On Friday, October 21, 2016, Hal “Corky” Kessler, famed Chicago Entertainment lawyer and producer spent three hours with New York Film Academy’s Producing students. Some of Kessler’s projects include Russell Crowe’s international debut “The Sum of Us,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “Steel Magnolias.”
Kessler ran the lecture as an open conversation, allowing students to interject with questions or comments at will. Students were walked through the process of making difficult legal decisions when attempting to get a project off the ground.
His first big piece of advice was to always have an independently hired lawyer. Don’t let an agent negotiate contracts because agents will work out a deal in their best interest, not the client’s.
Kessler’s next tip was a personal hang up. Chain of Document is a legal term that denotes the transfer of ownership from one person to the next. For example, when a creator writes and copyrights a script, the next step in a successful journey is to sell that script. Where many beginners run into problems is they work with a partner and now that partner claims part ownership. Other mistakes include not getting the copyright, making verbal agreements without ever getting legally binding backup, and, of course, signing contracts without a lawyer.
If Chain of Document isn’t followed, not only is distribution impossible, but neither is Errors and Omissions Insurance (ERO). ERO protects the creators if they make a mistake in crediting another artist on the project. Without ERO, no distribution company or privately owned theater will touch a film.
Students were interested in Kessler’s Hollywood stories. Kessler wove tales of Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto. He recounted giving speeches every year and stories of after parties with a lively, almost fairytale-like, demeanor.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Kessler for taking the time to come speak with our students. If any of our readers attend the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, or Toronto International Film Festival, we’d like to encourage you to check out one of Kessler’s annual speaking engagements.