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Taking Care of Business
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Old June 21st, 2004, 12:12 AM   #1
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Releases are Overrated - Don't buy into the Hype or Misfacts

I've been reading a lot of information on this forum and others about the use of releases. I feel like there is some good information, yet some pretty intimidating ones. The way a lot of them are worded can be overwhelming and can scare a prospective documentary filmmaker from their project, due to the thought of litigation and being sued. It seems like everything visual in our developed society is copywrited/owned/protected and nothing can be filmed without the express consent of the proper owner. I DISAGREE

To those that feel this way I'm talking to you, Don't be SCARED. I plan on making a documentary that will be showing the low's in our society and this will require me to take my camera into places where i might not be 'welcomed'. Big stores like Safeway, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, etc. If these stores ask me to leave, I will. But i wont burn my footage because i wasn't invited to film.

I understand the premise of a release and i plan on getting them, where applicable.

Think about it, do you think that Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size! Me recived a consent to film in McDonalds (can i use this name without being sued?), No WAY! But there was lots of footage and copywrited images in his documentary. He evened used Ronald McDonalds (i'm just asking to be sued) likeness and image multiple times in the film and i'll bet you one Sony DV tape Mickey Dee's didn't approve it.

Do you think Michael Moore recivied release from the people who kicked him out of the building, no way!

To the up and coming my message is this: If you are talking about the footage, images, B-Roll on the screen you are allowed to use it (this doens't apply to people in their private homes, who aren't public figures). Images that are social relevant, in public view, and public knowledge are allowed to used in your investagasion.

Make those good films. Ask tough questions and show the truth.
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Old June 21st, 2004, 12:26 AM   #2
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Is your name Tim or is it Andy Dufrain?

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Old June 21st, 2004, 12:32 AM   #3
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Its my middle name, and i use it to be informal. Andy D. is my offical form name.
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Old June 21st, 2004, 02:19 AM   #4
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I may agree with what you have said in principle. But what are the legal realities?
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Old June 21st, 2004, 04:26 AM   #5
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I think Andy was touching on the legal realities, whereas what are commonly discussed in this forum are legal principles--facts of law--"the safe road." The essence of his message is, I think, documentary maker, be fearless, be entreprenurial. Filmmakers like Spurlock and Moore would never have been able to make hit films if all their footage needed be sanctioned by release.

I rented The Big One the other night, and noted an interesting technique of Moore's to continue to get footage even when the going gets rough. When confronted with surly security who demand an end to filming, Moore instructs his camera operator to "turn the camera off," which is code for "keep rolling"!
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Old June 21st, 2004, 06:06 AM   #6
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Actually, you are seriously asking for trouble if you listen to advice that neglects proper conduct.

The bottom line is - anyone can sue you for anything at anytime. If you put someone in a bad light because you filmed them and plan to use it for your benefit - you face legal problems. My advice for anyone thinking of "documenting" anything is to:

#1 - don't take this guys advice because it's not professional. If you are willing to pay lots of $$$ dealing with legal issues then go ahead.

#2 - If you decide to be a professional - don't approach this with a "get them" attitude. Mike Moore did it before you and has the $$$ to deal with legal issues. You probably don't. (not to mention that Mike Moore has his own problems - the latest being distribution)

#3 - Get legal counsel BEFORE you shoot. Namely, incorporate your business so if anything (and it will, trust me) comes crashing down you're covered with at least that much...your personal items are covered. (house, car etc)

#4 - Do pursue your dream, but take advice from people that try and help you stay OUT of trouble and not get into it. We live in a country here (I'm talking about USA because I live here) that gives both sides rights (the shooter and the subject) - you better educate yourself on those rights or else you will suffer legally.

#5 - Don't take what I'm saying as fact - go research and learn it on your own.

I'm not trying to start an argument here. But, I have been involved with many situations where legal issues came up. I lost TONS of $$$ a few years ago because of a television show someone stole from me under my noise. Why did that happen? I was stupid and didn't have any legal foundation. (incorporated, lawyer funds etc.)

Listen to people that are successful and have track records. Legal problems are the WORST thing and will destroy your creativity! Ask anyone who's gone through legal's a killer.

Oh, and you can't say I'm not for Free Speech. I'm an activist for Free Speech and believe that the producer of a documentry should be able to get his story out. But, NOT at the expense of other's privacy. I'd gladly invade Mike Moore's privacy to get his goat, but I doubt he's like that much. (for the record, i do like mike moore's movies. but, he's setting a dangerous precedent out there for every tom, dick and harry with a videocamera)

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Old June 21st, 2004, 06:48 AM   #7
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You sound as if you speak from experience, I assume you have experience in both documentary filmmaking and legal defense? Ever been in a lawsuit?

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Old June 21st, 2004, 09:31 AM   #8
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I would like to know how Spurlock managed to get his film done without being sued. The thing is, he and Michael Moore are in a different category from you and me. If McDonald's did sue him, the bad publicity they got would be more damaging than his film. He must have managed to get permission to shoot in at least some of those McDonald's stores.

Somebody noticed that Michael Moore always keeps his camera running, and that's a good thing, in my opinion. A really good thing to do is to turn off your little red lights so nobody knows when you're running or not.

I think filmmakers have to fight back about the over legalization of things. Lawrence Lessig has a book out I've mentioned here before. Something about ideas, I can't think of the exact title off hand. It's slow reading but well worth it. All about how Corporate America and the legal system are working to destroy free speech in this area.

As far as the original post about going into stores to shoot, you probably will get thrown out, but leave your camera running. The best way to get by with something like that is to look like a tourist. Use an amateur-looking camera, do not use a shotgun mic on a boom, and never a tripod. The minute you walk into a mall or store with a tripod, you're screwed.

I always get talent releases for commercial stuff. If something is going to end up being broadcast or go to a distributor, then you must have all your bases covered and have total releases on everything. If it's just for fun, maybe for a festival, I personally don't worry about it too much. I've shot gangbangers hanging out on drug dealing street corners, cops talking to people in the streets, things like that and don't worry about it. Those people are much more normal than the Corporate America types who want to control your every move...generally friendlier too. I'm not recommending that anybody try this. It's best to do everything with releases when you can. come it's OK for a TV news cameraman to shoot people and not you?
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Old June 21st, 2004, 09:58 AM   #9
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Certainly a good tip on the recording light. I have it turned of
anyway so as to not see it in reflections for example...

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Old June 21st, 2004, 10:19 AM   #10
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Yeah, reflections are another issue--good you brought it up. I had a project in a few months ago I edited, and a bunch of the footage was shot by a TV news cameraman working on the side. It was an awards show, lots of plaques and shiny things like that. About half the shots had the camera's red light reflecting off some surface and were unuseable.
We also need to be careful of wristwatches in certain situations. I had a shot once in which I had to shift focus dramatically as I panned off the subject onto the background. The assistant was wearing a dive watch with a flat crystal. Everytime I'd pan and he'd shift focus, there was a little flash of 3 or 4 frames across the back wall. We had a hell of a time figuring out that it was a reflection from the wristwatch.
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Old June 21st, 2004, 11:50 AM   #11
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Hey Andy/Tim/Whatever, where'd you go to law school? Just curious.
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Old June 21st, 2004, 12:33 PM   #12
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Old June 21st, 2004, 12:36 PM   #13
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Wow! Now everybody knows the Emperor has no cloth...
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Old June 21st, 2004, 02:05 PM   #14
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I agree with Christopher C. Murphy post. Don't take my advise because i'm not a professional. I'm not a Lawyer nor do i portray one on TV. The closes i've come to becoming a lawyer was taking an Issue in Freedom of Speech taught by an amazing teacher (also a lawyer) who graduated from Berkeley, where we looked at Supreme Court cases that set major precedence in our legal system .

But take my advise on principal alone. People need post like mine to see actually examples of where protected images are used.

The truth is anyone can sue you for ANY REASON and any cop can arrest you, throw you in jail. It's thats easy & Scary. The challenge that now arises is making the charges stick.

Murph, you tell them not to take my advise yet what makes yours any better then mine? It seems like you've been through the legal system for an Issue not related to this. We would all like to learn from your experiences so in another post please talk about it. But based on what you wrote I challenge your relevancy in this topic (other then leagl experiences are bad).

Spurlock seems to be placed in some devine position above the rest of us. He's 'was' just a regular joe - like us. If you do look at Moores Roger & Me he did list under Legal in the credits, 9 names (how many were paid, lawyers is unknown). He also wasn't rich when he made the film and used bingo nights to help fundraise the project (FYI). So if you plan on making this type of film, do by all means invest a grand in legal advise, it won't hurt. Don't feel threatened by replies and my main message of this topic was to highlight where copywrited images has been used successfully without the owners concent and hopefully i've shown that.
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Old June 21st, 2004, 02:16 PM   #15
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I'm not really into challenges - just sharing information. I made my point about seeking legal advice and used an example of mine.

What else more do you need? I was burned and now I know better. My issue was related because it had to do with a television show. There really isn't much difference - tv/film/print. It's all the same if you are talking slander, libel or copyright infridgment. Someone can sue you regardless of where they saw it or heard it. As matter of fact, someone can sue you for just talking to people about you. It doesn't have to be tv/film/print.

It's rare that people win cases unless there is actual harm being done. But, it's a fact that almost all successful films are sued multiple times. I went to a workshop 2 years ago with the guy who produced Sling Blade and few others. He said that every single film he's worked on gets sued (dozens) and that everyone he knows that does films gets sued. My Big Fat Greek Wedding had just left the theatre and he said that movie would be getting a bunch of lawsuits. It was independent, so there were probably a few cut corners here and there. When a movie makes millions and millions anyone who has even a remote connection feels their owed something. Read the trade rags (Hollywood Reporter, Variety etc.) - you'll see that everyone is talking B.O. grosses and's rampant.

I have lived in Hollywood on and off, and every professional film/media company I worked for had legal council on a retainer. I've been lucky to have worked in a variety of situations where legal council was present. All the advise I've ever gotten related to tv/film has been get a lawyer and I've now had to pass it on because of my experience. I'd actually say experience(s) because there are a few things I've gone through.

If anyone needs to know more just call up any professional film company. Ask what the ratio of production crew and management is....I bet they say for every 1 crew there are 10 managment (including legal) staff. The shooting is fun, but the legal and managment is what makes a successful project. When I say successful I mean something that makes a profit, not successful in the artists eyes.

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