Career Tip For Filmmakers: Don't Drag Others Into Your Legal Matters Until You Have To

To Whom It May Concern: Recently, an e-mail was sent to your film festival, informing you about a possible litigation between the Executive Producers of  *********, and the Director, **************.

This dispute is a result of  *******refusing to meet with the Executive Producers to discuss the editing and approval of the final version of the film. Furthermore, he did not receive approval from us to submit the film, ******* to film festivals. In an act of betrayal, ******** delivered an empty hard drive to us, which he had previously promised would contain the full footage and final version of the film, ******.  The Executive Producers still do not have the final version or footage of the film, ********* in their possession, despite repeated requests by phone, e-mail and certified letter to **********.  He ignored all deadlines and any and all attempts from the Executive Producers to obtain the footage of the film.

In addition to investing money, the Executive Producers invested considerable time and energy, and utilized professional contacts, putting our own reputations on the line.  ********* would not have been able to complete the production of  ******** without our finances, efforts and industry contacts.

After careful consideration and consultation with our entertainment lawyers, the Executive Producers of the short film, *********, have decided at this time not to take legal action against ***********.

Although the film, ********, does not represent the product that the Executive Producers had envisioned, we feel that it would be a waste of our time, energy and financial resources to enter into a legal dispute with such an untrustworthy character.  Such a lawsuit would cost us far more than the actual value of the film.  We are very disappointed in *******, the end product and absolutely do not approve of the final version of the film, *********.

We wish your festival all the best.


Executive Producers

This year will be my 4th Atlanta Film Festival, and I've yet to not get at least one email each year asking us to please disqualify or ignore a potential submission because the submitter didn't have the rights to the film in question. As illustrated by the correspondence above, it's usually the producers and director engaged in a battle over who has final control of the footage, privilege of final cut and who, ultimately, owns the final product.

These disputes occur more often than folks think. And knowing how much time, money and sweat can go into a film, it's understandable why filmmakers on either side fight so hard. However, randomly emailing third-parties because you think the folks you're feuding with might have sent the film to others, is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea.

In this case, the film wasn't even submitted to us. So it just feels weird to be dragged into what is essentially a stranger's creative divorce.  Then there's the fact that what you see above is a follow up email. Yes, they had already emailed us once before and this is where they're having to backtrack after they've realized that they've got little to gain if they move forward. Frankly, I could have probably told them the same thing for free. I had a friend who spent two years trying to get a printer to return the money she gave him to print her book. He not only didn't print the book, he spent the money on equipment for himself. When it was all said and done, the cost of legal fees was going to surpass what she originally lost.

And I know the filmmakers think they've crafted some calmly worded, dispassionate emails. Which to a degree they have. However, call it anger, call it passion, there's still a lot of emotion packed into nearly every one of these sentences. To some, this can be endearing--as former or current filmmakers and/or just creative types, they get it. For others, this could be a huge turn off. If whoever they're emailing falls under the former, then any future dealings, if they even remember this at all, may be for the good. If it's the later, they better hope folks forget they even got this email.

Lastly, what if people actually respond well to the film? It may not be the producer's vision, that doesn't mean the film won't find favorable responses. Film history is filled with stories of movies that either the producers or directors were unhappy with and those movies either became critical or even financial hits. Sticking to your guns is admirable, but that virtue can't totally erase the fact that, depending your goals, you backed the wrong horse. True, it's a bit different for indie film, but the underlying principles are the same.

I didn't post this to embarrass the filmmakers that sent this to me, but to use it as a learning exercise. I've gotten these emails before*, and as long as I'm at the festival, I'll probably get more. Hopefully, a few filmmakers who find themselves in this same predicament will read this and think long and hard before they click send.

* In fact I've also gotten a form of these emails when I was working on the 48 Hour Film Project.