Below we will breakdown why release forms are essential and how to use them. This article also comes with a free template download, which you can edit and use on your next production.
What are talent release forms?
A talent release agreement (aka actor release form) is a legal agreement between you and the actor. It grants you full permission to use the actor’s image or voice in your film. This includes consent to use their image, likeness, voice, and performance.
Without a release form, you run the risk of damaging the future distribution of your film. If you don’t have the correct paperwork, you can get denied cinema, broadcast, and streaming release. Furthermore, distributors will ask to see your forms before they sign a contract with you. If you don’t have them, you might have to go back to every actor and get the documents signed. Worse still, if an actor refuses to sign a release form, you may have to re-edit or re-shoot your film to get around it – a costly mistake.
In documentary filmmaking, this is especially important as it’s not uncommon for interviewees to change their minds later. So, to avoid running this risk, everyone who appears in your film must sign a release form before you start rolling the cameras. This next section will explain exactly when and how to you them.
When to use a talent release form
The word talent is a general term that covers anyone that appears in your film. This includes professional actors, unprofessional actors, child actors, models, and even animals. Everyone who appears in your movie needs to sign a talent release form. For child actors, a guardian will need to sign and grant permission.
You should also try and get a release form completed by all of your background actors too. This is particularly true if you can see their face. When you have crowds of people or have people in the distance with blurred features, you don’t need a form. As a rule, if you can identify the person’s face, then you should get them to sign a release form.
There is, however, a gray area when it comes to journalistic situations. If you are using your footage for news broadcast and non-commercial use, you don’t always need to have a signed form. Sometimes you can also get away with a recording of your talent saying “I grant permission for this footage to be aired.” Even so, if possible, always try to have a signed formal agreement.
Talent Release Agreement
How to use a talent release form
Ideally, you want to have your talent release forms signed before production begins. This is done in Pre-Production on a narrative film, to be signed alongside a contract. Getting your documents signed early ensures that both the actor and their agents are happy with the agreement. After all, you don’t want your actor to refuse to sign a release form right before you are ready to film.
When your form is signed, keep it safe, and make a copy. You can make a digital copy of documents by scanning them onto your computer using apps such as CamScanner and Scannable. Or send them to be signed digitally with a tool like DocuSign. It’s wise to keep a copy of all release forms for several years, even after the film has been released. Remember that without these forms, you might not be able to find distribution or profit from your film. Keeping a copy protects you against any future lawsuits.
As a production company, you can create your own release forms, outlining the specific details of each project. Be sure to consult with your production attorney before using any third-party legal documents. You can download our free release form template below. This next section will break down what legal information you can expect to find on a talent release form.
What makes a good talent release form?
A good talent release form should have the following:
1. Legally binding language:
The form should be written in legally-valid language to ensure enforceability. However, avoid making it overly complex — these are simple documents at their core. Most likeness release forms are only 1-2 pages.
2. Clear identification of parties:
Clearly identify the talent (actor, model, etc.) and the production company or filmmaker. It’s a good idea to include a field for another piece of identifying information besides name, such as the person’s address or contact info.
3. Comprehensive rights:
The document should explicitly grant the filmmaker the rights to use the talent’s image, voice, likeness, and performance in all media forms and distribution channels. (such as festivals, promos, BTS featurettes, steaming, DVDs, etc)
4. Approval rights:
In this clause, the participant agrees that no photographs, footage, or other materials need to be submitted to them for approval prior to usage. This is a section that can be modified based on your specific agreement with the participant.
5. Specific scope and duration:
It should specify the scope of use (e.g., geographical regions) and duration (e.g., indefinite or for a specific period). This is where you’ll often read the clause “rights are granted in perpetuity”, which is a fancy way of saying “forever and ever and ever and ever an ever…”
6. Provisions for minors:
If the talent is a minor, there should be a provision for parental or guardian consent.
7. Liability release:
This clause releases the production company from any liabilities or harms that may arise from the use of talent’s likeness. (like getting sued or something)
8. Non-guarantee clause:
This section clarifies that the production company is not obligated to use the participant’s name, voice, or likeness in the project. Also does not guarantee the participant any future work or payment.
9. Non-conflict clause:
Include clauses that release the filmmaker from certain liabilities and confirm that the talent’s participation does not conflict with other agreements.
10. Signature fields:
There should be spaces for signatures of both the talent (and guardian, if a minor) and a representative of the production company. Make sure to include the date it was signed!
Free download of talent release form template
A typical talent release form gives you the right to use an actor’s name, voice, image, likeness, and performance. This will cover you for all of your distribution and marketing needs. You should keep your release forms short – a one-page document is often all that is needed. That way, you can easily print them out and pass them to background artists during a shoot.
Most forms have a section to personalize for the production company and project name. Some will also have sections for the director and producer’s name. You can fill out any of these areas yourself before making copies for your actors to sign. This way, the only field your actors need to fill out is their signature.
The form will state that the actor grants you permission to use the footage and any photographs you take for commercial use. It gives an exclusive license for you to use these materials in any way you need to. Including the ability to manipulate and edit the footage, voice recording, and image in any way you choose. It will state that no monetary compensation will be given for the use of this performance unless you have agreed on payment. If you are paying the actor, then list the terms of the agreement on a separate contract document.
Lastly, there will be a space for your actor to print their name and sign their signature. If your talent is under eighteen years of age, their parent or guardian will also need to sign the form.
There is usually often a section for a production representative, such as a producer, to sign the agreement on behalf of the production company. Don’t forget to sign the form yourself as well! This is important since contracts that only have one party’s signature are not legally binding.
Talent Release Agreement
It’s essential to get all of your paperwork together for a film shoot. Distributors can refuse to release your film without having release forms for everyone who appears in your movie. Taking a minute to get that one signature could save you a lot of future stress and legal problems. Even if you are a student, try to get into the habit of getting talent release forms signed.
Do you have any tips for when using a talent release form? Let us know in the comments section below.