Starting Out

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    • #48661

      Hey, I’m just starting out making films. My first project will probably be a documentary After that, I might branch off into something fictional.

      My first question has to do with release forms. I know I have to get everyone who appears in a film to sign a release form. I’ve seen a few online, but my question is this: Does anyone know where I can find a good general release form? I’d like to find one for appearing in a nonfiction documentary, a second for appearing in a film that is fictional, and a third forfilming on someone’s property for both documentary and fictional purposes. Since I’m pretty new to this, the releases would have to include the fact that anyone appearing in the films would be doing so without pay or compensation of any kind. I would write up such a contract myself but I’m a little nervous about leaving in loopholes.

      My second question has to do with setting up a business name for producing my films. Would I need to register the name I choose? Or would I be a able to just say “An Independent film by John Smith”? Do I actually need a company name or can I just film and eventually sell my final product and enter film festivals under my name alone?

      Thank you for your time.

    • #199587
      Grinner Hester

      Your company set up has to do with profit, taxes, and protection. Most of us have set up an LLC or an inc. I have an LLC. As for generic releases forms and other contracts, you can always find em online with a quick search. I admit to not using release forms at all. I’ve just never had a need and the few times I did use them it caused much more harm than good as far as running off otherwise good bites.

      I don’t want to give you bad advice. Just stating how I work, especially with documentaries.

    • #199588


      Yes, you are supposed to get signed release forms for all persons appearing on camera who are interviewed and permission from people whose faces are clearly visible in your shots. That said, as Grinner mentioned there will be times in which by getting the ‘good soundbite’ will be nixed by stopping the process to whip out a release form.

      I do my best to get release forms during the pre-production cycle so that those persons involved know what the footage is for and so on. However, there are times in the field you just don’t have that luxury. Simplest thing to do is to get them on camera giving their permission to be filmed. It doesn’t have to be a long statement, just enough to show they knew what was up.

      Don’t trick anyone into saying they want to be filmed by rolling footage while they are unaware. That crap will come back to bite you and bite hard. More often, you’ll have a mix of signed forms and on camera permissions.

      There are many types of pre-made releases out there, but you’ll have to use them as a template for your particular company. Have a lawyer or someone who is certified in writing contracts go over the verbage and help you write a ‘plain english’ version with items in it that are specific to your company.

    • #199589

      Using your name as your company identity is OK, and generally keeps you from having to open an account with a dba, and going through the routine of making the announcement by publication, etc. that is involved – like when you see something that says “Earl Chessher dba CorElAnn Video Productions”.

      While many of us in the business have acquired LLC (limited liability corporate) or INC. (incorporated) status to help protect our personal assets from our business assets (not always that “protective”) in the event of taxes or litigation, others are sole proprietor status or in a legal partnership. Each has its benefits, advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on how far you’re going with your documentary production business.

      There are even possible temporary positions in some of the above that can be set up prior to starting a particular project (name, legal status, etc.) then dissolved at the end of the production, or whatever depending again on your plans and intent.

      Like has been said above, doing a Google search will get you enough reference release forms that you can (and should) devise one that fits your specific needs from their content. I strongly suggest, however, that whatever you come up with is reviewed by a licensed legal attorney who specializes in film/video production and related law to avoid the “loopholes” that you’re worried about.

      I would go as far as to say that I suspect most Independent Professional Video Services Providers skip the attorney and use forms they find “out there” or borrowed from a friend in the business – either word-for-word or altered to fit their particular comfort zone.

      The ONLY way to get a legally cleared document, be it releases, agreements, contracts or production exclusion/limitations, etc. is to pay an attorney to “draw them up” or purchase a general form he/she has already devised – probably also from another established resource, as it is my experience that attorneys rarely actually “draw up” anything, preferring forms instead. They’re mostly NOT creative writers per se.

      The suggestions already given about how to acquire those release form signatures, or to even bother with them, are what is usually normal in approach. I do know that when I worked on a few larger productions and some potentially commercial creative productions, part of my production team (volunteer or paid) included an individual whose primary responsibility was to obtain signed releases from all talent, and verify. I’ve used on-camera releases, and contrary to what Composite said (and he is right) I’ve also shot first then asked later – not ideal, but under the circumstances…

      It is WAY better to have releases of identifiable persons in your productions than to not, as one unhappily recognizable individual can gum up marketing, distribution and/or the commercial viability of your production. A LOT of the “release rationale” bears directly on the type of production in which you are engaged.

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