Welcome to “Cinema Law,” MovieMaker.com’s all-new blog where you ask the questions of our resident team of legal experts and, each week, they’ll provide the answers to your production queries. Have a burning question yourself? E-mail it to and your question may just be on next week’s blog! Cinema Law is presented as general information only and is not meant to take the place of professional legal advice.
Q: I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I recently completely a VFX job for a movie that has since been released. The people behind the production told me that they were giving me a credit for my VFX work. I’ve checked on IMDb and they did not give me the credit. I have all the files and I did not sign a release for my work! They did not pay me well, saying that the credit was more valuable then the money. Now I have no money nor any credit! What I should do? I would like to sue because I worked hard on this project—15-hour days to finish the job for $400 a week—and believe I’m entitled to the compensation promised.
A: I am sorry to hear what happened to you. Unfortunately, you are not alone. There are frequent industry disputes over final credits on film and television projects. In fact, such disputes are so common that, as you may know, certain guilds—the Writers Guild (WGA) and the Directors Guild (DGA), for instance—provide procedures through which their members can arbitrate regarding credits. These procedures are designed to simplify and streamline the process and make it easy for writers and directors to pursue claims if they feel that they have been wronged.
Regrettably, there is no guild coverage for visual effects professionals like you. Because of that, you don’t have the option to pursue private credit arbitration within a guild. You have no choice but to file a lawsuit for breach of contract against the production company in order to vindicate your rights.
You do not say whether or not you signed any kind of written agreement with the production company. If you did, the agreement likely had a clause stating that you could only pursue money damages (such clauses are standard in the industry). This means that you can’t seek what is known as “injunctive” or “equitable” relief. In other words, you can’t force the producer to give you a VFX credit or, for instance, to change DVD copies of the movie so that your name appears in the credits. If you did sign such an employment agreement, you could still sue for the monetary value of the VFX credit (the value is likely the amount of money that you could have made in the future as a result of the credit) and any other losses. Plus, a publicly filed lawsuit would draw attention to the fact that it is your visual effects work featured in the film.
If you did not sign an employment agreement, then your remedies are not limited in any way. You can pursue money damages and injunctive or equitable relief. You should keep in mind, though, that courts tend to favor awarding money damages rather than injunctive relief. A court may be very hesitant to force the producers to change the credits or stop the release of the film. You should consult an attorney who can give you more specific guidance about your potential claims and remedies.
Next time, it would be in your best interest to ask for a written agreement that clearly states what credit you will receive on the project. This will hopefully prevent a dispute or, if history repeats itself, allow you to easily prove what you were promised.
Jennifer McGrath, an attorney at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, a high-profile, L.A.-based entertainment litigation firm, handles a variety of entertainment litigation, intellectual property and general commercial matters. She has a diverse litigation practice in which she represents both plaintiffs and defendants in cases involving contractual disputes across a wide range of industries, as well as cases involving idea submissions, copyright infringement and unfair competition. In 2007, McGrath was named a “2007 Southern California Rising Star” by the publishers of Los Angeles Magazine. She is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (B.A., 1997, History) and the University of California, Los Angeles (J.D., 2000).
The answers to legal questions provided by the lawyers of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, LLP (“KWIKA”) are for general education and information purposes only, and are not legal advice or legal opinions. The information provided in the articles is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship between KWIKA and you. The opinions expressed in the postings are the opinions of the authors and do not reflect the opinions of KWIKA, its employees or agents.