The PGA’s Produced By Conference misnamed his his panel, said writer-producer Larry Karaszewski. “It shouldn’t have been called How Not to Get Sued,” he said, “because you can’t stop somebody from suing you. It should have been called How to Win If They Sue You.”
Moderator Winnie Wong, senior vp at Momentous Insurance Brokerage, led the panel in a lively discussion about the many ways filmmakers can find themselves in need of a good lawyer or two – as when the attorneys for Boyhood had to go back and get clearances for 12 years of filming; or when the tattoo artist who sued Warner Bros. for mimicking Mike Tyson’s facial ink on the tat they had put Ed Helm’s face in The Hangover: Part II.
Karaszewski and his writing partner Scott Alexander, who have specialized in bringing oddball characters to life in such films as Ed Wood, Big Eyes, and The People vs. Larry Flint, said there are some basic rules he follows when writing about real people: “If they are a public figure, there are certain issues; if they are dead, there are certain issues. But if they’re dead public figures, you can say just about anything.”
But even with dead public figures, he said, there can be legal issues. “Sometimes it comes down to the size of the balls of the legal team of the studio you’re at when the shit storm is coming down.”
Wong, citing the tragic death of camera assistant Sarah Jones last year during production of Midnight Rider, said that when it comes to safety on the set, the best way to not get sued – or be put in jail – is to have a safety plan and follow it. “Come up with a plan, do due diligence, and stick with it,” she said.
Legal issues, in fact, arise almost every day during filmmaking, and attorney Lisa Callif offered this advice to producers: “If you ever have the question – ‘Do I need this?’ – you probably do, so ask your lawyer.”
Filmmaking, said producer Rachel Klein, “is a crapshoot, and at the same time, it’s major planning.”