There are many legal issues to consider when producing any major movie project. The same is true in the local market (industrial level) of film, television and video productions. Two of these legal considerations are securing permission to use a given location, and permission to show anyone’s image seen on camera. These are known as Property Releases and Talent Releases, respectively.
The following information focuses on securing talent releases at public events. Releases usually don’t apply to private ones like weddings or other special occasions. In addition, depending on whom you’re working for, this information may or may not affect what you do.
The standard rule is that whoever is recognizable in your camera shots needs a signed talent release. If you work for news this doesn’t really apply with consenting (sometimes non-consenting) adults, and some instances that involve minors. News has some leeway when it comes to these things. Educational television is a little different and usually secures releases whenever possible. Government and public access television generally enjoy the same privileges that news does, although on certain occasions all may have to obtain some type of release.
If you’re working for just about any reputable production company (or yourself), you’ll probably have to obtain talent releases from anyone who appears on camera. It is wise to get one anyway, even if you don’t really have to and they’re doing it for free. Because you never know when a person could change their mind. And it will usually be at the most inopportune moment.
Think about it. You may show it on local TV, upload it to the world-wide-web, or just project it at a public meeting. If you don’t have releases, anyone recognizable can legally demand that you take them out of it. This is true not only of actors, coworkers or friends but it applies to people at public events, or any place the public goes. Do people mulling about in a large crowd shot count? I doubt it.
More often than not people get excited about being seen in things like this, as long as you don’t talk to them. Yeah. You’ll get people waving and yelling, “Hi!” “Look at me!” or “Wooo!” Ask them a serious question and they might get camera shy on you, not know what to say, stammer their way through a useless interview, or just decline altogether. Because for every ‘man-on-the-street’ news-type interview you ultimately see onscreen, around ten to fifteen people refused to participate. Fortunately at a public event you’ll have better luck because most people are in a festive mood.
Remember that I said a talent release may not be required depending on whom you’re working for? Well if you’re working for the owners of a large event, they probably have already prepared for it. For example, when you go to Disneyland you may notice a metal plaque on the wall just before you enter. It reads something to the effect of, “By entering these premises you agree that for no compensation, at any time you may be filmed, or your image may be recorded for commercial and/or promotional purposes by ‘the company’.”
This covers the park if they ever film or record. Then it is up to the individual whether they want to enter or not. By entering, they are giving their consent and permission without having to sign anything. If they’re on vacation, they have no choice. Most professional promoters who run concerts and other public events will post a similar sign at the entrance if they know filming or recording will be taking place, or even if there is only the possibility. Just keep in mind that these release signs only apply if you’re working for the event owner. If you’re working independently of the event, you still need releases, or permission to post your own sign.
Getting back to anyone recognizable on-camera. If people are in the background and they’re too far away to tell who they are, don’t worry about it. Don’t even worry about people who are closer that quickly pass by. Yeah you could slow it down and get a freeze-frame, but who’s going to do that? The people you have to worry about are those who mostly fill the screen for a reasonable amount of time. It doesn’t matter if they speak or not. So you should have plenty of standard talent releases on hand, a clipboard and a working pen. Get them to sign it, with no compensation ($) if you can, for your own protection.
When it comes to kids and minors it gets a little trickier, because the release is only legally valid with a parent or guardian signature. In educational television we usually handed out talent releases weeks in advance and collected them when we arrived. This is probably not an option for you in most cases, so proceed carefully. Fortunately for kids at events, a parent is usually close by. But a talent release with proper signatures may be difficult to get from teenagers who often stay clear of their parents at these events. A publicly displayed release sign at the entrance is the only real remedy. Even if you’re only shooting in one specific area at the event, put a release sign at the entrance.
Some locations like special classrooms, community facilities or public libraries have talent releases already on file. In order for people to participate in some public programs or activities, adults or parents of minors often sign several releases, one being a talent release. This is sometimes required, as in special education programs, or by request depending on the facility or activity. This is in case they happen to film or record video during an activity. While this may or may not happen, they are wisely prepared if it does. The release usually lasts per semester or however long the program or activity is. Of course there are some people who will not sign these releases. In such cases, whoever is in charge usually knows who it is and helps with identifying them for you.
The bottom line of all this is that you’re safer if you stay on top of things, and know your particular situation. If your project will be shown on television, online or even projected in a gymnasium at lunchtime, it is being publicly displayed. People have the right to decide whether they want or do not want to be displayed publicly. Ask for permission and make sure you have everyone’s signature on talent releases. You can either take this precaution, or risk the project being sent back, pulled offline for re-editing, and the worse case scenario, facing a lawsuit.
I found a great web site that provides free rtf or txt versions of various talent releases for different purposes to copy and paste, including property releases. Look for the link below to visit their web page. There are probably more resources out there too. Just do a search for ‘free talent releases’.
So good luck, always prepare, take precautions, and don’t forget to have fun!