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Is independent filmmaking illegal?

By C. A. Passinault
Tampa Bay Film

Any use of this web site requires that you read and agree to our terms of use and read our legal disclaimer. Do so before reading further. Thank you.

The following information, written on the morning of December 21, 2023, and uploaded and deployed on the Tampa Bay Film web site on the morning of December 27, 2023, is my opinion.
I do not guarantee this information, as it is about third parties beyond my control. Take it as you will, and use it as a starting point in your research, research that has to be done if you are serious about making and selling independent films.
Don’t take my word for it. Look it up. You cannot take the risk of ignoring this information.
It is also my opinion that this information, once it becomes known (and it will become know, increasing he risk to filmmakers whom choose to ignore it), will change everything about how independent films are made, and if they are even made available to sell.
This is not advice, and should not be taken as advice. Use at your own risk.
I did some research over the past few years, and I have determined that many independent films made in Florida are illegal. This came about because I was ramping up operations for the production of my own independent films, and I am bound by these same rules and conditions that other independent filmmakers are bound by.
How is this so? Read on.

Independent Film Production
Many independent films are produced illegally because they are, technically, according to the IRS, businesses with employees.
Most are not done that way. Most, in fact, don’t even have business licences, nor do they use any kind of contracts, waivers, or releases, including the absolutely critical Work For Hire Agreement.
Without a signed Work for Hire agreement, you can’t even prove copyright ownership of the work, and that is just only one example of why legal paperwork is important.
As a result, the cost of making independent films will increase by a factor of ten. This is especially true if you try to make indie films like a traditional movie. The more pretentious that your production is and the more that you agree to, the more expensive that it will be to make independent films, in many cases in ways that you cannot control or get ahead of.
Give a little, give a lot. You alone open the door to much higher costs if you make concessions that give such costs leverage.
If you pay talent or crew, you had better to be prepared to pay a lot more, as they will then be able to come back at you for back wages on minimum wage and you can get hit with penalties by not having things such as Workers’ Comp Coverage, or Worker’s Compensation Insurance, which you have to have if you have four or more employees. Employees? What about using independent contractors? Well, I looked, and, unfortunately, the IRS doesn’t see it that way, and they won’t accept it. Declaring it so in your legal contracts won’t change a thing, either. The IRS has the power to determine what you are doing is defined as, and it doesn’t look good for most independent filmmakers. The law doesn’t seem to be on our side, and they don’t care what you are trying to do.
They do not care, and if you ignore this, you are opening yourself up to all sorts of problems’ you will get burned.
If the IRS determines that your cast and crew are employees, and it looks like they will, You need to pay minimum wage, you need Workers’ Comp coverage, and your need to treat them as employees. You also have to comply with labor laws. You had better have money above and beyond what it takes to make an independent film; you are going to have to start a business to do it.
Don’t pay minimum wage? Your cast and crew can come after you for back wages as well as penalties, too. Can you trust them not to do that?
It only takes one person to come after you and to burn you, and most independent filmmakers can’t afford that. They can end your filmmaking career.
Oh, and that business had better be an LLC, or you open yourself up to personal liability. You may want to have some cash to put a good attorney on retainer, as well.
It’s going to be too expensive for many filmmakers to make films. Even a short film will cost thousands, and you will have to pay it.
For charity? We all know what that it really about. You either better be able to prove that you are donating to a charity that has a 501(C)3, or had better set up a business with one.

Indie Films With Obscene Content
This one won’t affect as many independent filmmakers, but it will some.
Some filmmakers can’t write or tell a good story, and could care less about characters or character development, so they compensate by making films with controversial or shocking content, such as excessive violence, gore, Nud!ty, and other things that they think will make what they call independent films “sell”.
Free speech and freedom of expression will not protect the independent filmmaker who pushes it too far and creates content which the community could consider to be obscene.
These idiots make all independent filmmakers look bad, and make it more difficult for legitimate indie filmmakers to make films without being hassled or harrassed.
There is a case about a “filmmaker” in South Florida whom made videos with extreme content. He was arrested, prosecuted, and spent time in prison. The case, ironically, was tried in Tampa.
Feel free to look it up.
The risk of criminal charges and jail time is real. It could also be argued that every single person whom helps you make that film can also be charged and prosecuted.
Not so cool, now, is it?
It doesn’t matter what you think or how you feel. It doesn’t matter how your friends or your small group of fans that buy your garbage feel.
What would a jury of average people say that your film is if they saw it? It matters, because their judgement will be the one that sends you and your friends to prison.
Be cause I care about local independent film and its reputation, I’ll tell you what I would do if I saw an independent film with no redeeming qualities and obscene content. I’d let law enforcement know about it, as well as the District Attorney and the Attorney Ggeneral of Florida. If that didn’t yield results, I would contact the media, such as the News Assignment Desk of the local Television Stations. If that didn’t work, I’d get my friends and others involved, and we would all start making calls.
That would open an investigation, and the filmmaker and their buddies would be held accountable.
If I were these filmmakers, I would stop selling my films.
You never know who will see it; it’s too much of a risk.

UPDATED 12/27/23/0404/


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