Though I was raised in the film business, I am growingly astonished as the “hardball” tactics used by the old industry moguls are being replaced by out-and-out scoundrels and dishonest tactics, from the lowest to the highest levels of the industry.
While I can’t disclose much yet about the legal cases on which I’m working as a consultant and an expert witness, I have come up with a few basic principles which, if you follow them, will assist in protecting you from the alligators, vipers and other consuming beasts.
1. ALWAYS DELIVER WHAT YOU PROMISE. You must, against any and all odds, be a man or woman of your word, for yourself if no one else. That is the professional thing to do.
Therefore, a corollary to this is: ONLY PROMISE WHAT YOU CAN DELIVER. There can be a tendency to stretch beyond your capabiities. Creative people in the film industry, especially if and when they smell money, sometimes make promises that are simply not achievable. This gives us all a bad name. I’m not suggesting that you only play it safe – but I am suggesting that you FIND OUT what you or your assembled team CAN deliver before you put any family jewels on the line.
2. IF IT ISN’T WRITTEN IT ISN’T TRUE. Make NO assumptions. If you write or sign a contract, know what every word means. Have a good legal dictionary (e.g., Black’s Law Dictionary) and a good English dicitionary (e.g., Oxford New American Dictionary) at hand. You MUST understand what you’re signing. You only have yourself to blame if you sign a corrupt agreement. If you don’t understand a word, find out what it means, either by looking it up or asking. I’ve been in this business my whole life, and I still ask questions. As often as not, if I don’t understand a word, neither does the person who wrote it. A REAL business person not only doesn’t think less of you for asking, he/she will respect it. If ANYONE makes fun of you for wanting to know, this is not your friend.
I’ve stated in an earlier article that your best friend can be your attorney. All of the good ones with whom I work ALWAYS ask, prior to any negotiating, what I want from a certain business relationship – specifically, they ask what is absolute, and what is negotiable.
3. MAKE SURE THAT IN ANY AGREEMENT YOU MAKE WITH ANOTHER, BOTH SIDES CAN WIN. No one likes to be taken advantage of, and, in fact, it’s on you if you allow it to occur. Conversely, if you take advantage of another, you probably will end up paying a heavy price.
There’s a fine balance between money and creative – both sides must have an opportunity to succeed. If an investor’s funds are entirely at risk, and if he has no recourse if he loses all his money, what is that worth to him? To you? At the same time, the creative artist gives the money person a playing field. That’s worth a heckuvalot itself.
4. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. In this Information Age, with Google, et al, having so very much data available, go to a search mode, and type in the person or company you’re considering working with. Read EVERY article and interview you can. Find out how happy and healthy their employees are. Find out how many lawsuits they’ve been involved with.
These guidelines are offered to you because they work. I’ve been a filmmaker, teacher, and private consultant for many years, and I’m shocked to tell you that I’ve never been sued and never sued anyone. This is because I practice what I preach.
Hope this helps you!