Film production is all about securing rights. To ensure that a finished film can be exploited to the fullest extent possible, it is essential to obtain permission to use all of the elements that make up the film. Distributors and their insurance companies will insist that a producer guarantee that all necessary rights to the film have been obtained. Dissatisfied, upset or greedy rights owners can prevent or delay distribution of a finished film, and can cause serious financial difficulties for the producer. Securing rights during the development and production stage is much easier than trying to track down rights holders and create a 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 production. Even so, there are certain standard agreements common to all film productions. A few typical agreements, including a Submission Release, Location Release, Appearance Release, and an Independent Contractor Agreement, are included here. Other common agreements include option and purchase agreements, production agreements, talent agreements, and distribution agreements. Visit www.lehmannstrobel.com for more information about film production legal services.
The following “boilerplate” agreements are intended to help producers better understand some of the rights issues they will encounter during development and production of a feature film. They are provided as general information and are not intended as legal advice. They are not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Using these forms or relying on the information contained here does not create an attorney-client relationship with Lehmann Strobel PC. As with all legal forms, they should not be relied on without seeking the advice of an attorney with respect to the facts and circumstances of a particular situation or transaction.
SUBMISSION RELEASE: Many production companies will not accept unsolicited treatments or screenplays unless they are submitted through the author’s agent or attorney and/or are accompanied by a submission release. The submission release protects the production company from frivolous copyright infringement claims. Properly drafted, it also protects the author’s copyright, including the right to compensation. The following is an example of an abbreviated submission release for a feature film screenplay submitted through an author's attorney. Download 11KB PDF
LOCATION RELEASE: Before filming on private property it is advisable to obtain a location release from the owner. A well drafted location release not only gives a film producer the right to film on the property, but also insures that the producer has the rights necessary to use the resulting recording for any purpose. The following is an example of a location release which includes the right to record intellectual property which may be housed in the property. This release also includes insurance and indemnity language benefiting both the owner and producer. Download 12KB PDF
APPEARANCE RELEASE: 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 another person in a filmed work. Without it, the subject can 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. When the subject is a minor, it is necessary to obtain the approval of a parent or guardian. If the subject is an employee, permission of the employer may also be necessary. Download 12KB PDF
INDEPENDENT CONTTRACTOR AGREEMENT: 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 tax purposes, the producer may be liable to pay employment taxes, including workers compensation, for that employee. It is essential to include “work-for-hire” language as part of the independent contractor agreement. Absent a written “work-for-hire” provision, under U.S. 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 the work. Download 16KB PDF