After all the media coverage of the fall of Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, and countless others in Hollywood, there is a need for production companies and studios to protect themselves when hiring talent. A good entertainment law attorney is most helpful in developing talent casting processes, ensuring compliance with local and state labor laws and establishing fairness in the process. A little proactive lawyering is worth insulating the company from future potential costly legal action.
One of the primary reasons for engaging in legal counsel is to develop a casting process that insulates the production company from accusations of discrimination or unfair hiring practices. On a typical casting call there may thousands of potential applicants. One of the benefits of hiring legal counsel is that the legal counsel can develop a book of potential applicants. Those applicants can then be vetted to ensure reliability and accountability.
Recently, a client of mine needed to hire five actors that had special skillsets to appear in a film with a nationwide production. In this situation, my client was able to rely upon the searchable protected database and locate specific talents who had the necessary skillsets for the film.
An additional reason for engaging in the legal counsel is compliance. The many states have specialized laws that need to be complied with for hiring. Additionally, the federal government has statutes which must be complied; otherwise the company will be left exposed to potentially costly legal action. Another legal consideration is ensuring that compliance with various state statutes. California and Florida are two states where there is a significant amount of film production. Not surprisingly, both California and Florida have two of the most comprehensive talent production statutes. By having legal counsel assist with the hiring process, the legal counsel will help guide the production company in determination the most advantageous locale to shoot. Recently, I had a client concerned about environmental production laws affecting a shoot in Southern California. Therefore, it was determined to move the shoot to a locale which would be less restrictive.
One recent issue that has arisen with hiring of talent is whether the talent is considered an employee or independent contractor. There can be certain language written into the agreements between the talent and hiring company which make clear the relationship between the talent and company. There may be certain advantages to consider in having the talent be an independent contractor. Some of these advantages include simplification regarding compensation. However, there may also be advantages, especially when using the same talent in multiple roles for having the talent be considered an employee. By having the talent be defined as an employee, it may allow for that talent to be used exclusively by the production company.
Even on a more basic level, legal counsel is absolutely necessary when production companies are involved in formation. Production companies must be aware of the various type of corporate formation and make an informed decision upon which type of company to begin. These various corporate structures include partnerships, limited liability companies, “s” and “c” corporations, and even not for profit corporations. Legal counsel is necessary to protect the company in development of the shareholder agreements, collaboration agreement, joint and co-production agreements.
These decisions at the commencement of a new business will be a type of proactive lawyering that I preach to my clients. I always want my clients to make decisions before trouble occurs. By thinking about the worst case scenario when times are good, this will allow insulation and works to prevent catastrophic harm.
Another major legal hurdle for which it benefits having legal counsel deals with working with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). SAG is basically a union for those talent which are members. In agreements, with SAG talent, there are certain guidelines regarding the amount of pay to the talent. Pay is often dependent upon the project size and scope. SAG also has many specialized nuances which legal counsel is great at navigating. Some of these nuances include the amount of consecutive hours a talent may work on set, to when mandatory the time and duration of lunch breaks. Fortunately, SAG has many local offices throughout the country, which allows for ease of communication. SAG also requires numerous documents be completed regarding cataloging talent work schedules and time worked. Legal counsel will frequently assist in navigating these documents, and ensuring systems are in place for the production company to stay well organized and in compliance.
Overall, there are many benefits for Production Companies hiring legal counsel. As illustrated above, a little proactive lawyering will go a long way in project success.