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CLEARANCES

by Jay Floyd, Now Clear This!

Clearances are no joke. In this LineProducing.com EXCLUSIVE consideration topic, Jay Floyd of Now Clear This! helps us understand what we can do and be on the lookout for during our projects production.

 

Let’s talk about clearances.

I know, I know – you’d rather salt your eyes. You’re mounting an enormous undertaking with your independent film and the idea of adding just one more thing to worry about makes you ill.

Well, imagine how you’d feel if your production is successful and fortunate enough to get picked up by a distributor, only to find that it is un-releasable because of clearance problems. This actually does happen, but it doesn’t have to.

Have a clearance meeting with your department heads and discuss the following, well in advance of shooting, and you’ll be very glad you did.

1. ARTWORK

  • If the creator of a piece of fine art (photos / paintings / sculptures) has been dead for one hundred years or more, the artwork itself should be considered cleared for use. If the artist in question is French, be sure to check with your legal advisors. (There may be some fee involved in obtaining a quality copy of such pieces.)
  • If the creator of a piece of fine art has been dead for between seventy five and one hundred years, defer to the opinion of production’s legal counsel as to whether or not any such piece is cleared for use.
  • If the creator of a piece of fine art has been dead for less that seventy-five years or is still living, copyright must be obtained through formal clearance procedures. If the creator cannot be found, the artwork should not be used.
  • Artwork for which no creator is indicated should never be used on camera under any circumstances.
  • Most prop houses will sign off on their art. Ask them when you shop there not to let you take out anything that they won’t sign off on, then send a release for the art you’ve obtained using the inventory sheet as an attachment page that they initial. It’s a great way to go.

2. PRODUCT USAGE

  • Products which have been provided to a production through an established product placement organization are technically ‘cleared’ for use, though some restrictions may apply.
  • ‘Fake Product Labels’ obtained from any outside source should be shown to your legal advisors or clearance administrator before they are used.
  • Cigarette companies will neither permit nor deny permission to use their brands on camera. Therefore, brand name cigarettes may be used with very little risk, providing the scene and/or script itself does not imply that cigarette smoking is unhealthy or addictive IN ANY WAY.
  • Consumer products which are used only in their intended fashion do not require formal clearance. There is a bunch of misunderstanding and folklore out there about this. Bottom line – it’s not illegal to drink a Coke in a feature film. Period. Be mindful of where such things appear, but stop worrying about it. Any dicey usages should be checked with legal, of course. If a photograph or painting appears on a product, it may require separate clearance. Be sure to keep brand names out of the hands of extremely negative characters. Also, make sure that no brands obtained through product placement carry 'exclusive' arrangements prohibiting the on-screen use of competing products. MAKE SURE YOUR LEGAL ADVISORS ARE ON BOARD WITH THIS RULE – AND IF THEY AREN’T, ASK WHY.

3. CHARACTER NAMES

  • Characters whose last name is never spoken or seen in print do not require formal clearance.
  • Full character names should be sent to research and checked for matches specific to the city in which the character is meant to reside. Research should also check any names submitted against ‘prominent individuals’ to ensure that no prominent person shares the same profession as the character in question.
  • Most legal counsel will agree that if a film takes place in a fictional city, character names do not need to be formally cleared. It may be prudent, however, to run a prominent person check against the names of your main characters, even when the town in which your story takes place does not actually exist.

4. STREET NAMES & ADDRESSES

  • Street names never need to be cleared.
  • Specific numeric addresses on streets which actually exist in a given location must be fictitious unless a location agreement exists which specifically cites the address in question.

5. COMMERCIAL ARTWORK

  • Advertisements which exist in a location before a film crew arrives for a shoot may be used as BG set dressing without formal clearance. Such advertisements must never be referred to in dialogue or otherwise prominently featured. MAKE SURE YOUR LEGAL ADVISORS ARE ON BOARD WITH THIS RULE – AND IF THEY AREN’T, ASK WHY.
  • Advertisements which are placed in a location by production must be cleared for use.
  • Use your head – if a particularly horrible scene is to take place at a given location, billboards should not be the backdrop for the illicit activities you’re shooting.

6. PHONE NUMBERS

  • The phone numbers 555-0100 through 555-0199 are currently cleared for use. There are no safe exceptions to this rule.
  • The only ‘800 number’ which is cleared for use is 800-555-0199.
  • No ‘900 numbers’ have been reserved for use in motion pictures.

COMMON MISTAKES

  • GRAPHIC DESIGNERS: Productions often employ graphic designers for the creation of original logos and artwork. These designers are sometimes not clearance savvy. It is advisable that graphic designers, whether on staff or external to the production, be told to call your clearance administrator BEFORE creating any images for use on camera.
  • CLIPS: It is advisable to address the audio/visual clips needed for your production AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. These licensing deals tend to take quite some time and most often require permission from multiple entities.
  • IMAGES FOUND ON THE WEB: Images found on websites are often un-clearable due to the lack of any known source. To the contrary, web images which carry visible copyright notices are usually easy to clear.
  • ‘YARD SALE’ ART: Shopping at second-hand stores and yard sales for artwork often lead to a lot of clearance work, but a denial nonetheless. If you can’t tell who created a piece of art when you look at it, neither can your clearance person – so it can’t be cleared.

Though your production may not be able to afford a clearance administrator to do your contracts, some may charge a ‘consultant fee’ for a greatly reduced range of service. It’s certainly worth asking.

Bottom line – you can’t afford to be passive about the legal health of your footage.

Jay Floyd runs a leading clearance company in Los Angeles called NOW CLEAR THIS! and was the clearance administrator on such films as BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 and LEMONY SNICKET, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS; as well as many others.

Jay Floyd
Clearance Administrator
Now Clear This!
Phone: 323/ 661-1560
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

When contacting Jay, please be sure to tell him you read his article at LineProducing.com. Thanks!

 Budget Impact
Clearances are commonly an item that you will feel should have less money in the account. Don't be fooled. Paying up-front will ensure a clean E&O policy and protect your project.

Initially, you will need the entire script reviewed for issues. This is called a 'Script Clearance Report'. Be sure to review it and distribute it to all crew affected by it. This may include Art, Transportation, Set Dressing, Property and Wardrobe, amoung others. As new script pages are released, they will need to be reviewed as well. Commonly, clearance houses include revised pages reviews in their initial costs. During the production, as various issues come up, do not hesitate to give your clearance representative a call to ensure things are ok with what you are doing.

You should always be thinking about what's in front of the camera and if it's ok to use. During the production you will most likely need to clear single items as they come up. You can cut a deal with your clearance house to cover all issues or only pay them an a case-by-case basis. This decision will be predicated on the size of your show and how many issues you think may come up. Ask your clearance house for their advice, they will be happy to help. Be sure to have your production office or art coordinator keeps a binder of all clearance related issues. Your project attorney and possibly distributor will need to review this during or after completion of principal photography.

Another type of clearance you will need to be aware of is 'Title Clearance'. Learn more about this in an upcoming LineProducing.com Topic.

 

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