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Pocket Legal

0816bookrevpocketlabf616 The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers is extremely expensive for a paperback and weighs more than it looks like it should. Why? Because it provides a readable map through the world of legalese and contract negotiations for any filmmaker interested in doing pretty much all his or her own producing legwork. This alone makes it a worthwhile read for do-it-yourself auteurs, but it's the book's comprehensive nature that really lifts it above some of the fluffier works on the subject -- and let's face it, the film section at Borders is growing by the hour.

Attorney Thomas A. Crowell takes the would-be producer (or producer-writer-director) through each process necessary for lawful filmmaking, from copyrighting material and starting a production company to postproduction and distribution. He makes a point of leaving out contract forms, explaining that because each project tends to have its own quirks, the specifics of any contract will be easier to parse when you've read the chapter that covers it. It's an interesting argument, but the chapters put the exhaust back into exhaustive: It can be hard to read a whole section in one sitting without feeling your brain lock up like an overworked transmission.

Still, the information is there, in the simple language of a math textbook. And while reading the book may feel like doing word problem after word problem, there's no denying you're smarter on Page 318 than you were on Page 1. It helps that Crowell seems to enjoy writing and knows that his subject is a little boring. Dumb as they are, names like Electric Space Pickle Productions actually provide some much-needed relief.

Every now and then Crowell forgets to explain something (what's a "prosumer," anyway?), but by and large the subject matter is patiently and thoroughly explained, indexed, and appended. The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers comes in handiest not as a beach read (unless you're on a desert island) but as a go-to guide when your Latin is rusty and you want to know what "de minimis taking" is or to what extent "fair use" applies to that Disney sex-farce parody number you want to put in your musical (here's a tip: don't). It's an excellent, potentially career-saving resource.

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers, By Thomas A. Crowell, Esq.,  Focal Press, 2007, paperback, 368 pages, $32.95.

-- Sam Thielman

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