Understanding Entertainment Contracts: Deliverables

When you’re reviewing your contract with a distributor, be sure to pay special attention to the Deliverables attachment before you sign the agreement. It can be a minefield for the unwary filmmaker, and one that is often overlooked. Sometimes, the distributor will not even provide its list of deliverables with the first draft. Ask for it.

What Are Deliverables?

In the context of a distribution agreement, deliverables are the materials that a distributor needs in order to release the film. It might include a negative from which to make prints for theatrical release, or it might be a color corrected video version for television broadcast or DVD release. It may specify the particular format for the soundtrack or versions with and without subtitles.

Deliverables also include publicity materials, such as photographs, biographical materials, and perhaps behind-the-scenes footage.

Whatever the form of your other deliverables, you will always need to deliver the legal documentation proving that you own all the elements of your picture. Without the assurance that it has a legal right to do so, no distributor is going to take the risk of releasing your film.

Why is This Important?

Creating each of the deliverables has a price tag attached to it and you want to keep your costs down as much as possible.

Often, the distributor will give you its comprehensive boilerplate list of things to be delivered. This may include things the distributor doesn’t actually need from you because of the type of release it is doing for you. So, your first task is to scrutinize the list and query anything you don’t already have, or anything you think they don’t actually need. Many times you can have some items removed from this list of required deliverables.

Typically, the distribution agreement will say that the distributor has the right to create any deliverables you don’t provide. The problem with this is that the distributor will bill you for these costs–at a premium–and deduct them from your share of the income. This may result in your seeing very little money, or a long delay before you get paid, from a small release. You may be able to create the deliverables yourself, or get them done less expensively than the distributor.

Legal Deliverables

The amount of legal documentation may vary from distributor to distributor, but generally includes all the contracts for each person working on the production. It also includes the chain of title for the screenplay and picture, location and prop releases, music releases, and the like. Required documentation may also include an errors and omissions insurance policy, title and clearance reports, and an MPAA rating.

If you engage an attorney from the outset of your production, legal delivery can be relatively inexpensive and straightforward. Usually, the work your attorney is doing as he goes along will include the deliverables you need. If you wait until after the production is completed to hire an attorney, it can be very expensive for the attorney to go back and re-create the documents you need to deliver.

The best advice I can give any filmmaker is to prevent problems by engaging an attorney early in the process, and hire a knowledgeable attorney to review your distribution agreement and negotiate your deliverables.

For more information about deliverables and contracts, be sure to get a copy of What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About the Law, which is available at a discount to my readers.

If you’d like my help with your production or your agreements, click the “Production Counsel Website” link above.

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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