Alright, we realize that release forms might not make for the most exciting blog post…
But we’re willing to take that risk.
Why? Because they matter!
If you’re not having people sign release forms, it’s only a matter of time before you’re removing your favorite shot from the film because an angry parent doesn’t want their child’s face floating around on Vimeo.
And rightfully so — would YOU want footage of yourself being used without first getting the opportunity to officially say “yes, I’m cool with it.”
Angry parents are just one of a whole number of messy scenarios that could come your way if you don’t have everyone in your films signing the appropriate release form….
An actor who doesn’t sign a release might later ask you not to use the footage if they land a new role that conflicts with your film in some way…
Someone might not like the way they’re portrayed and ask you to remove any scenes with them in it…
The coffee shop you shot that one scene in might decide they don’t want to be in your film anymore…
So what can you do to prevent any of these frightening potential circumstances?
Get them to sign a release form. Every time.
So what does this require from you, exactly?
- First and foremost, you must HAVE all the necessary forms.
- You also must BRING them to every shoot.
- You must ask nicely for people to sign!
- Last but not least… always try to get forms signed up front!
Once you get that down… it’ll be like old hat, and getting all your releases in order won’t even be much of a thought!
So let’s get into the details…
What are release forms?
As the photo at the top of this post so snarkily illustrates, release forms are essentially pieces of paper that serve to legally cover your butt.
By signing a general talent release form, the signer:
- Waives their right to approve or disapprove of the finished product.
- Acknowledges that the production/company is conducted professionally.
- Acknowledges that they’re over 18.
- Confirms that they’re not breaching another contract by participating in your film.
You’ll want a regular adult talent/model release form to start with, but there are a few other kinds you’ll also want to have on hand at all times:
A minor release form (parents will sign for their kids).
And a location release form (for any establishment you’re shooting in).
Each of these involves a similar kind of legal-y jargon that essentially waives their right to object to being in your film after you’ve finished producing it.
If you don’t have them sign a release, you have no right to use the footage should they want to have it removed for whatever reason.
But wait… isn’t that what a filming notice is for?
Answer: yes, kind of!
What a filming notice does is allow you to skip all the paperwork when you’re in a super public place (shooting in a store or at a coffee shop, for example) by simply putting up one sign that says, essentially: “We’re filming here, and if you walk into the frame you’re agreeing to be in our film!”
You can put it up just about anywhere…
So, if we’re talking about just random passersby that come into your frame — all you need to do is put up your filming notice.
But anyone who is intentionally featured as a part of the scene you’re filming, you’ll need to be handing them a real talent release form.
When do I need to bring release forms?
Pretty much all the time!
Release forms are a necessary part of every shoot, even if you know the talent SUPER WELL, because you just never know.
We always try to get the necessary release forms squared away before a shoot even begins, because if we find out that someone DOESN’T want to sign AFTER we’ve already shot everything, we’re going to have to remove any shot with that person in it!
And it’s just more of a headache to go home after your shoot and start sending out emails to everyone in your film, trying to collect releases after all has already been done.
In summary: not only do you need to bring the necessary release forms, you also need to get them signed before hand.
How do I talk to people about signing this?
All this legal mumbo-jumbo might have you wondering… are people gonna want to sign this thing?
The good news is that almost everyone does.
Here’s the breakdown of how it usually goes:
- Roughly 50% of people will sign it without even reading.
- 30% will read AND sign it.
- 15% will read it and have some questions (and you get to answer them!)
- 5% or less will say “hell no I’m not signing that.”
To (almost) guarantee that the people participating in the film will happily sign the form, we recommend these 5 tips:
1. Start with WHY.
Why are you doing this project/film? Why does it matter? And why you need a release? These are the things you need to answer for
2. Be passionate and excited.
Not only are you passionate about what you’re doing, you’re excited that they’re helping you! Without your talent, you’d have nothing — let them know how happy you are that they’re participating.
3. Be concise.
This is just something you should always be aiming for with any shoot, but when it comes to getting people to sign a piece of paper that waives some of their rights… they’re going to be much more trusting of you if you aren’t taking up a bunch of their time and messing with their schedule!
4. Set proper expectations.
Tell them things like how long the shoot will take, when the edit will be done, and let them know that there’s a chance they might not end up in the final piece.
5. Summarize the document.
Instead of just handing it to them and saying “Hey, sign this would ya?” be sure to explain it to them. Once again, they’re going to be more trusting of you if you take the time to show that you care about their concerns.
Ok so… how do I get these forms?
Alright, so the smartest way for you to go about this is to find a reasonably priced (or free) template online — there are hundreds — AND (here’s the important part) schedule an appointment to have a lawyer look it over.
Because laws vary from state to state, and no matter what you get off of the internet it may need adjusting depending on where you live. The same is true for drafting up a filming notice.
As we previously linked to above in this post, American Society of Media Photographers has a ton of resource for all the legal releases/contracts you need as a filmmaker. Here you’ll find a lot more information on this topic, and draft up any releases you don’t already have. Once you’ve got a draft you can have a lawyer look over it and make sure you’re good to go.
So… if you don’t have the necessary release forms already, here’s your next course of action:
1. Get a talent release form, a minor release form, and a location release form.
2. Have a lawyer look them over and make sure everything’s copacetic.
3. Print out a bunch of copies!
4. Practice your approach to asking people how to sign.
And there you go — not only are you doing great work… you’re legal!
What’s your experience been with release forms?
Any good (or bad) stories in this arena? Tell us about it!
Great post again guys! Would love to find out more about photography and film agreements (terms and conditions etc). Personally I find it hard to find any good info about it other than going to a lawyer.
I’ve been using the IOS app mRelease (http://www.mreleaseapp.com) for the last couple years and I love not having to carry around and store the papers. It emails the releases to me and I store them on Google Drive with the rest of that projects documents.
I was hoping someone would have some input on this! We’re still using our trusty paper releases and haven’t ventured into the world of release form apps, so I was hesitant to make recommendations. Have you had any problems with this method?
Even if this is a nice way to go, paperless, it might be worthwhile to check if digital model release has ground in a courtroom. The law is pretty slow in catching up with the digital world and unless it is expressly defined in the law, it has no value (or limited). Just my two cents. JMC
I use the iOS app Cinema Forms. It’s fantastic!
Do you follow the same procedure for wedding videos, i.e. have everyone in the video sign a release? How does that work.
Nope — it says in our wedding clients’ contracts that we reserve the right to use any of the footage for our promotional purposes, meaning that we don’t need any of the guests to sign. It’s never been a problem.
Hi and thanks for the priceless tips in general! I had the same question as Tim: do you ask EVERYONE to sigh for a wedding video (must take ages)? And how can you connect the names of the people who signed and those who didn’t to their faces??
Great post! Do you a have a link to more info about release forms that realates to Canadians?
Any suggestions for music royalty-free forms? I work with local musicians using their music for my work and it is always a challenge finding good sample agreements and forms.
If you can say in your wedding contract that “we reserve the right to use any of the footage for our promotional purposes” and that means “that [you] don’t need any of the guests to sign”, then could you apply that to other types of shoots as well? For example, if a conference (say WPPI) hires you to do a promotional video for them, could you say the same thing in your contract as you would for a wedding and then not need to have any release forms signed?
I have releases signed from all employees in my company that I am interviewing. If I’m shooting B-Roll in my office of employees in a meeting in the conference room or sitting at their computer typing or standing in the lobby talking, I’m guessing I need releases from them in case they someday become ex-employees and don’t want to be in a corporate video on our website. Is that correct?
Some employment contracts cover this, so you’d not need a separate release. However your line of thinking is spot on. When in doubt, get a signature
I also use a ipad app, ID RELEASE. it has forms for actors and talent etc, along with ability to take ID photos and head shots in the release form, plus sends a PDF to both the talent and myself. been using it for a couple of years now.. works great.. i used to have folders filled with over 500 loose sheets of releases.. now it’s all in a searchable database 🙂
why not add that to a paid module on your smapp app guys ?
Any thoughts on using “on camera” releases, in a pinch? (i.e. have the subject of a short interview or comment look in the camera first and say “my name is x and I give permission to the producers of this film to use my likeness without compensation or reservation” – or words to that effect)
I’m not even an attorney spokesman but I think if you can pretty much fill out and “sign” just about any gov’t forms–including taxes-you should be good to go.
What about artistes (music, acting etc) – are we bound by your model release for a long time, or just for the length of a particular project?> Quite confusing.
Super in-depth post. I’d also check out this actor release form on StudioBinder https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/complete-guide-actor-release-form-template/
A friend won’t sign it because he doesn’t consent to the broad language…the carte blanche use of his image in perpetuity. All the other actors signed, but still I do see his point.
Is there a more limiting form of release that states he consents to my use of his image AS IT IS in the film, in perpetuity? He wants to—reasonably—protect himself
I made a documentary film in India and had everyone sign release forms. Somehow one of our team members lost the release forms. I feel a little stuck now, its been 9 years and i don’t know if i can email most of the people (plus its pretty embarrassing asking). How much risk would it be to seek distribution and screen this film, given that all the subjects are in India and did technically sign releases?
That’s a tough one, sorry to hear that happened. Personally, I feel like it would be risky to move forward without trying to salvage the releases. Also, chances are that your distribution partner will require them in order to protect themselves as well. I totally get the “embarrassment” part, but feeling sheepish is a smaller price to pay than the potential alternative. I’m sure you could get back in touch and say that since it’s been such a long time since the shoot, you’re playing it safe by getting updated releases as well with new photographs to match…