Film Short: Entertainment Attorney Hal “Corky” Kessler Tells the Whole Truth

Published On October 6, 2010 | By admin | film, film production, Film Short, Filmmaker, filmmaking, Independent Film

If you mention Entertainment Attorneys who are known for their work with Independent Filmmakers, one name that always comes up is Hal “Corky” Kessler.  He has represented numerous clients within the entertainment industry and has also assisted governors and members of Congress in many states implementing new laws and tax incentives for qualified fim and television projects.  In addition, Kessler has developed, packaged and executive produced feature films, is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Law School and John Marshall Law School and speaks frequently about the business and legal aspects of producing feature films.  In fact, he’s recently been a guest on several Virtual Seminars sponsored by Stacey Parks for members of Film Specific.  So,  I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know him a bit in the Q&A  posted below.  

I’ve heard you say that you started out working in the DA’s office in Chicago and from there moved into entertainment law and producing.  What attracted you to the entertainment sector? 

Entertainment Attorney Hal "Corky" Kessler

One day a person came in and asked if I would invest in a play.  This was after I left the Prosecuting office and was in private practice.  I said no, but I asked him to tell me about it.  That conversation led to my being the attorney and executive producer for major theatrical projects.  In the middle of this, someone came to me and asked if I wanted to do for the indie film market what I did for live theatre.  I asked that person to tell me about it and from that I was the US attorney and executive producer for “The Sum of Us”.  It starred Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson.  From that point on, many more film projects came my way.

Why have you chosen to work exclusively with independent filmmakers and not go the studio route?  

I have decided to commit my film legal and business career to the indie filmmaker because they need to help the most.   We all need to roll up our sleeves and help them.  It is good now that the Indie Filmmaker controls the market now. 

You’ve recently joined a new law firm.  Is this change going to impact your work with independent artists in any way?  

Not at all. In fact it has increased the focus in this area.  I set up an entertainment division at my firm and the division was even talked about in Variety. 

The panel Financing Your Film is considered one of the most successful and popular at Sundance and you’re now offering it in different cities.  How did it get started, why is it beneficial to filmmakers and what do you enjoy about doing it? 

It got started because I believed the indie filmmakers at Sundance did not have the opportunity to see and spend time with a panel that had panel members who could, as a group, make their project happen.  That is why the panel consists of an acclaimed line/producer, accountant, business plan guru, attorney/executive producer, funding source for indies, and a distributor.  All is covered.  It is the pleasure of all of the panel members to point out things to know about and how to avoid some errors. 

What changes to you see happening within the entertainment industry that will impact independent filmmakers the most?   

The expansion of global markets and the social networking on line and on line marketing opens a new channel to distribute indie films.  The indie films have controlled the Acadamy Awards for the last 3 years. 

You are known as the “expert” when it comes to Section 181 and I’ve heard you say on the latest Film Specific call that there are a few votes coming up which could bring it back for a short period of time before December 31, 2010.  What criteria will filmmakers have to meet to make that deadline? 

If extended for this year, there will be a very short period of time.  All projects must be grandfathered before the end of this year.  I can be reached to discuss the aspects of being grandfathered if and when 181 is extended. 

Do you believe that Section 181 will reappear again in 2011?  

I hope so as it is the ultimate jobs bill

 Aside from Section 181, what other tax incentive programs do you recommend to filmmakers? 

 They should look for States that offer good and friendly film incentives.  There are over 37 States that have meaningful incentives.

In order to save the expense of preparing legal documents like PPMs (Private Placement Memorandums) would you suggest filmmakers limit themselves to approaching accredited investors? 

 Yes

You’ve spoken often about problems arising due to filmmakers and screenwriters not having the proper chain of title for their projects.  What advice would you give them on this topic? 

Make sure that hire an experienced attorney at a very early stage. 

What legal advice would you give filmmakers planning to include crowdfunding as part of their fundraising? 

It is a donation and not an investment.  It is rarely enough to fund an entire budget.

In your opinion, what is the greatest advantage for a filmmaker in retaining an entertainment lawyer like yourself? 

Knowledge and credibility in the industry. 

Section 181 Update –  Corky sent out an email blast this week with info from a member of the Democratic Finance Committee of the US Senate stating that it looks very unlikely that the exterder bill will be addressed before the upcoming elections and encouraging filmmakers to contact their local representatives and urge them to act quickly.

Corky is at the law firm of Deutsch, Levy & Engel, Chartered in Chicago, IL.  He can be reached by email at kessler@dlec.com or via phone at 312-346-1460. 

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