View Full Version : Documentary releases/liability
11-30-2005, 09:20 PM
I have started filming a documentary that will chronicle land-use issues (sprawl, etc.) in an upstate NY county. I am telling a story that will most likely paint an unflattering picture of a few people, most notably a local landowner/politician. I have footage of him speaking on many occasions at Town Board meetings (as well as footage of other politicians and concerned citizens) and I know that what goes on there is a matter of public record. How does this forum affect matters of liability (getting releases, etc.), if it does at all? I am imagining a worst-case scenario where all of the players in this story say they don't want to sign anything, and I will be left to either risk lawsuits or look back at a wasted year of filming. How do other documentary filmmakers create work that is obviously critical of public figures when they can't possibly have their consent? Is the news vs. editorial matter a factor?
12-01-2005, 12:57 PM
I have footage of him speaking on many occasions at Town Board meetings (as well as footage of other politicians and concerned citizens)
I don't have an exact answer but for clarity, is it footage that you shot or obtained elsewhere? Might make a difference.
I think in addition to public figure status you need to look generally at open meeting law.
Ask a research librarian. Or make a call or email to a university professor teaching media/communication law and ask for a book, journal or website reference (rather than specific legal advise) and you will likely find a willing ear.
12-01-2005, 01:04 PM
It is all footage that I have shot myself. I don't anticipate using any footage obtained elsewhere, but what might the difference be?
12-01-2005, 01:07 PM
[QUOTE= I don't anticipate using any footage obtained elsewhere, but what might the difference be?[/QUOTE]
Only that you might have to purchase other footage and obtain a release for its use.
12-01-2005, 07:15 PM
while some laws concerning celebrity in the US and Canada are different, when it comes to getting releases -ALWAYS do it. A lawyer reviewing the project and assessing E&O with or without exclusions is going to want to make sure there is no risk to a broadcaster and/or introduce the potential for liability later.
Even when shooting in a public or private setting the legal beagles will also ask for location agreements, along with waivers for companies who's logos might appear. It's totally stupid and frustrating, but we have spent thousands upon thousands for lawyers on both sides to agree what is a risk to the broadcaster/distributor.
Shooting as news is totally different as news is immediate whereas documentary is not aired in the same day or day after. I don't know why the distinction is there because it would make everyone's job easier...
12-02-2005, 07:11 AM
Thanks for the tips. I realize that it is certainly ideal to have releases from everybody recognizably depicted in any way in a film, but the players in these little local dramas usually know that they are up to something and would NEVER sign anything like a release. I fear that I might be relying on the public-forum/informational purposes aspect of this just so that I can use my best footage. Of course I will try to get people to sign releases, but how does Michael Moore, for example, rip the President of the United States without his permission? How do any documentary filmmakers show footage that is obviously critical of people, using those people's likeness, and get away with it?
12-05-2005, 07:21 AM
Those last two questions are the clincher for me, but I rarely see them directly addressed. How does someone like Michael Moore rip apart the President without his permission? So many docs are harshly critical of people, and use those people's voices and likeness to tell the story of how "bad" they are. How does this happen if people "have to have releases from everybody"?
Public figures are generally exempt from needing releases. Also, newsworthy events are also generally exempt for a documentary film.
12-08-2005, 02:53 PM
Xort is right. Apparently it's interpreted that those in the public eye have given up their right to privacy when in a public setting -which is why jennifer Aniston is suing some dude for taking topless photos of her on her own property but used a telephoto lens to do it...although for some reason in Canada they interpret this differently. I personally believe its a holdover from the tight ass colonialism brought over on the boat so many moons ago. But then again, consider the stalkarazzi in the UK...