As a filmmaker, you are focused on making a movie. You have a gazillion things on your plate. And the last thing you need is more movie production paperwork. I know the feeling. A few years back, I was on the festival circuit with a movie. And over coffee, I heard this story about some filmmakers who locked down rights to an awesome song for the movie soundtrack.
The song was from a popular New York based band. And in securing the rights to the song, the filmmakers pulled down one of those legal releases you find online. From there, they got the signature of the band leader and a CD containing the music. The music was added to the movie. The movie played well in festivals and was eventually picked up.
Despite the fact these filmmakers accepted a crappy “deal,” (should have studied my sell your movie system) – These filmmakers had bigger challenges. Turns out the band broke up and the guitar player needed money. And while that guy did agree to license the performance of the song, he never agreed to license the actual lyrics. The guitarist’s lawyer happily informed the filmmakers that they also needed a release from the publisher. Suffice it to say, those filmmakers had some not-so-fun times.
Protect Your Movie Production
You need to get legal clearance for everybody who works on your movie as well as every element put into your movie. This includes (but it not limited to) your story, cast, crew, locations, logos and equipment. And as stated above, special care should be given to music. In addition to the case study above, many filmmakers accidentally include non-cleared music in the backgrounds of scenes that cannot be “fixed in post.”
If you are short on cash, do a web search for lawyers for the arts in your state. Many states have programs where you can at least get a discounted consultation with an attorney. Additionally, you may benefit from doing some of the legal legwork yourself. There are many filmmaking sites the provide boilerplate, generic releases. If you present one of these to an attorney for compliance, it may save you time and money.
In addition to production releases, many distribution platforms now require that you maintain an active errors and omissions policy. Without having the proper releases, getting an E&O policy may prove impossible. And your dreams of distribution may diminish significantly. This is why it is very important to work with seasoned legal and production professionals to make sure you utilize the proper releases.
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