Film Industry Tips

Filmmaking law and legal misconceptions.

filmmaking law and legal misconceptions

The usage of trademarks and copyrighted material in Indie Filmmaking Law and all other elements which need to be taken into account.

Filmmaking Law. The tables have turned.

In the past a stern “I’ll take this to the press” threat really meant nothing to a big brand or production company once they and their scary Boston lawyers got the small indie filmmaker into a corner over some rights issue evolving around a giant “no-no” within filmmaking law.

Nowadays, it’s different – very different. In a world of trial by social media, big companies are very aware of how careful they should be when it comes to ‘crushing the little guy’. Logic and reputation is now dictating decisions, and it couldn’t be better presented than in the world of independent cinema.

This week we have looked as deep as we can into the rules of trademarks, copyright, use of public spaces, private property and quoting public figures to give our filmmakers a clear understanding as to the simple misconceptions of featuring material in their indie film work – and the baselines of legal exposure it might, or might not, represent.

Filmmaking Law. Logos and Trademarks.

By filmmaking law, both in the states, Europe and Asia, you have every right to show whatever logo you wish to in a film, or anything else you wish to present. A company won’t go after you for free advertising. From a Nike swoosh on a baseball cap to a Skoda badge on a getaway car – companies do not require a thing from you – nor are you legally required to mask anything out – unless you want to negotiate some money for product placement. Studios have set contracts with firms but these are just business deals for exclusive rights over certain products used in certain projects and will never bare any relevance with indie cinema.

If you see a logo faded out on anything it is usually due to one of two reasons. Either because the studio took the decision to shoot the brand first and then go for money second, only to find that the company refused to pay-up. Or because of international conflicts of interest, usually between studios, distribution companies or TV channels.

The filmmaking law and legal bottom line: You may show the logo of any company in your films and you will not get sued – provided that you aren’t saying or showing anything unfairly about the brands product or service.

Filmmaking Law. Music rights.

This is where it spins on a six-pence. Music companies take a zero tolerance to usage. If you’re gunning out for mass exposure with your work or looking to gain remuneration from it’s release into the public domain – you have to have the rights to do so – this keeps the heavy hand or any grey area away from the filmmaking law and legal narrative of your project.

Our advice, take this as an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered talent!

Cheaper than you think, and way more interesting, and unique, if you browse somewhere like SoundCloud instead of your iTunes library. There are thousands of unknown composers/artists out there better than you can imagine, who would normally give you their music rights for a mention in the credits and a nominal fee. If you find yourself paying for music anywhere above treble figures you’re not using your imagination.

There is nothing more pleasing to us than receiving a film where the music is fresh, and where we have an opportunity to introduce that work to our audiences.

A key rule in creativity is that you never pigeon hole your scenes into some sort of stubborn wish. Elements beyond our control change by the minute. Don’t get caught up on a soundtrack idea, leave yourself the freedom of options.

Filmmaking Law. Quoting public figures.

In filmmaking law, you may quote whoever the hell you want – but be sure not to mis-quote them or you’ll get a strange letter asking you to remove whatever it is you’ve written. Providing you aren’t bringing the quoted individual into accusational slander then it’s totally fine. The best rule where dealing with quotes from public figures is to keep them positive and inspirational. That way, all the public figure can do, is thank you for sharing their wisdom to the world.

Filmmaking Law. Disclaimers solve most problems.

If you have a good, clear and readable disclaimer, one which leaves no doubt about anything then you’re usually very safe with most things. Take South Park for instance, this is their very genius disclaimer that goes at the beginning of every episode that they have ever done to date…

filmmaking law

This is on screen for a little under 3 seconds but it is more legal than you think. Over the years South Park have destroyed, in sometimes very graphic ways, celebrities with huge armies of lawyers and have made fun of institutions from SeaWorld to Fox, they have pushed the boundaries and have gone for the big no-no’s attacking the Church of Scientology and, before his death, Micheal Jackson – but they haven’t once been taken to court, and this all comes down to the above disclaimer, which, through 18 seasons in, is proving to be absolute filmmaking law, and legal titanium.

If you are in a thread of doubt, use one. It sometimes gets a warm reaction and they usually give an essence of “cool” to your work.

Filmmaking Law. Library footage.

The usage of other clips from other films or shows or news reports is again passable providing credits are given and a decent disclaimer is provided. There is a very solid disclaimer at the beginning of the documentary Room 237 which totally removes itself from the original film and studio, but where nearly 70% of the documentary are masses of clips from The Shining.

If you choose to use clips from work widely available in the public domain do not leave any doubt whatsoever that the views, connections or anything else are totally disconnected from the original curators. Make it as obvious and almost as offensively in the face as humanly possible.

Filmmaking Law. Depicting real people.

You can depict a real person in a narrative, providing that you claim the film to be based on real events if you have their permission to depict them. Or if not, you can still do it but change the disclaimer to “Inspired by real events” – and change the names of those featured instead. ‘Inspired’ is water tight providing you don’t specifically name names.

We all know that “The Master” was the story of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard and his first in-line David Miscavage, but by tweaking with the real events, changing the names, elaborating on rumour and removing anything that might have suggested by name a ‘sinister organisation’ or a ‘mass-con’ – they got away with it – and why wouldn’t they?

Filmmaking Law. The usage of public spaces.

In most places of the western world you are free to film wherever you want. The murky water lies in public obstruction, the invasion of privacy and employment/public liability insurances. In most of our posts on idea creation and writing techniques we always seem to land on knowing your locations first, rubber stamp the permission and potential to film them, then write scenes within the boundaries – it’s more efficient. However, where you require to film in public spaces the best option is to do it following these rules…

– Shoot at first light.
– Work with the lightest crew possible.
– Be prepared to be moved on.

Cities, councils, or mayor offices won’t take you to court if you shoot a scene in their city, but if someone (a member of the public) trips on one of your cables during your shoot in a public space, they will.

Public liability insurance is worth it just for the piece of mind, but try to limit your liability by first writing sensible shootable scenes, and preparing your shooting days with an equally large dollop of sensible common sense.

In summary.

It is very rare nowadays that the bigger player would want to wage war onto the smaller soul. When they do it is only ever with a letter simply saying in an elaborate way: “stop doing what you’re doing.”

Taking a person to court costs a lot of money, and usually, providing you aren’t earning a dime from the work you feature anything in, a simple conversation results in either permission or a removal. If you are ever unsure our best advice would be to seek a workable alternative every time – but whatever you do, do not forget the power you have via social media to contact, share, demand and complain.

Power to the filmmakers!!

If your work is legally tight, packed with original ideas, treads the correct side of filmmaking law, and happens to have exceptional storytelling – send it into us today!