Making the Most of It: Workshops on Law and Marketing in Film

Sabrina McMillin

Like many people who aspire to create films or web series, I started out armed with a camcorder, a MacBook and the Final Cut Pro editing suite. If I was lucky, I’d use whatever additional equipment my university would let me borrow. More often than not, though, I have relied on windows and natural lighting. The sound quality from my camera’s internal microphone leaves something to be desired, though there is plenty of tinkering that can be done in post-production. At the end of my creative process, I am usually exhausted and proud of my project, which I upload to YouTube or Vimeo.

If this process sounds familiar, you might notice a couple of aspects that I missed — copyright and marketing. Hobbyists may be unfazed by legal concerns; I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you were thinking “Hey, I’m not making any money off this video, so why should I care?” Still, I believe at least a basic understanding of one’s rights in production and distribution are healthy for any content creator. This is one of the many reasons the Global Impact Film Festival included workshops focused on these topics. While I spent a lot of my time as a festival host running around and coordinating whatever was next, I had the privilege of sitting in on two workshops that helped me better understand cultivating creative success.

Protecting Your Creative Content was one of the most insightful workshops I’ve attended in my entire life, more helpful than some of the courses I paid for in college! Professor John Simson, the Executive-in-Residence at American University’s Kogod School of Business, offered a much-needed crash course on copyright and legal representation for festival attendees. As an entertainment lawyer, Simson has represented and advised artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Harry Belafonte. A good-humored man, he delighted his fellow creative types with a story about his experience as an opening act for Jethro Tull. Most importantly, he educated filmmakers on master use licenses, fair use exceptions, and how to find inexpensive or free legal representation through pro bono organizations such as the Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law Section of the D.C. Bar, of which he is an active member.

Making an Impactful Documentary with Aldo Bello inspired confidence for many attendees. Bello is a long-time DC-area director, producer and co-owner of the local strategic communications company Mind & Media, Inc. While I wasn’t familiar with Bello until we met at GIFF, I was already familiar with his film Dream: An American Story and the waves it has made on the Internet. Bello used his Emmy Award-winning documentary about the DREAM Act and undocumented immigrants to show the journey of successful filmmaking, beginning with a strong sense of intellectual curiosity. He stressed that “doing your homework” is key to getting the time and support of experts on a particular subject matter. Whenever I want to write a pilot or plan my next film, I will remember Aldo Bello’s advice. After all, knowing your stuff is everything.

While the GIFF workshops are roughly 1-2 hours long and one can’t expect to learn all that they need to from such brief sessions, I believe they provide attendees with the tools that will have them asking the right questions of the right people to create globally-impactful films.

Author: DCBX

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