Lately, a lot of producers have been asking me to sign non-disclosure agreements before taking a look at their film projects. I have one thing to say that may sound blunt: Don’t. To explain a little, unless you’ve invented a whole new way of financing a film, there’s no reason for this. If you have come up with a new financing method, please file a business method patent.
In my experience, NDAs create more liability than they prevent.
Plus, an emphasis on an NDA is the mark of a novice, as in the following conversations:
PROFESSIONAL PRODUCER: Hey Jeff, I have a $7m action project with Val Kilmer attached. Chuck’s guy is doing the equity piece. It’s shooting in Louisiana. Do you want to come in for half the equity?
JEFF: Sounds doable. Send me the details and I’ll get back to you on Monday.
NOVICE PRODUCER: Hi, Jeff. I have a project with an A-list star attached as well as equity from an investor. It’s shooting in Louisiana. If you’re interested, I would need you to sign an NDA.
JEFF: I’m in the middle of a closing. Can you call me in a month?
As every film financier will tell you, there are just too many similar projects with similar players for NDAs to make sense. There are a finite number of positions within a film project that are relevant to the financing, and there are a very small number of projects that are truly unique. Most projects, creatively and financially, are pretty much the same.
As a financier, my job is to review projects and be discrete. I wouldn’t still be working if I couldn’t keep quiet about individual projects or the business plans of production companies.
In short, a producer who requires NDAs for submissions is a novice. I cannot name a single entertainment company or mainstream producer that has people sign NDAs before submitting a project.
It’s a terrible way to start a relationship, because it brings everything to a grinding halt before it even has the chance to begin. It also gets lawyers involved way too early in the process.
Talent-based NDAs are especially silly, because most actors are attached to a half-dozen projects at any one time. If Hugh Laurie is attached to your project, that’s great, but where’s the secret? What am I going to do? Blog about it? At any rate, if word getting out that an actor is attached somehow derails your project, it was probably pretty flimsy to begin with.
I wonder how many indie producers are aware of tracking boards. These are website forums where development executives from all over the industry post information about project submissions and discuss the quality of the project, the writer, and the film package with other development executives. They’re definitely not conducive an NDA, but are a staple of the industry.
Please, people, throw away those non-disclosure agreements, and think hard about what you’re submitting and who you’re submitting it to. Does all trace of this project really need to be kept silent? Does the person you’re submitting it to have a reputation for being untrustworthy? If so, then (1) you shouldn’t be working with them, and (2) they’ll disregard your NDA anyway.
If you really need somebody to sign something, have them sign a non-circumvention agreement (non-circ). This basically says, “Hey, you can’t circumvent me if I make this introduction.” These agreements are shorter, cleaner, and easier to prosecute. If you’re an intermediary and you have investors who are interested in funding projects, have them sign a non-circ. That way, you only have to have one signed vs. annoying every financier in town. This will do wonders for your productivity and make you look like a seasoned pro.