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What kind of help do you need from lawyers?

Hi All!

I've recently decided to become a self-employed media lawyer (having worked full-time as a media lawyer before :)).

To help me help producers, I'd be really grateful for your thoughts: are there any questions that you as filmmakers have? Or any problems that keep coming up on an ongoing basis? Any big stumbling blocks?

I'm also making my own docs, so I know how difficult it is to be across the creative and the legal side!

Best wishes

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  • If you wanted to do something name building NOW, it might be worth looking at insurance contracts and assessing where a production would stand in law if their star/director couldn't arrive on the expected date due to flight suspension and quarentine issues. So productions delayed, maybe cancelled.

    Is CV (and all that follows), an uninsured "Act of God", or would a claim for full consequential loss succeed?

    The lawyer who writes the paper now is the one whose name comes up in Google when the disputes start, and wins the business :-)

    2 weeks ago
    • Oh that's a great idea! Yes, usually the insurance should cover those things, but of course quarantine might constitute an exception under the relevant insurance policy. Great thought, thank you!

      2 weeks ago
    • @Silvia Schmidt
      Some insurers we use for media placement are placing Coronavirus exclusions on the policy schedules at the moment. Marlom, most of these would be covered under a production indemnity policy, however thorough review of the policy wording/schedules is best practice.

      4 days ago
    • @Kris Barnfather Oh that's interesting! I've previously worked with an insurance advisor ( - he's been great at analysing the insurance policy that's been offered and negotiating with the insurers to ensure that the film is properly insured, etc.!

      3 days ago
  • Well you did ask Silvia ! That's a proverbial sixty four thousand dollar question with a pandora's box of answers.

    An ideal lawyer would of course need to be learned, competent and know when and how to challenge presumption, even when a presumption is asserted by an entity of perceived seniority or grandeur; perhaps especially so.

    A lot of what a lawyer does is to provide practical working alignments between people and their aspirations, through applying and refitting contractual structures that have already been well developed by conventions, practice and precedents.

    An example of good advocacy is the ability to resolve some of the more existential conundrums such as original thought, intellectual property and what constitutes reasonableness and unreasonableness in Law. Conundrums best informed by reference to constitutional and Common Law principles rather more than by uncritical acceptance of statutory legislation. It does require special effort. Lawyers able to function beyond the glass ceiling of statutory presumption are absolute treasures.

    In my somewhat lacking humility and strident opinion, a good lawyer ought to have the sort of fundamental knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles that all and any statute legislation ultimately must comply with if it's to be effective within a specific context, let alone actually lawful.

    It's been my experience that the actual constitutional arrangements that exist in English and Scottish Law have not been properly taught in our law schools resulting in a widely held misguided belief that ordinary Statutes can and have lawfully overcome our Constitutional Instruments and Common Law. The true significance of the two Miller v Government cases in the Supreme Court have yet be fully understood by many because those judgements challenge the notion of Parliaments constitutional supremacy and those lawyers who believe that we don't have a true separation of powers.

    "The Crown is as much Sovereign in the Courts as it is in Parliament"

    So much of what has been allowed
    through the lack of learned and competent challenge has or ought, in the Supreme Court's good time, be found to be unlawful, provided Johnson's government is defeated in its brazen attempt to usurp the sovereignty of Her Majesty's Courts.

    It's been clear to me, after winning some 60 times in over 70 cases since 1974, without my having any certified qualifications or formal training, and more often than not against lawyers, sometimes teams of them, in just about every kind of venue below the Supreme Court, that common sense in Common Law can be more empowering than many an astonished lawyer relying upon convoluted technicalities had expected.

    Point being that any issue, whether it be contracts or dealing with forceful challenges, particularly from statutory authorities, requires creative constitutional thinking and freedom from the sort of dogmas that can entrench matters and people in unwanted quagmires.

    That's the experience and observation that I'd contribute to any general question about law and how it ought to apply to people's affairs, whether in terms of media or any other facet of being alive.

    Wishing you a happy, successful and liberating practice Silvia

    2 weeks ago
    • Dear John

      Many thanks for your useful thoughts and wise insights.

      May I ask, have you ever come across any legal issues on a media project / production?

      Best wishes

      2 weeks ago
    • @Silvia Schmidt many times Silvia. Mostly regarding IP issues, taxes, VAT and employment law as it concerns HMRC and their notions of what constitutes self employment.

      Because I've not solely produced anything with a budget of more than six figures and only been a principal part of three seven figure dramatic features, of which only one has actually been produced so far, I've not had to draw up contracts for them, I've been able to knock up contractual agreements relatively easily for the numerous commercial, factual and documentary projects we've done.

      1 week ago
  • Hi Silvia,

    What an interesting proposition. I've been thinking about it a bit.

    I think from SP members viewpoint, some super simple outline deal sheets might be a good resource for the community - perhaps someone from SP itself might comment?

    From a personal viewpoint, well I have a feature coming up, non-union shoot, so there will need to be a bit of legal work... PM me if you'd like to chat about what we can do on that side of things :)

    1 week ago
    • That's a great idea! I'll have a think about what might be possible.

      1 week ago
    • @Silvia Schmidt
      Hi Silvia, thank you so much for your input! If you do happen to have or would like to share some resources with the SP community, it would indeed be brilliant to incorporate these into the Resources page. Feel free to email me at

      1 day ago
  • Hiya,

    one thing actually I never really quite get is exactly what is the legal suggestion when someone is late on their payments/not paying you a month after invoice has been sent?

    3 days ago
    • It's annoying but a fact of life. 30 days is standard when dealing with companies and councils of any size.

      I was always told that no matter what the contractual terms might say, the courts expect the debt to be at least 90 days old before you involve them. Large companies are famous for paying on day 90. Their suppliers just know to factor it in.

      2 days ago
    • There's a biiig company I brushed against who automatically discount your invoice by a few percent in exchange for paying it on time. How shitty is that?!

      2 days ago
  • Preparing contracts for distribution, and preparing the film and it's pre-sell state for distribution contracts.

    Also, there's a legal term, whereby a distributor takes on all the obligations of the production company. Like if a contract states that a player gets residuals, then the distributor will be responsible for paying out the residuals.

    Basically, distribution tips would be really helpful. Also, any fundraising / financing advice, to ensure that everything is legal and investors are properly informed about what they are getting into.

    5 hours ago