Laboratory Processing Agreements by Pamela A. Schechter, Esq.

When you are ready to start sending your film elements to the lab for processing, it is a very exciting time. However, before you can start to see the finished, you are probably going to have to sign an agreement with the lab. This agreement defines the rights and obligations between the filmmaker and the lab processing the film.

In the majority of processing agreements, the film elements are broadly defined and usually include any film materials such as negatives, sound tracks, videotapes and film prints that may be developed by the lab. The lab will try to limit the liability it has to the filmmaker regarding the elements. For example the lab usually assumes no responsibility for the type of material that it uses, the services it provides or the condition of the finished product it turns over to the filmmaker. The lab will only replace unexposed film raw stock if any of the film elements are lost, destroyed or damaged through the negligence of lab employees. The filmmaker will not receive compensation for the value of the contents of the lost or damaged film elements.

Payment for the lab's services is usually due within thirty days of processing. If the filmmaker pays late, he must agree to pay interest on the amount owed. The lab fees typically do not include the cost of shipping of the film elements and the lab is not responsible for payment of any taxes.

Lab's usually have the filmmaker warrant in the agreement that the filmmaker is the sole owner of the film elements deposited with the lab. If this representation by the filmmaker is not true, the lab can bring a legal action against the filmmaker for breach of this warranty.

Most lab agreements state that the filmmaker must obtain insurance which provides the most comprehensive protection available for the film elements. The elements must be insured against any possible damage, including harm that results from the lab's own negligence.

The filmmaker is generally required to supply standard synchronization leaders. If there is an error in synchronization, it is typically the responsibility of the filmmaker and not the lab.

Since the lab does not know what is on the film when it makes the agreement with the filmmaker, it does not know whether the film elements contravene any laws such as those prohibiting pornography. To protect itself from criminal or civil liability, the lab will want to have the right to end any services immediately during the development process if it finds any illegal materials. However, the filmmaker will still be obligated to pay the lab for whatever work it performed up until that time.

Film elements may be left at the lab for a certain duration. However, the agreement should describe how these film elements are stored and for how long. The filmmaker will have a certain amount of time, usually ninety days after the last work has been completed, to remove the elements from the lab. If the filmmaker does not remove all of the elements within this time period, upon written notice, the lab may destroy, erase or dispose of the film elements. However, the filmmaker can request the lab store certain of the elements for a longer period of time. In this situation, the lab will charge storage fees.

Lab agreements can be complicated. Although most filmmakers are anxious to start the development process, it is a good idea to wait until an entertainment attorney has reviewed and negotiated the lab agreement before the process begins.