Gary Sclar: An Esquire for Indies

By Rebecca Richards

OK, you’ve always “wanted to direct,” and after years of refining your
script, somehow raising the money to shoot your project and finding the right
locations, actors, and production crew, your first feature film is finally “in the
can.” Your work is done. You can take a deep breath and relax, right? Well, not
quite, according to Boston attorney Gary Sclar, who says that unless you’ve
signed agreements early on in the production process securing your ownership
and creative control over your film, you could actually end up losing or sharing
rights to your own work. Without binding legal contracts some of your hardest
work as an independent filmmaker could still lie ahead of you. That’s just
one of the many sobering legal facts that Sclar has made a point to educate New
England area filmmakers about.

By day, Gary Sclar has a demanding 9-to-5 life specializing in issues
connected to Intellectual Property and Patent Law at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But by night, he re-directs and refocuses his energy and expertise to working as a lawyer for New England’s independent film community, a mission he feels truly passionate about. And while Sclar clearly enjoys the
intellectual challenges involved with his full-time job, he can’t suppress the passion and intensity he feels working with filmmakers through his private practice. He says he has a keen appreciation for their situation. “Many independent filmmakers must try to fit their creative passion in with all their other responsibilities. Making room in your life for doing something you love - I can totally relate to that. I’ve made room in my own life to include something I feel very committed to doing - which is working with film artists from a legal perspective.”

Sclar’s lifelong interest in the arts and artists was likely formed growing
up in a family of musicians and a sister wanting to make a life as a visual
artist. Sclar initially tried his hand at being an actual practitioner of the
arts. “I tried them all,” he says, thinking back. “First, it was music. I think I
tried about five different instruments, but none seemed quite right. Then I
tried painting - with watercolors, oils, acrylics - you name it - but it turned
out I just wasn’t naturally gifted as an artist.” But not having any success
as an artist himself didn’t dampen Sclar’s enthusiasm for wanting to be around
people working in the arts. It seemed to actually strengthen his resolve.
“Where my talent lies is in the legal field,” he says. “And I knew I wanted to be
around creative people and the creative process. So I said to myself,
‘dammit,’ I’m going to make sure that I can use this hard-earned legal expertise to be involved in the arts as an attorney.” And he set out to do just that.

Sclar decided a few years ago that he was going to fuse his passion for the
arts with his equally intense passion for the legal issues he had come to know
as an expert in the area of Intellectual Property. Sclar started thinking, how
could he use his legal skills and expertise to be a part of the arts community
that he feels so strongly about?

Within a matter of months, Sclar made a plan to make him
known and market his skills to the Boston area’s creative community, an important objective in order to achieve his goal of working with the local artists and arts groups. He was on a personal mission to make himself known while also informing artists of the legal issues they should be informed about. And it
worked. Within only a few months Sclar had managed to give talks to such
well-established arts organizations as the Brickbottom Studios; the South End Artists Collaborative; Concord Arts Association; Emerson Umbrella; the New England School of Photography; and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Throughout the community he developed a reputation as being a very friendly, approachable, and affordable attorney, wanting to help area artists with legal advice.

Film in particular had long fascinated Sclar as he saw it as a kind of
pinnacle of the visual arts. “I sincerely believe that the most complicated
issue-riddled area of the arts is independent film, for a host of reasons: you’ve got copyright issues; licensing issues; work for hire issues, the list goes on.
There are just so many legal components a filmmaker has to be aware of. The
expectations of everyone involved in the film must be made very clear.
Communication is very important.” An important personal goal was fulfilled when Sclar became a sought after speaker and teacher of legal workshops for the film
community. As Sclar says, “If I could only work with one segment of the artistic
population, I would want it to be with independent filmmakers.”

According to Michael Kalish, Director of Education for the Boston Film/Video
Foundation, Sclar’s reputation as a friend of the local film community is
Well deserved. “Gary teaches a three hour seminar on legal issues for filmmakers
here at the BF/VF. I’ve taken the class personally and I can tell you, it’s one
of our more accessible classes. Gary will encourage people to call and e-mail
him with questions. He will speak with filmmakers and put them in the right
direction. He truly wants to be helpful.”

A lot of filmmakers just assume they can’t afford to work with an attorney.
But in Sclar’s case, he wants to keep his legal advice within reach of the
artists he so admires. As he says, “a small upfront investment is well worth it
to insure the future security of a filmmaker’s work.”

Sclar cites a worse case scenario a filmmaker could find his/her self in:
Beyond your wildest dreams, a cable channel has offered you $250,000 for your
film. But before you break open the bottle of champagne, an executive from the
channel calls to confirm that all your legal contracts are binding. It seems you
forgot to include a particular legal document - quite possibly the one that
addressed the issue of ownership rights to the film. Without such confirmation,
the cable channel must now, unfortunately, pass on its offer. Word soon gets
out that your film is “tarnished” - no one will touch it. You’ve created
something of acknowledged market value and it’s now seen as worthless with no
commercial value - all because it was lacking a certain legal agreement. A strong argument for making sure you do your legal homework if you’re going to make a film.

How does Sclar manage to do it all - work a demanding full-time job, raise
three year-old twins with his wife, and run a growing private practice? His
answer is simple: “I try to pick and chose what projects I do,” he says. “I meet
with clients at night or sometime during the weekends. I can do this work on my
own private time. I make the time to do this work with artists because I want
to do it and I simply have to do it. I can’t imagine my life any other way.”

Gary Sclar can be reached at

Rebecca Richards was the first executive director of Women in Film and
Video/New England. She has served as guest editor of the “Women’s Issue” of IMAGINE since 1999. She is a co-founder and producer of Belmont World Film and director of the BWF Children’s Animation Festival. Current film projects include a biopic of artist Suzanne Valadon and Women of the Beat Generation. She teaches at Boston University.