FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHAT IF YOUR PRODUCER GOES BANKRUPT?
Independent film is, unfortunately at times, a cyclical business. In 2002 we commissioned producer Bergen Swanson to write “Hollywood or Bust: What if Your Producer Goes Bankrupt.” It was relevant then and may be relevant at now. It’s in our Web Exclusives. Here’s a taste:
YOU’VE DONE IT! The screenplay you’ve been slaving over for months has finally been optioned by an edgy production company noted for offbeat films. Or, the movie that has consumed your life for the past two years has been picked up by a noted distributor. Emptying out your savings, selling your comic book collection, sleeping on friends’ couches – it’s all been worth it. But then the unthinkable happens. The company that bought your film or script files for bankruptcy, and your project gets thrown into legal limbo, possibly never to see the light of day.
A far-fetched scenario? The sudden demise of companies like The Shooting Gallery and, most recently Propaganda Films, the noted commercial and film production house and home for filmmakers like Spike Jonze, reminds us all of the financial instability of independent film. And although ex-executives and lawyers are reluctant to comment on record, these companies – and the scores of lesser known ones that have been cratered during this entertainment industry recession – controlled dozens of projects, whether they be acquired books, optioned screenplays or produced or acquired films. The acquisitions or production executives, the “friends of the filmmaker,” who brought those projects into their companies and have been pink-slipped away, and anxious independents have now been left to bargain with bankers and court appointed trustees in order to regain the rights to their material.
Although it can be difficult to disentangle one’s work once a company has entered bankruptcy, by understanding bankruptcy and its legal workings when first negotiating his or her deal, a filmmaker can obtain some degree or protection should a production or distribution company go belly up.