Hollywood’s Growing Market for Documentary Remakes: Wall Street Journal Turns to Lisa Callif

Hollywood is increasingly turning to documentaries as inspiration for big-screen features, leading to a marked increase of remake deals. Wall Street Journal turned to Partner Lisa Callif for input on deals that include remake rights.

Remake rights may make distribution deals more profitable for filmmakers who include them in agreements, and can net producers and documentary filmmakers high payouts, including upfront payments for the remake option, additional fees if the project goes into production and back-end payments from the project’s net profits.

There are, however, legal safeguards documentary filmmakers can obtain that producers should consider. For example, by securing the life rights to a documentary subject, filmmakers gain exclusivity that can extend from a few years to a lifetime, and can enable them to turn away outside producers who want to re-tell the subject’s story. “If a person wants to come along and make a movie off of it, they have to go through the documentary producer,” Lisa said.

Though the number of remake deals in Hollywood is not tracked, attorneys and agents working with documentary filmmakers say that remake rights are now included in almost every contract and distribution agreement. As producers and executives continue looking to buzzy documentaries as source material for feature films, this trend shows no sign of stopping.

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