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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Spiller

The 10 Essential Provisions in a Film Distribution Agreement: A Guide for the Smart Film Producer

Updated: Dec 31

A picture of two people shaking hands after making a deal

As a film producer, one of the most thrilling moments in your career might be when you're watching your film premiere at an internationally renowned film festival like Cannes, Berlin, or the American Film Market (AFM). But before you can bask in that glory, there's a crucial step you can't overlook: nailing the film distribution, or sales, agreement. Working closely with an experienced entertainment lawyer can help ensure your hard work pays off. Here are the ten most important film distribution agreement provisions to consider.

1. Clear Definition of Rights

One common mistake film producers make is unclear about the specific rights they are selling. Are you selling TV rights? Streaming rights? Theatrical release? Make sure your contract specifies the medium, territory, and duration of the rights granted.

2. Delivery Date and Materials

These provisions cover when the film is delivered and the materials included (e.g., trailers, behind-the-scenes footage). Any delays can cause costly distribution issues, so this must be clear from the outset.

3. Representations and Warranties

The film producer must represent and warrant several things, like ownership of the film and that it doesn't infringe on any third-party rights. An entertainment lawyer can guide you to avoid errors here.

4. Payment Terms

This is the heart of the deal, but unfortunately, it's also where many film producers trip up. Be sure that the agreement includes a clear schedule of payments, specifying amounts, and due dates. Watch out for hidden costs or vague language that could leave you out of pocket.

5. Credit and Marketing Obligations

Credit provisions dictate who gets acknowledged and how, while marketing obligations cover how the film will be promoted. For instance, who must attend film festivals such as Cannes or Berlin? These stipulations need to be detailed.

6. Contingencies

What if your film doesn't get accepted into Cannes? What if the market conditions change? Having contingency clauses in your agreement allows for flexibility and protects both parties.

7. Breach and Termination

What happens if one party does not fulfill their obligations? Termination rights and breach provisions are key to protecting your interests. Unfortunately, some producers fail to address these concerns adequately, leading to regrettable legal battles.

8. Confidentiality

Confidentiality clauses protect your intellectual property and business strategy. I recall a producer who failed to include this clause, resulting in plot leaks that dampened their film's premiere at AFM. Don't make the same mistake!

9. Indemnification

This protects you if a third party sues the distributor for something that falls under your responsibility, like a copyright infringement claim. An entertainment lawyer can help ensure this provision doesn’t unfairly shift the burden to the producer.

10. Dispute Resolution

If disagreements occur, you’ll want to have a defined process in place. Some film producers overlook this, leading to lengthy, costly court disputes. Whether it’s arbitration, mediation, or litigation, decide on a dispute resolution method and specify it in your agreement.

The Value of an Entertainment Lawyer in Negotiating Film Distribution Agreement Provisions

Whether you're a first-time film producer or a seasoned professional, navigating film sales agreements can be complex. Yet, they are critical to the success of your project. By ensuring that you're thoroughly prepared and informed, you're not just signing an agreement; you're building the foundations of your film's success. Always collaborate with a knowledgeable entertainment lawyer to understand and negotiate the best terms for your sales agreement. They will provide the necessary guidance, help identify potential risks, and ensure your rights are fully protected.

In closing, every film producer dreams of showcasing their work to a global audience, garnering rave reviews at Cannes, Berlin, or AFM. To achieve this, it's crucial to remember that making a film isn't just about the creative process; it's also about protecting your work, rights, and profits. Pay close attention to the essential provisions in your film sales agreement and work closely with an entertainment lawyer to avoid common negotiation errors. That way, you can focus on what you do best: making great films.

Spiller Law is an advisor to startup businesses, entertainment and media companies, and artists. Feel free to schedule a free consultation.


Spiller Law is a San Francisco business, entertainment, and estate planning law firm. We serve clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and California. Feel free to arrange a free consultation using the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, call our offices at 415-991-7298.


The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their legal counsel for specific advice.


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