The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Paul Miil

Is it possible to make a biography on a famous musician without their permission?

If so, can I use their name in the title?

I have intentions of distributing to Canada & USA.

I contacted their management and this was their reply--I removed their identity.

"xxxx is a very private person and isn't looking for this type of recognition.
In view of how xxxx would feel about the whole thing, we would not be allowed to license any music nor would the band be available for interviews."

Ramona Diaz

Well you could argue that the musician is famous and therefore you can make this film about the public persona. BUT how can you make a film about a musician without access to his/her work – i.e. the music? If management and the band are unwilling to give you permission to use the music, you can't use it. What would be the point of the film?

Paul Miil

So, simply because someone is famous I can make a doc about them without their permission?

Would I be able to show the inside of previous homes and schools that he mentioned in his books or is that too private? Where is the line?

They say he is a private person and yet he's a celebrity who has written several books with intimate details about his private life.

Christopher Wong

paul, for an example of how to profile a musician without using ANY of their music, check out AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About a Son

however, the above doc did primarily utilize the artist's recorded tapes from an interview for a book. so, you will somehow have to access something which gives the artist a voice. i'm sure you'll think of something creative...

Neil Garrett

Hi all,
I'm filming a low budget community project (uk) over the next couple of weeks some of which will involve shooting teenagers (sadly only with a camera) at a club they attend. As most of them will be under 16, this puts me on tricky ground with the release forms. I need parental consent, but it's unlikely any of the parents will come to the club during filming. I'm a bit nervous at the prospect of say, giving each kid a release form and self addressed envelope and relying on them to return them, and there's no way of knowing or finding out who'll be attending in advance.
Should I be worried about this or just go ahead and shoot? Do I have to get release forms even for kids who'll just be wallpaper?

Mark Barroso

Laws are country-specific, so us Yanks can't tell you squat. That said, I'll tell you my thoughts anyway (us Yanks are like that).

I'm assuming you can't contact parents ahead of time and are shooting kids who just happen to show up. If it were me, I would demand from the kids the phone number of their guardian and call them on the spot. After getting a verbal release from mum, I'd tell her you need to get all this in writing and that she will have to sign a release and get her address.

Know going into it that x percent of the kids you shoot will be unusable because their parent never followed up by mailing you the release.

Andrew David Watson

What type of club is this? A chess club? A music Club? Will the kids be getting picked up by their parents at the end? Will you be interviewing the kids or will they just be background? Thats a tough situation.

Neil Garrett

It's a computer game tournament organised by a local library. I think the age range is gonna be quite broad so I'm assuming a fair number of kids will be making their own way there and back. The sequence ain't gonna live or die on whether I get interviews with them, but it would be nice to get some reaction – only with kids who I've got cast iron consent to use though!

-And Mark, thanks for the advice about getting verbal releases. I think thats probably a good place to start!


Roderick Taylor

Hey Neil,

I'm not sure how it works in the UK, nor am I really sure how it works in my own country (Canada), as the lawyers like to debate these issues to the end of time. That said, my understanding of it is this. Anyone can film anything in a public forum. Where you may be sued is if you use that public footage in a manner that could be construed as defamation of character. For example, if I'm making a video about prostitution and I videotape women waiting for the bus or teenage males cruising in their cars on main street, and I use that footage as b-roll in my film, but in such a way that those persons are depicted as prostitutes or 'john's', it would be pretty good grounds for a defamation of character lawsuit laid against me. If I was actually filming prostitutes and 'john's' cruising around the red light area of my city, and I disguised their faces in final production, I'd be minimizing the chances of a lawsuit, as I've eliminated a great deal of possibility for someone's character to be defamated.

At the end of the day however, anyone can sue anyone for anything. All you have to do is file a writ in a civil court. So, there is no 100% protection from a law suit. What you can protect yourself from is the credibility of the plaintiff's lawsuit.

If you are filming people in a private setting, such as a library, you will likely need permission from the library to do so. The library will then probably put up a poster that warns people of the shooting and gives them the option to inform you if they don't want to be captured in your film.

As for the 16-year-olds and their consent. I think it depends on two factors; the age of majority in the UK, and wheter or not you have something like an Infants Act in the UK. The Infants Act in Canada allows counsellors to provide their services to children under the age of majority, without consent from their parents, provided that the counsellor considers the child to be old enough to fully understand the consequences of such services. Maybe the UK has a law like that but pertaining to the rights of a child to access any kind of service.

Those are just my thoughts

Take Care,

Neil Garrett

Well just got back from the filming and wouldn't you know it, the God of Production was smiling down on me. All but one of the kids had parents drifting in and out, all perfectly happy to have the kiddywinks on camera. Even the mum who wasn't there gave verbal consent over the phone and has agreed to sign the release I'm sending her.

Now I just need to know whether I can use cutaways of the TV screen showing the computer games being played, or whether that breaches uk copyright. Anyone?