required contracts, rights and releases in order to avoid the threat of lawsuits later.  Securing the rights and releases protects the producer from being later on sued for infringement.  All legal agreements like finance agreements, talent agreements, screenwriters agreements, film directors agreements, actors agreements, composers agreements, production designers agreements, trade union agreements, distribution agreements, and all agreements relating to copyright and trademarks are to be finalized during the pre-production stage.  Similarly, all licenses related to the intellectual property associated with the film, like the rights to use the script, the rights to the actor’s performances, licenses for all music, should be obtained by the producer.

A producer must make sure that all rights required to exhibit the film are secured.  The principle right that needs to be secured is the right to the underlying work itself.  These rights include the right to use someone’s “life-story,” the right to adapt an existing literary material like a novel or a play into a film; securing the right to the screenplay for a narrative film from an original script.  To secure such rights, the producer pays the owner of the rights a specified sum of money in exchange for the option to purchase the material for a particular period of time.  At the end of the period, the producer may either purchases the motion picture rights, or the rights revert back to the original owner.  It is important for the producer to have a “work for hire agreement” with the actors indicating that they have no ownership rights or interests in the final film project.

A release is an explicit or implied form of permission to use something that someone else owns in the film.  An appearance release is the permission to use a person’s image, voice, performance; material release gives the producer the right to use still images, archival or personal footage, the text of documents, or audio recordings in the film; music release is a permission from the music publisher to use a particular piece of copyrighted music in the film; and a location release give the producer permission to use a particular site for filming.

Usually, it is advisable, but not mandatory to involve an attorney from the beginning of the film process itself.  Some attorneys help in brokering deals on behalf of the writer or producer with the production company, studio, or other prospective financiers for the film project.  The attorney can also be helpful in the development and financing of the film.  The producer may need the help of an entertainment attorney as well as a business attorney.  The entertainment lawyer usually handles rights acquisition, pre-production contract negotiations for talent, crew, equipment, and other contractual components of the pre-production and production phase of the process.  The entertainment lawyer is important in protecting the filmmaker’s interest during the negotiation of the distribution deal after the film is completed.  With the assistance of the entertainment attorney, the business lawyer will put the financing package together, not actually secure the financing, but structure the offer for investors.

Inside Pre-Production