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  • Collaboration Agreement – Question on International Arbitration and jurisdiction

  • Al Bergstein

    January 22, 2016 at 3:57 am

    I’ve just had an opportunity to work on a possible project with an author of a book that we both would like to try and turn into a film (documentary). The current verbal agreement we have decided on is simply to get us through a Treatment and some early pitches for funding and support. I’ve had an LA lawyer who specializes in these agreements write me a template that I’ve used successfully before, but now the writer is in Australia.

    While unlikely, we don’t understand who is the right jurisdiction for arbitration, if any is needed. My template says we use the Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services, a program of California Lawyers for the Arts, in Santa Monica, California. But neither of live in CA, and given that we are dealing with international jurisdication between Australia and the US.

    The two of us are willing to come to some agreement that is simple, but before going back to the lawyers, I was just wondering whether any of you have already had to deal with this? Is it just a simple thing of both of us agreeing to the arbiter, whether here or there, and doing a conf call or the like? Or is there a deeper hole I’m not aware of.

    We both intend to craft a much deeper agreement once we see if we can interest some bigger fish in the Treatment, and actually need to start a more thorough pre-production process, that would require significant time and money to write detailed scripts, etc.

    Anyone been through this in a cross border way like this?


  • Nick Griffin

    January 25, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    A few thoughts.

    1) Probably best not to do business with people with whom there is so little trust as to require complex legal agreements beforehand.

    2) Unless… there is a butt-load of potential pay-off involved.

    3) Your post has a question best answered by an entertainment lawyer… for a smaller butt-load of cash.

    4) These type of legal contracts can be difficult just across state borders within the US. When it’s across international borders little to any of what you have in a contract may stand-up.

    5) So, make sure the earnings (especially the gross earnings) are controlled from your country, not theirs.

    6) Please refer to #3) above. I’m NOT a lawyer but I do know how easy it is to completely ignore and violate what seem like solid contracts when they are across international borders.

  • Al Bergstein

    January 25, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks Nick. Yes, I’m generally of the same point of view. It’s not that I don’t have trust in my possible partner, but that we just want to make sure that we have something in writing that protects basics. As mentioned, I’ve worked with this kind of collaboration in the States, but as you point out, crossing international boundaries is tricky.

    Maybe the best thing on this kind of collaboration is to agree to work together just long enough to determine whether there is anything worth doing, in a real project sense. Cobble together a treatment, and some basic pitch documentation, and if there is enough interest to move beyond that into a real formal script, take it to the lawyers then. My previous collaboration was to take a book and work with the author to turn it into a script, so we needed the legal agreement to clarify what would happen if the script sold.

    That way we can both call it quits without much of an investment, by simply helping do a treatment I’m not acting in a way that would call into question the authorship of the original material he has created, and that ultimately would look to use in a script. He has subject matter expertise, but not a storyline. I have a storyline but need his subject matter expertise. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I put this out here to also help others that may find themselves in a similar situation.


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