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What are the legal essentials for filmmakers?

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Independent filmmakers are an inspiration to viewers and fellow filmmakers in their ability to voice their creative visions through films and documentaries. If you are a filmmaker and have the unique ability to create an art form through your camera, it is worth your while to think about the legal essentials to directing and producing films.

Why consider the legals?

There are many factors involved with creating a film. You need to make sure that you have considered all of these factors to minimise your risk and protect your work.

Do I need permission to shoot on location?

Generally, if you are filming home videos at your local park or at another public place, you will not need permission from authorities for filming on location. However, if you set up props for your film at a particular location, bring cast and crew to and from the location and use the set for a considerable period of time, it is likely that you will need permission to shoot there.

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Your license to shoot on location

You can set out your rights and responsibilities when shooting on location in a licence agreement between you and the location facilitator. A licence agreement sets out the terms on which you can shoot on location, any fees payable and what happens if something goes wrong on set. You need to make sure that the licence agreement protects your legal interests. It is a good idea to get a lawyer to draft this agreement for you.

If you are looking for a location to film at in New South Wales, Screen NSW can help you find the perfect location! Check out the website at http://www.screen.nsw.gov.au/index.php

Agreements with your cast and crew

Creating a film is a group effort.  Films and documentaries depend on the cooperation of a team of cast and crew, who can work together to create, develop, produce and market the end product to the public.

If you need the assistance of a cast and crew to create your film, you should think about the types of agreements that you can enter into with them. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Confidentiality Agreement

If you impart confidential information to any party, then the recipient should sign a confidentiality agreement. Confidentiality agreements set out how confidential information is to be treated, when it can be disclosed and when it cannot be disclosed.


  • Contractors Contracts – Cast

If you hire a cast, it is wise to have a contractors contract in place to set out the obligations of the cast for your film. Contractors are different from employees and they can be contracted into various roles depending on your needs as a film maker. The contract will include the rate that you will pay your cast, working hours, specific roles, insurance and liability.

  • Service Agreement – Crew

A service agreement sets out the service that a service provider (generally a company) will provide to you, for example, production or marketing. It sets out what services you are purchasing, timelines, requirements, responsibilities, how disputes can be resolved, how confidential information is protected and how intellectual property created during the filmmaking process is treated.

The agreements that you can draft can differ depending on what you need from your cast and crew, your particular film production and your personal preferences as a filmmaker. For this reason, it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer who can help you decide exactly what legal documents you need, and what they need to contain, for your film.

Protecting your intellectual property

Protecting intellectual property is a huge concern for many filmmakers. When you are sourcing media attention regarding your film you may share your ideas with many people both in person and through social media networks. You may have a distinct style of film making, a script and screenplay that you have developed, or a series of logos that you use to identify you work. All of these materials qualify as intellectual property that you can exercise your rights over in order to prevent infringement or breach by third parties.

Your creative work (such as a media release, image or film) has automatic copyright protection under the Copyright Act.  This means that you own it and you can decide who can use it, and how they can use it.  It is wise to show who created the work with a copyright notice on creative work.  A copyright notice is as follows: © [Creator name] [year]. For example, © LegalVision 2014.

Registering your trademarks requires a registration process.  If you register trademarks, you have certain rights to protect the material and prevent others from using the material without your prior authorisation. You should speak to a lawyer about protecting your intellectual property as soon as possible to minimise the risk of breaches or infringement later on down the track.

Respecting the intellectual property of others

An important consideration is whether you want to use the intellectual property of other parties during the filmmaking process. For example, do you use music from third parties in your films? Do you use certain stock images in your films to break up your footage? Do you incorporate logos of companies that appear on your set and in your footage?

If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions then you need to buy the work or otherwise negotiate a license to use the creative work.  If you use copyright material without the owner’s consent, you could be held liable for breaching their intellectual property rights. This is breach of the law could affect your reputation as a filmmaker and will divert precious time and resources away from the production of your film if you are defending your actions in court or in a tribunal.


At LegalVision, we love supporting filmmakers and those involved in the arts who bring passion and creativity to our everyday lives. If you are a filmmaker and you would like to discuss your legal rights and issues, please contact us for a no-cost assessment on 1300 455 755. Contact LegalVision for a fixed-fee quote today!

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Savitha Swami

Savitha Swami

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