Pre-production is the most legally complex stage of film production. Comprehensive forethought and planning during this time are essential to the success of a movie and to the experience of those involved. During this stage, relationships are established with all the major parties involved in the making of the film, including actors, contractors, stunt performers, shareholders, and copyright holders, among others. Although positive interpersonal relationships are important with each of these individuals, legal relationships are to avoid potential conflicts down the line. Straightening out all contentious legal matters before the film begins to shoot will significantly increase the probability that the movie makes it to the distribution phase. Pinnacle Law Firm offers a variety of pre-production legal services in the following areas.


Before a film is even written, the producer should ensure that all rights to the story within the film are obtained. This is necessary if the story has any source material. Such source material might include:

  • Literary endeavors such as plays, novels, or poems
  • An individual’s life story
  • A pre-existing film
  • A comic book
  • The producer will most often pay the owner of the rights to the source material an agreed upon amount of money for the option to purchase the rights. After a preset period of time, the producer can purchase the rights, or they will revert back to the original owner.


    Unions are groups of individuals working in a common field who come together and agree to certain standards as conditions of their employment, such as wages, breaks, and hours worked per day. In order to hire talent from a variety of unions within the world of film production, the producer of the movie will need to become a signatory to the applicable union contract. Some common unions that producers will work with include the

  • Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
  • Directors Guild of America (DGA)
  • International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE)
  • Writers Guild of America (WGA)
  • Each of these guilds or unions has their own conditions and protocols under which their members may work. In order to contract talent from these organizations, the producer will need to sign guild or union approved contracts and follow the rules outlined therein. Unions may offer contracts for medium or low budget films to accommodate smaller production companies and artistic projects. If the film is not being produced for commercial exploitation, you can also apply for an “Ultra Low Budget” contract. In all cases, producers are required to keep track of hours that each performer works during each day. A variety of other concerns surrounding the use of union and non-union talent should be addressed before shooting the film commences.


    Deal memos are used by independent film producers as employment contracts for cast and crew. They are usually signed before shooting begins and outline all the important contractual obligations and rights for those under the producer’s employment. This contract will outline, among other things, the rate for overtime, how and when payment will be distributed, meals on set, per diem stipends, and what happens in the event that shoots are delayed or the film is canceled.

    The deal memo also includes a Work-For-Hire clause, which states that all creative work completed by the cast and crew belongs to the producer of the film and relieves the producer of the obligation to pay royalties. This contract will usually include where in the credits the particular cast or crew member will appear.


    One of the most important factors of pre-production legal documentation is the drafting and signing of release forms. Almost every element within a film needs to have a documented release so that the producers of the film do not come under threat of litigation for using copyrighted material, music, or the likeness of an individual without explicit permission.


    Each performer must sign a talent release form prior to the commencement of filming. This release states that they give permission for the producer to photograph, film, or otherwise reproduce their likeness.


    Often, producers and writers will want to include certain images, footage, or audio recordings gleaned from outside sources, such as museums, libraries, other movies, or private collections. The use of these materials must usually be documented.


    This gives the producer the right to use a certain location for filming and usually includes an outline of time, date, and the insurance policy associated with the use of the property.


    The soundtrack to a movie is a fundamental contributing aspect to the tone of the piece. If a producer is planning on using a particular song, they must receive permission from the music publisher, the musician, and/or their estate.

    Additional types of release may be necessary in certain cases, but it is important to obtain all releases before filming begins. If during post-production, it is discovered that certain elements of the film require releases and those releases cannot be obtained, the movie may have to be altered or, under serious circumstances, abandoned.


    The preceding information is only a sample of the many possible documents that must be drafted, reviewed, revised, and signed before production can begin. Each film has unique challenges and advantages which must be taken into consideration when setting up its legal framework.

    If you have questions about any of the processes on this page, or if you have a concern about a legal aspect of your film, do not hesitate to call Attorney Corlandos Scott. We work with film companies and producers of all experience levels and would be happy to assist you as you move through each stage of the film production process. Call us today at (818) 707-5236 or contact us online.