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Video: Getting the Most from Shake’s Film & Video Legal Production Templates

by Eric Spiegelman

Video: Getting the Most from Shake’s Film & Video Legal Production Templates

Shake now offers a free bundle of 20 legal templates for film and video production. Let’s take a look at what the documents are for and how to get the most from them.


Every work of filmed entertainment, including web series and short films, is the collective product of several creative contributions. An actor’s performance, the costume designer’s clothing, the photography of the director of photography — all of these are separate works of art, which the producer combines into a single collective work. Since each individual work of art is protected by copyright law on its own, it’s the producer’s job to gather all of these separate copyrights together. That’s what  Shake’s Film & Video Production Legal templates do.

If you’re a producer,  you want to gather all the rights together is so that your project can get distribution. If you sell your show to a distributor, the distributor will require “legal delivery” before it pays you. You will provide them with all of the contracts that transfer all of the cast and crew’s individual rights in the film to the producer.

It’s much easier to get these contracts done at the outset of production than it is to go back and do it after the fact, after a distributor has put financial terms on the table. The reason is leverage. If any one person’s contract isn’t finished, that person can threaten the entire fate of the film by refusing to sign. That’s a situation you want to avoid. Fortunately, Shake makes the contracting process simple and manageable, so you can easily get all of your contracts done early in the production process.

Getting the Most from Shake’s Film & Video Production Legal Templates from Shake.


Now, a bit about the templates in the Shake production bundle. There are contracts for your “above-the-line” talent, which includes your lead actors, your director, and other producers on the project. There’s a separate agreement for “day players,” or minor actors that appear as extras or maybe have just a few lines.

There are also contracts for your department heads, which include the director of photography, production designer, costume designer, casting director (with related casting agreements), composer, and editor. We also included the hair and makeup coordinator in this list.

There are some licensing and permissions forms included, as well. There’s a name and likeness release, for people who appear on camera but are not actors, such as people you may interview in the course of filming a documentary. There’s a location release, for when you need permission to film on private property. There’s an artwork release, which you use when a poster or a painting or other work of art gets caught on camera. And there are also two music license forms. If you want to include the recording of a song in your project, you need to use both the master use license and the sync license. The master use license is for the owner of the copyright in the recording, and the sync license is for the owner of the copyright in the songwriting.

The terms of a production contract are often subject to negotiation. On short films where cast and crew work as a favor to the producer, or on web series with a limited budget, detailed negotiations might not be possible since the producer will likely not hire a lawyer. We drafted the templates in the Shake bundle to anticipate the most important requests of the cast and crew, so that negotiation of the finer points is less necessary. The blanks left for you to fill in reflect deal terms that are always open for negotiation and cannot be reduced to a standardized business decision. Of course, you can customize any part of the document before signing.

There’s one more template in the bundle that will make your life easier. This is the loan-out conversion letter. Anyone you ask to sign one of these contracts should sign in their capacity as an individual. Sometimes, however, an actor or department head will ask that you engage their “loan-out corporation” and pay that entity instead of engaging the individual herself. When this happens, have the individual sign the services contract, and then have their corporate entity sign the loan-out conversion letter. 

As with any standardized forms, the Shake Film & Video Legal Production Bundle might not be right for you. The legal adequacy of any form ultimately depends in part on user input, and Shake does not review user input. If you require legal help with your specific situation, please consult a licensed attorney in your area.

Eric Spiegelman began practicing law in 2003 at a small firm specializing in motion picture development and production. From 2006-2007 he ran legal for the website This Just In, an early foray by HBO into original video content for the Internet. He took a break from law to produce original web series from 2008-2010. His most successful series was Old Jews Telling Jokes, which was adapted into an Off-Broadway play, a television series in the UK, and a book published by Random House (all of which he handled legal for). In 2011 he went back to law and opened up a solo practice, where he represents film producers and production companies, television producers, and YouTube creators.