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Lights, camera, releases!

Four legal forms you need to produce a film

Film production is all about securing rights. To ensure that your completed film can be exploited to the fullest extent possible, you need to obtain permission to use all of the elements that make up the completed film. Distributors and their insurance companies will insist that you guarantee that all of the necessary rights to the film have been obtained. Dissatisfied, upset, or greedy rights owners can prevent or delay distribution of your finished film, and can cause serious financial difficulties. Securing rights during the development and production stage is much easier that trying to track down rights owners and create the necessary paper trail after the fact.

Rights agreements can take many forms. In most cases they are customized to meet the particular needs of a specific film production. Even so, certain standard agreements are common to all film productions. Four legal forms that are essential to complete a film are: the location release, the appearance release, the materials release, and the independent contractor work-for-hire agreement.

From Rob Jacob's blog

There are many examples of “boilerplate” forms available – some are better than others. It pays to consult with an experienced production attorney to make sure that at a minimum the forms you are using include certain key provisions. You may want to customize these basic forms to address your own unique production needs.

LOCATION RELEASE (PDF): Before filming on private property you should have the property owner sign a location release. A well drafted location release not only gives you the right to film on the property, but also ensures that you have the rights necessary to use the resulting recording for any purpose. The location release should include the right to record intellectual property – signs, company names and logos, etc. – which may be visible on the property. Insurance coverage and indemnification language is also important to protect both the producer and the property owner in case of personal injury or property damage while filming on the property. If you are filming on public property, you may need to obtain a film production permit from local authorities.

APPEARANCE RELEASE (PDF): Unless the use is newsworthy or otherwise protected by the First Amendment, it is generally necessary to get permission to use the recognizable image of a person in a film. Without a signed appearance release, the subject can hinder or prevent the exploitation of the film and can sue for damages based on the unauthorized use of their image. A carefully drafted appearance release protects the producer from claims based on the right of publicity, invasion of privacy, and defamation. Appearance releases range from the very simple to the very detailed. A talent agreement is basically an appearance release with many bells and whistles. When the subject is a minor, you must get permission from both the minor and a parent or guardian. For minors you may also have to comply with state or local laws on the employment of minors.

MATERIALS RELEASE (PDF): If you are planning to use pre-existing copyrightable materials in your film, either to supplement your own recorded footage or as set dressing, you may need to obtain permission from the copyright owner. The materials release (sometimes referred to as a license) will give you either an exclusive or non-exclusive right to include the material in your film. A well-drafted materials release will include the right to use the material in the film and for other purposes including promotion. The use of pre-recorded music poses unique issues which need to be addressed in a music synchronization license.

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR AGREEMENT (PDF): An independent contractor agreement is used when hiring temporary workers for a specific film production. Most film professionals, including writers, directors and other key personnel, will likely be considered “independent contractors” for tax purposes under the Internal Revenue Service’s 12 factor test. If a worker is not considered an independent contractor for taxes purposes, you may be liable to pay employment taxes, including workers’ compensation for that worker. From a rights perspective, it is essential to include specific “work-for-hire” language as part of the independent contractor agreement. Absent a written work-for-hire provision, under US copyright law an independent contractor retains copyright ownership of any copyrightable material he or she creates. This is true even if the independent contractor has been paid for his or her services and the work. A well-drafted independent contractor agreement will address these issues and also specific the terms and conditions under which the contractor will provide his or her services, including how the worker will be paid, and how the relationship may be terminated.