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DOCUMENTARY TIP #1: Release Forms

Release forms. You simply gotta have them. And there are many kinds for many different situations. There are Personal Releases, Group Releases, Location Releases, Materials Releases, to name a few. You may need several types of releases depending on what you plan to shoot.

Let’s talk about the one you’ll probably need the most – a Personal Release form. A Personal Release form is a document that gives you, the filmmaker, the rights to film another person for your project and then to use that footage in your film. Well, that’s the basic description. It should also allow you to edit the footage however you want, as long as you remain loyal to the truth. Oh, and to also exploit it throughout the universe. In addition, there’s the right to use the footage in any and all media, whether now known or hereinafter devised. And did we mention you need to have the rights in perpetuity?

Who would ever sign such a thing? And how can you possibly ask someone to sign such a thing? You may feel uncomfortable asking for such blanket rights, but guess what, this is what most funders and distributors will expect you to have. And more often than not, people will be glad to sign a release form for you (and may not even read it first!?). Still, it’s a smart move to go over it briefly with them, or let them know that you are happy to answer any questions they might have.

And who needs to sign a Personal Release? Ultimately, when it comes to getting release forms, go with the old saying, ‘Better safe than sorry’. Or CYA, as they also say. Most definitely get one if the person says anything on camera—like an interview subject. You might not get E&O insurance for distribution without it.

Which brings us to lawyers. Lawyers are great, and good ones save you money by protecting you from legal nightmares. So have an entertainment lawyer who understands the documentary world look over your release forms before you start filming. You may need specific language depending on whom and what you are filming.

Click here to download a basic release form for free. Remember to have a lawyer look it over though, and tailor it to your project.

If you want to see some more examples of release forms, for minors or groups for example, go to our DocuMentors Tool Kit.

DISCLAIMER:  DocuMentors is not responsible for any legal issues arising out of the use of the templates provided.  They are provided solely as a reference.  A lawyer should be consulted before putting any of these documents to use.