Before the Camera Rolls
Facts + Tips
You’ve found a story the world needs to know, but long before you start filming you need to get professional, figure out funding, and protect your production.
First and foremost, you’ll need to form an entity to distinguish yourself—and your personal activities—from the business aspects of making your film. An entity can take many forms—including a partnership, a corporation, or a limited liability company (LLC). There are pros and cons to each. An LLC is most common, but you should weigh different factors: whether you’re working solo or with others (individuals or entities); how you want to structure ownership; if you want to share decision-making or call all the shots; and how you’ll pay taxes.
Filmmakers secures funds for their film in several ways. Beware of the potential pitfalls of each. Credit cards allow you to withdraw funds, essentially buying cash. This is relatively easy but not always prudent. You can take out a loan: individuals can get a personal loan from a bank; a production company can borrow from lenders (usually with a promissory note that involves repaying the principal and interest); or you can borrow from friends and family. Filmmakers can also offer equity in their production; if it does well, so do those with an equity stake. Crowdfunding is another option, but beware of potentially strict SEC requirements.
Entities can also seek fiscal sponsorship from tax exempt organizations; they’ll accept donations on your behalf, manage your money, and issue reports to funders and tax agencies—for a fee.
While you’re busy getting money, remember that certain states want to give it to you—in the form of tax credits. The three types—refundable (the most valuable), transferable (can be sold), and non-refundable and non-transferrable (can only be used by you)—all help cut costs.
We engage in negotiation—the process of reaching an acceptable agreement with another party—all our lives. For example, your partner prefers romantic comedies but you love thrillers so ultimately agree on a third genre for date night. Filmmakers engage in countless negotiations—about cast member salaries, distribution deals, and budgets.
There are different negotiation styles and approaches—should you be assertive or accommodating?—and it can be helpful to determine which best suits your needs. Remember: this is a process, with several stages. You should determine what your unilateral options are, and reflect on what you really care about versus what you can forego. Understanding the other side’s interests can help you approximate the arrangement you really want. Generate a list of questions: what do you really want to know about the other side’s needs? What assumptions need to be confirmed? Utilize your time at the negotiation table to ask your questions, confirm your beliefs, and suss out areas of compromise. Then try to make sure all of that gets reflected in your agreements.
* No attorney-client relationship has been created by your access to this website. This website does not provide legal advice and the Filmmakers Legal Clinic is not acting as your attorney.