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From Filmmaker to Entertainment Lawyer With Donovan Rodriques

November 1, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Donovan RodriquesDonovan Rodriques is the Managing Attorney at Rodriques Law, a New York City firm focused on business and entertainment law in the areas of film and television development, financing, production, and distribution. Donovan represents producers, talent, entertainment companies, and entrepreneurs, including several start-ups and emerging companies in media, sports, and entertainment technologies. His expertise in law and business, combined with his experience in the production industry and understanding of the creative and technical production processes, uniquely position him to effectively counsel clients in varying areas, from negotiating service deals to developing new ways to capture and use big data.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Donovan Rodriques discusses his focus on business and entertainment law
  • The role of lawyers in the filmmaking process
  • Who provides funding for a TV show or movie project?
  • The process of obtaining rights to intellectual property
  • Donovan advises creatives to consult with an attorney before collaborating with industry professionals
  • How Donovan’s entertainment industry experience contributed to his legal success
  • Donovan’s advice for aspiring lawyers

In this episode…

Can a unique career journey, traversing the worlds of science, filmmaking, and law, provide a distinct advantage in entertainment law? How can the versatility of such diverse experiences influence legal expertise? According to Donovan Rodriques, a seasoned entertainment attorney, his filmmaking background has been instrumental to his legal career. He attributes his holistic understanding of intellectual property rights in the film industry to his background in film production and law. His unique journey from being a filmmaker to an entertainment lawyer has allowed him an inside perspective of the industry, thus equipping him to navigate legal complexities with a creative outlook. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Bela Musits sits down with Donovan Rodriques, Managing Attorney at Rodriques Law, to discuss his transition from biochemistry and filmmaking to entertainment law. In their conversation, Donovan shares the importance of lawyers in the filmmaking process, the intricacies of film contracts and intellectual property rights, and why he advises creatives to consult with an attorney before collaborating with industry professionals.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know, but likely don’t. Bela Musits  0:08   Hello, listeners, I’m Bela Musits host for this episode of the 15 Minutes Share Your Voice podcast, where we talk with top notch law firms and attorneys about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing. They deliver tailor made services to help your law firm accomplish its objectives and maximize your growth potential to have a successful marketing campaign. To make sure you’re getting the best return on investment, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Today’s guest on the podcast is attorney Donovan Rodriques. He founded Rodriques. Law in New York City, where he concentrates on business and entertainment law practice. His firm works with clients in all aspects of Film and Television development, financing, production and distribution. Welcome to the podcast, Donovan. Donovan Rodriques  1:23   Thanks for having me, Bela. Bela Musits  1:25   Yeah, wonderful for you to be here. Thank you. So tell us a little bit more about the law firm. Donovan Rodriques  1:31   So I’m a solo practitioner. So one attorney, and our my focus is business and entertainment law as mostly clients in film and television and entertainment technology. So I represent clients from concept through development, financing, production, distribution and beyond. So I do everything, providing production consoles, services, to rights clearance, acquisition of rights, copyright, registration, copyright enforcement, trademark registration, trademark licensing, and also helping my clients, particularly independent filmmakers, with navigating the the hurdles of film financing. So I advise on film and television tax credits from around the world, I structure the financing arrangements, set up film funds, create agreements with investors, set up the entities advise my clients on what entities to form, in which state the tax implications and so on. Bela Musits  2:57   Wow, sounds like a very highly specialized area of the law. Yes. And, you know, most to most people like myself, you know, the, when I’m watching a movie or a TV show, it just sort of appears somehow. And I don’t realize I think very few people realize all of the things that have to happen before it actually shows up on my TV screen. And sometimes that can take years, as I understand. So can you walk us through sort of a typical cycle for something like this? Donovan Rodriques  3:31   So I’m glad you asked that question Bela. Because one of the ways in which I’m unique as an attorney, is that I’m also a filmmaker. So I have actual onset experience. And once you’ve seen how a movie is made, before it gets to the screen, it changes your entire outlook, you will the way you see films will change after that. So as I said, I help clients from the idea stage. So a movie before it gets to the screen, its screen, it starts as an idea. It could be a simple thought, a concept, a premise, or it could be a book, a novel. It could be a documentary, it could be a comic, it could be any character that the producer or a screenwriter decides that I would like to tell this particular story. And he, he or she will either optioned the rights if it’s if there’s an underlying material or draft, a screenplay and which is called an original screenplay from scratch. And then the next process would be to a get financing. While we call packaging, you get in touch with fellow filmmakers you find a producer or an executive producer, you may want to attach talent or cast. But the most important part of this is finding the money to fund the project, because filmmaking is pretty expensive. And so where does a lawyer come in, in this process from the beginning, you will need to protect your idea. On a US copyright law, generally speaking, ideas are not predictable unless they are fully developed. But you can protect your idea. If you have to share with collaborators, you can have contract, you can have a nondisclosure agreement, you can enter into an agreement with your collaborators that after we have these discussions, the concept is mine, the story is mine, and the film is mine. Or you may decide to have a co authorship situation. So the the lawyer comes in from day one, than all the contracts with your collaborators with the other filmmakers, or the producers or the cast and crew, finding locations, finding investors, bringing on casting director and and all the personnel, clearing the rights to the project, making sure that any music that’s being used in the film, you have the right to use the music, any artwork that’s in there any copyrightable material. And even in some cases, trademark, like using certain brands and the picture that needs to be cleared so that you and your distributor can avoid financial issues later on. Yeah, yeah, when it’s a big success, especially then, when when you’re making money, that’s when all your relatives show up. Bela Musits  7:16   So where does typically financing come for a project, let’s say a, you know, a movie or a TV show. Donovan Rodriques  7:26   So financing can come off. You mean from right from? Bela Musits  7:31   Maybe the supplier who’s the supplier of the funds? Donovan Rodriques  7:34   It can be self financed. So the producer has the money and decides to spend his or her own money. It could come from third parties, family and friends, or angel investors, venture capital, private equity institutions that such as Wall Street financiers who who love big risk, big reward, they will fund it, there is also soft money which you can get. One of the incentives that many states offer is if you film your TV show or movie or documentary in their state, you will get tax rebates or tax credits. This happens in many countries as well. There’s also the tax credits at the federal level for investors in under Section 181. So there you will look at your financing plan and decide do I need 80% in private equity, meaning raising money from private individuals? Plus 20%? Through gap financing loans or and or soft money from tax credits? And tax rebates? Bela Musits  8:57   Yeah. So if I’m a private equity investor in a project like this, how do I get my returns? Is that Is that also well specified in our agreement? Donovan Rodriques  9:08   Yes. Your your first of all, in order to comply with federal and state securities laws, your agreements need to set out clearly what they what the offering is, and how the investors will get their return, if any. And remember, don’t over promise, because there’s a very, very big chance that the movie will not making any money or might not even get made now, but investors get usually get a return off investment, plus a return on investment. The typical formula is the ROI and then the investor may belong to a pool called the investor pool, where they would share In the net profits of the film moving forward, but the typical formula is, the investor gets, you know, between 115% to 120%, on return on their investment, which means Return of the principal plus 20% interest. And then after the producers are finished paying all the pre net profits, payments, including residuals, they will usually split the net profits 50 50% to the producers and 50% to the investors. It prorated at it. Bela Musits  10:46   Got it. So it sounds like in addition to having a really good attorney, you also need to have a really good accountant. Donovan Rodriques  10:52   Absolutely, yes. Yes, there are many issues. One other way you need a good attorney, such as and also the type of entity you set up to raise the funding will will affect the investors one way or the other, whether it’s a pass through entity like an LLC, or an S corp, or it’s a corporation, where the it’s not a pass through. So the investors are only only incur tax liability on the the money that they receive. But there are different factors to take into consideration, such as the type of investor the nationality of the investor, and so on. And so the there is a close relationship between the attorney and your accountant in in making sure that the investor gets fairly treated. Bela Musits  11:55   Yeah, yeah. Very nice. So I’m interested a little bit about the intellectual property aspect of this. So how do you how do you sort of get back to no knowing that this screenplay or this novel, that I have the rights to it, how does that how does that get sort of settled out and documented. Donovan Rodriques  12:18   So it’s what we call a chain of title. Pretty much if you are going to make a project, obviously, you’re thinking about selling it at some point, and, or even getting in errors and omissions insurance to protect yourself and the filmmakers. And so you need to have proof that you own this property. So we do what is called a chain of title. And so we look to see all that we look at all the documentation from the origin of this project all the way to where it is now. So if it’s an original screenplay, obviously, that means the screenwriter, or screenwriters. And sometimes it gets a little complicated, because you may have one person started writing the script, then they bring another writer on. So that’s two people, then they sell or optioned the script, and then the producer bring somebody else on to write. And so we have to look at all those contracts, all those relationships. And a lot of times there are no contracts. And that’s when it becomes even more scary. Because now you have to track track track down everyone who’s made a contribution to this project. So if it’s an adaptation, if it’s based on a short story, you need to know who the original writer of The short story is. If it’s based on a book, you need to know who they are the author of the book was there cases where the entire story in the book is in public domain let’s such as historical facts, then you, your attorney will help you to decide. It’s if it’s a lot of trouble to track down the author of the book, perhaps you don’t need permission, but you will be required to get a legal opinion regarding the chain of title. Bela Musits  14:25   Yeah. It sounds like to me that if if I was thinking about writing something, let’s say a screenplay, that even before I start writing it, I should have a conversation with an attorney to make sure that I have this good chain of ownership package well defined. So we’re not trying to fix things a year from now or two years from now. Donovan Rodriques  14:51   Well, if you’re you don’t really need an attorney if you’re, if all you’re doing is writing in fact, you’re better are off just being out there in the woods or whatever your process is to. So you can focus on your characters and get it done. However, if you are going to have collaborators, if you are planning to pitch, your treatment or your you should have represented representation. If if it’s not an original story, let’s say you read an article somewhere, or a book, or you watched a film or even a video game, and you decide that you’re going to write some something based on Mickey Mouse character, for example. Yes, you should, right. Okay. But bear in mind that, before you do anything with this, you should get clearance, you should speak with an attorney, I always encourage my clients to write what they like and write about what they know. And don’t worry about the legal or business aspect of it when you’re thinking as a writer. Yeah. But certainly, you need to think about that when you are starting to share the information with other people when you’re planning when you start pre pre production or way before you start pre production before you start putting together even your business plan for the project. Because now you have you’re not wearing a different hat, you’re wearing a producer hat and your writers hat. And so and that’s when you you should be speaking with the attorney, but if all you’re doing is writing right away, yes. Okay. Bela Musits  16:43   So if let’s say I’m the creator, and the writer, and I want to make this into a movie, and I asked you to represent me, is one of the services that you provide will also be the all the negotiations that I would have to go through with various different people who might finance finance the project and finding a director and the contracts and all that kind of stuff. Donovan Rodriques  17:04   Absolutely, definitely. Yes. Okay. So, you know, if you are if you wrote something and you’re producing it, that’s one thing if you wrote something, and you don’t want to produce it, but you’d like to sell the script or option it or bring someone else on to produce it, you will need to negotiate the terms of the relationship with the other parties. Bela Musits  17:29   Yeah. Yeah. So what are some, what are some of the kind of typical problems that you see that that could have been avoided? We talked about sort of the chain of ownership as being one of them. But what are some of the other ones that are that are, you know, things that if if people had the right representation or thought about it in advance, they could have avoided further downstream? Donovan Rodriques  17:53   The main problem I see is this agreement by the gentleman’s handshake, it’s a bad idea when you’re dealing with copyright. Because under US copyright law, every anyone who contributes an any personnel, not artificial intelligence, any person who contributes to, to creating something is a co author. So a handshake, you know, hey, I have this screenplay. Let’s go into the woods and make a movie. And we will talk about who gets the share of what later on. Bad idea. Because during post production, when you realize how good this movie is, a that is going to make a lot of money, and it has big name actors in it. It’s really well done because the director did such a wonderful job. Yeah, that’s when the problem arises. Because now, as the producer who brought in the financing, you’re like, Oh, it’s my movie. And the director who wrote the script, and directed is like, No, it’s my movie. So always get it in writing. Bela Musits  19:12   Yes, very good. Good sound advice. So this, to me seems like a very competitive field from an attorney perspective is probably lots of choices, probably huge firms, you know, with a couple 100 attorneys, and there’s small ones like yourself, help help our listeners sort of understand what sets you apart. Donovan Rodriques  19:31   So I mean, apart in addition to the apart from the fact that I, I understand how Yeah, let’s think I’m much cheaper. I don’t have as much overhead. You are, you’re dealing with a person, a real person. And I only take on clients that I can handle. And so I’m not going to you’re not going to be pushed to one side and relegated to another entry level attorney, you’re getting the full scope of my attention, and all my years of expertise. And at a much, much lower cost. Bela Musits  20:13   Very nice. So tell us a little bit about your background, you said you, you made films yourself. So I’m curious about that. Talk about that a little bit. Donovan Rodriques  20:21   So I’ve made a couple of short films, wrote, produced and directed horror, I’ve made a feature documentary, and I’ve made commercials. I’ve, I’ve also done post production, some of them through editing and sound design. I’m also I grew up in entertainment. Since I was a child, I’m a classically trained violinist. And since I was a kid, I was involved in writing, directing, and acting in plays, I do this all the way through college. And so it’s in my DNA I’ve always been working with, with entertainers, from either as a musician or as an actor, or director or writer. And so it’s, and I’ve never worked with any other type of clients over my 20 years as a lawyer, and so it’s, I think and breathe creativity. And one of the things my clients love about me is, I can sit with them in the in the writers room and act as a sounding board. And, you know, they can hit ideas off of me and I can make suitable creative suggestions. Of course, it’s always the writer who makes the final decision. But, and I usually in the writing process, I keep the commercial viability aspect out of it until it’s time for them to produce, then I say, Well, I think we could rewrite such and such a scene because it would change the budget and make it more practical or whatever the reasons are. Bela Musits  22:15   Sure. Sure. Well, your wealth of experience, I think, is really invaluable for folks. Because you do bring all of that experience in that perspective, not just not just the law degree, Donovan Rodriques  22:29   to the table. Yes. Which surprises a lot of people. Because when you hire an attorney, you’re expecting just contract talk, right? But I’m very practical. And I look at the budget, I look at the the type of story. And a lot of times I’m able to get negotiations through very quickly, because I’m not asking for things that are impractical or impossible for my client to to achieve. You know, there are some attorneys who only work on studio size budgets. And they can’t think lower than that. They cannot think, Oh, how to make a $2 million movie, just like studios don’t know how to make anything under 50 million. You know, they have to give it to somebody else. I can think about the the practical, the practical aspects of a contract regarding ultra low budget movie versus a very high budget film. Yeah, yeah. Bela Musits  23:46   So what what made you decide to become an attorney? Donovan Rodriques  23:51   So, I didn’t want to I never thought I would ever be an attorney. When initially, well, first of all, when I was a child, I wanted to be a soldier. And then in high school, I decided, Oh, I wanted to be a doctor. And so I went to university and did a degree in biochemistry. At that point, I did not get into medicine, obviously. So I said, Okay, well, maybe I could become a genetic engineer. And then by the time during this time, I was involved in music as well. And, and art and plays. But I was also a very good debater, and I was on our school’s debating team. So I was always very talkative. And, and I grew up around a lot of older people. So I had a lot of wisdom that I that were passed on down to me. So at the end of my first degree, I decided I did apply to do my masters. So I could maybe do genetic engineering, but I was at a crossroads. I was like, I don’t know if that’s what I wanted to do. And at the same time, I felt compelled to help the world to change the world, to make policy to, to have a broader reach in terms of my ability to help more people. So I, I did, I asked for a deferral. And I took a year off, and I went to teach. And during that time, I had this aha moment, that I should be a lawyer, especially if I want to be a policymaker if I want to change the rules for for society, and that’s when I applied to law school, I applied. I was living in Jamaica at the time, I applied to the University of the West Indies, I applied to London School of Economics and to Edinburgh. And, and, and got accepted in I think, three out of five of them. I was surprised that I got accepted. And I was also surprised that I even could do it because nobody goes from a science degree to where you’re reading tons of books, but it yeah. Bela Musits  26:19   Very nice. So when you graduated from law school, did you open up your private practice immediately? Or did you work for a larger firm? Donovan Rodriques  26:30   So I started my own practice 10 years ago, so I worked for I’ve never worked for a large firm, I worked for a smaller, firm. And then I moved to New York, and started a film and television production company, and then did the New York bar. And then, after a couple of years, I started my own practice. Bela Musits  26:59   Got it. Got it. So if there’s a young attorney, or a budding attorney kind of listening to this, and they’re and they’re inspired by what you’ve you know, your story and what you’ve told us, what words of advice would you give them? Donovan Rodriques  27:14   Do what you love. It’s very important. It’s not just about the money. And let’s say you do decide to go to law school. Try to get as much experience work with different firms, you may have a concept of what type of law you would like to practice, but work in many different areas of law. I mean, obviously, if you’re, if you’re a sport, if you’re a sports junkie, or you’re already in a certain field or area, it makes sense for you, for you to continue it like in my case, in terms of entertainment, or the arts. But if you know if you if you like fashion, focus on that, but try to get as much experience especially in contract, all different types of contracts. Because even as an entertainment attorney, I’ve had to dip into or tap into my exposure to many different areas, other than, say, film and television. My love for science fiction or for science has helped a lot in terms of how I represent the world of fiction. Right. So so getting as much experience is is what I would recommend. Bela Musits  28:55   So where’s the best place for our listeners to find out more about you and your law firm, Donovan? Donovan Rodriques  29:01   So my website is That’s Rodriques with a Q and an S, my number 212-804-8663. Or just type my name Donovan Rodriques in Google and it will lead you straight to me. Bela Musits  29:21   Okay, that’s great. Thank you so much for being on the podcast, Donovan. I really appreciate it. I had a really interesting time chatting with you. Donovan Rodriques  29:29   Thank you, Bela, and hope you feel better. Bela Musits  29:32   Thanks. Outro  29:35   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.


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