Crossing our Is and dotting our Ts

Posted by – December 3, 2008

Update: You can see what we’ve decided to do in No to ACTRA, Yes to Releases, Maybe to Cyberhats but I’ll leave this here for archival purposes.

I’m thinking about doing stuff legally with this movie, where it doesn’t cramp our style. It’d keep our options open for a broadcast sales, and doing paperwork at the beginning of the process is easier than at the end when I’ll be wanting to promote the movie and get it out there and move on to the next project. Some issues I have to look into are:

  • If we use ACTRA union actors, we have to clear it with the union before hand — I have heard differing reports on how difficult this is;
  • Locations permission forms, rather than just a blind eye turned — I’m thinking alleys might be public space, or at least quasi public space, and may not require locations permissions;
  • We need to get actors and extras to sign release forms — I’d like to have them read it before the shoot rather than just thrusting it into their hands.

I’m planning to meet with a couple of experienced movie makers and I expect to have many more bullets to add after consulting with them, but any input is appreciated.

19 Comments on Crossing our Is and dotting our Ts

  1. Lucas says:

    one thing about actra, if you want to use a non-actra cast apparently there’s a whole rigmarole you have to go thru explaining to actra why you have to use this actor in your film over an actra member. a friend of mine wanted to put me in a film but because i wasn’t actra, it didnt work out.
    the funny thing is in order to get an actra apprenticeship, you have to do an actra film/commercial, i don’t get it.

  2. Benny says:

    One fix to having actra actors working on a no budget film is to have them ‘donate’ their fee back to the production. But Lucas is right, can we mix apples with oranges? And Jim, it’s all backwards! Dotting ts! Following the rules! Have you lost it bro?

  3. Jim says:

    Dave Fingrut is currently researching the ACTRA possibilities as well the general legalities, so we’ll have some options soon.

    Re: rule following — I am a snakes-nest of contradictions, my friend. Still researching what’s required, and if it turns out that it’s too expensive or a massive hassle then we won’t bother: if it’s a couple pages of paperwork that keeps our broadcast sales options open for the future, then it might be worth it.

  4. Jim says:

    Talked to Rosalind at the Toronto Film Commission (416-338-FILM) and on the subject of alleys (AKA laneways), it depends. They can give permits for public ones, but not the private ones, and we’d have to contact them to find out which category an individual alley fell into. If it is public, the permit is free & takes 2 days to approve, but we’d need insurance (which is at least a couple hundred dollars).

  5. Tate says:

    Hey Jim,
    I have some releases that we used in the past at CTV when doing stories, that basically say the person who signs the paper releases all claims and rights to their appearance, voice, etc. Those folks were generally story subjects, but I would think it could apply to actors as well (non-union–I don’t know the ramifications of ACTRA). I’m sure the form would need some tweaking, but it might be a start. Let me know if you want me to dig them out.

  6. Jim says:

    Tate, sounds like a good start — if you have the text digitally want to slap er in? Otherwise I can get a copy from you in real life.

  7. Tate says:

    Hey Jim, I’m emailing you a Word doc–I had most of it digital, with a few updates from a recent Rogers release I kept. If anyone else wants a copy, drop me an email address.

    ‘Course, it really is supposed to apply to people who are doing everything for free–usually interview subjects. If you want to incorporate a payment structure, that might have to be included in this–wherein I think it becomes a contract instead of a release, but I’m no legal dog, so I’m not sure.

    And yeah, I’m definitely NOT a lawyer, so if you want to ensure that it’s 100% legit, it might be worth a visit with a lawyer friend or volunteer or student legal services. But it looks pretty serious and legit to me.

  8. Dave says:

    ACTRA’s Toronto Indie Production (TIP) page: has a link to a ‘Financial Obligations’ page: which in turn suggests that ACTRA actors need to be paid between $64 and $110 per day.

  9. Cecil says:

    yes. I just tried to do a short while here in Montreal, and I tried to do it with an ACTRA actor. It was very complicated. Basically, you CAN waive the fee, but then the ACTRA actors have to all “own” the film as well. Also, it means that the entire crew has to be Canadian and every single actor (including background) must be ACTRA. (coming from the SAG side of things, this seemed crazy to me, there you can mix and match, non union and union, which is much easier when you are doing down and dirty)

    But, other than that crazy, it did seem as though ACTRA is willing to work with ultra low budgets.

  10. Jonathan says:

    ‘where it doesn’t cramp our style’ – ? I think legal is all or nothing. Errors and Omissions is complete torture. It gets down to labels on jeans and books on the shelf. Going legal will almost certainly mean little or no ‘on the fly’ location shooting. That’s my info anyway – would love to see what the research turns up.

    The ACTRA agreement is called the IPA – although I here there’s a new ‘ultra low budget’ option which may have a different name, but still involves the exchange of cash. I’d be surprised if they have a provision for free work – if nothing else, ACTRA gotta get paid.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Also, I went out for beer with a TV guy last month and he indicated that broadcasters may want input at the proposal stage…? Also that the cash there is drying up fast.

    Maybe a strategic examination of non-broadcast market potentials (and implications re content/method) would be worth doing at the same time?

  12. Jim says:

    Some clearly stated info over at Superchannel:

    How I get the rights or permission?
    Get written consent. The “Personal Release” is used to obtain permission from the people seen in your film (whether actors or real people). This includes people seen in still photographs. Parents or legal guardians must sign on behalf of children. A “Clearance Release” covers products and logos. A “Location Release” covers the locations where you’re shooting or identifiable locations seen in your film. Music releases come in two forms. The “Master Recording License” is to permit you to use music previously recorded. It must be signed by whoever owns the actual recorded performance of the work. “Synchronisation Rights” are the rights to the music composition itself (the song rather than a specific recording of the song) and these rights come from the either the original songwriter or the publisher who has the publishing rights to the composition if these rights were assigned to a publisher.

    Why do I have to get the rights to ALL of the images, including people, and music used in my film?
    As soon as you make a film you’re vulnerable to being sued. The most common lawsuits are copyright and trademark infringements, libel, invasion of privacy, and plagiarism (theft of ideas).

    I’m a small, independent filmmaker, making my film with no cash. Am I still at risk?
    Yes. A lawsuit can stop the distribution or exhibition of your film and no one will be able to see it.

    Is verbal consent good enough?
    No. Agreements in writing help to protect you from people who will forget their deal with you or change their mind later. If you want to use any film or video clips in your film where the film clip was made by another person, you need to make sure that person not only gives you the right to use the clip but that they are able to give you clear use of everything inside the film clip (ie people, locations, music, etc.) This is not a complete list of clearances but covers the major issues.

    What about story rights?
    If you wrote the story yourself, document it. If you’re adapting the work of someone else, make sure you have his/her permission and that s/he haven’t already given away the rights. This is referred to as “Chain of Title Documentation”.

    What about other people who worked with me on the film like my editor or my camera person?
    You should again have a document from them stating clearly that you own all rights to the film and that to the extent that they have any rights they have assigned all their rights in the film to you. This will protect you from an unexpected claim later from your crew.

    What if I’m shooting in a large crowd?
    If the people are identifiable, get them to sign a release.

    If I have all my releases signed, does it mean that I can’t be sued?
    No. You can still be sued but there’s a much better chance that it won’t go to court if you have the paperwork to prove you have all necessary rights.

    How do copyright issues affect the future of my film?
    Most broadcasters and festivals will require that you have the rights to images and music in your film before they will consider broadcast or exhibition because they are putting themselves at risk exhibiting films by filmmakers who don’t have all the rights Some may require that you have Errors and Omissions Insurance (“E&O”) so they know that a deep pocketed insurance company will defend them if any legal claims pop up. You’ll need those releases to obtain E&O. If you’ve done your homework and can prove it, you’ll have a much better chance convincing a broadcaster or other exhibitor to take a risk on you.

  13. Flick says:

    1. Ugh.

  14. Flick says:

    2. In BC you can mix and match ACTRA (which is called UBCP here) and non-ACTRA. UBCP folks need $50 / day, and if you hire one UBCP actor, I think you need to pay ALL the actors, though you’re allowed non-union ones.

    Without committing to writing, I’ll just say I’ve had a heck of a time with that issue. It’s pretty rock-solid. By the time I write this it might be stricter.

    Then again, how does one join the union? Could you convince ACTRA to sign up your cast members?

    And UBCP has total exemptions for “educational, artistic,” productions. You sign a contract that limits your rights to sell the film, with the proviso that you come back to the union to pay regular union rates (or a portion, if you’re budge) in the event of a sale, up to the deferred scale. Something like that might squeak you through the cracks. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Be afraid to sign before reading.

  15. Flick says:

    3. As for product logos etc, the quickest solution is to Greek them – i.e. black out logos, rip off labels, turn them around, shirts inside out etc.

    I don’t know what a lawyer thinks, but there’s a fine line between, say, a logo, vs a distinticve car. Do you need a release from Wolkswagen to have a Bug in your film? A bug is pretty damn obviously a product. I shudder to think. What about Ray-Bans? What about a Mac?

    I think the Repo Man solution is best. Watch it and see.

  16. Flick says:

    4. As for “recognizable locations -” yeesh. What’s a recognizeable location? A bus stop? A street corner? Do you need rights from the architect for every building in shot? The property owner? What about the artisan who crafted your table? Copyright law says yes. Enforceability says no. But the margin is getting smaller.

    It’s these questions and others that make filmmaking a nightmare.

  17. Flick says:

    5. As for permits – a trick I learned was to poke around for different jurisdictions. On Vancouver streets, we needed a permit and electrician. But on Granville Island, which is federal property, we need neither.

  18. Flick says:

    6. AS for geurilla shooting – getting shooed off the property by a transit cop etc is NOT the same as getting sued / killing distro of your film. And I don’t believe, by law, you need a permit, or permission, to film people in public space. (This from Nettie Wild, among others)

    Broadcasters might want it to avoid being sued, much like the USA wants to blow up the middle east to avoid being bombed. It’s a paranoid strategy without rational basis.

    Repeat after me: A lawyer will say no. A lawyer will say no.

  19. Flick says:

    Keep in mind, also, the different rules for “background extras.” Here, UBCP requires the fist 6 b/g on a union shoot day to be UBCP extras. The rest can be non-union. B/g is a different section of the union and I’m not sure if they can cross-pollinate, ie. bg folks in speaking roles, vice versa.

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