From organizing shoots to giving notes to handling distribution, there’s a ton on a producer’s plate any given time. But perhaps one of the most important tasks a producer has is ensuring every model on a project has signed a model release form.
An agreement between a production and any entity appearing on screen, model release forms ensure that producers have the right to use the said entity’s appearance in the project.
For that reason, today, we’re digging into the what, how, when, and why of one of the most important forms you’ll need to keep track of on any film, video or photo production: The Model Release Form.
A model release form is a liability waiver signed by a model, actor, or other performer that grants a production entity the right to commercially publish their name, voice, image, likeness and/or performance within specific, agreed-upon terms.
In other words, it’s a legal contract.
In photography, release forms are often explicitly associated with models (thus the name). Model release forms, in this instance, act simply as a modeling contract for photographers who want to sell or publish their final photos for commercial use.
In film and video production, however, model release forms are more commonly referred to as talent release forms, because they’re needed for pretty much any living thing that’s going to appear in any form in a final work.
Like all common contracts encountered in production, the model release form is designed for protection, hopefully for all relevant parties. If you’re involved in filmmaking or photography, model release forms are one tool of many meant to safeguard you against civil liability lawsuits.
So after you’ve hired a mime for your avant garde video art or a contortionist for your experimental photography, model release forms kept on file will prevent that talent from suing when Nike or Apple decides they want to transform your indie gem into their next ad campaign.
Similarly, when that time comes, those same model release forms will guarantee that you or your production entity are going to pay the mime, contortionist, and any other talent involved whatever they’re owed.
Beyond the bounds of a traditional performance, a model release form is also required to cover “appearances.”
While you’ll need to explicitly state in your model release form what constitutes an appearance, know that it can be as diverse as an actor’s voice or their digitally altered motion capture performance.
The term release forms can often be thrown around rather casually, but there is a difference between photo release forms and model release forms. And there is also a difference between photo release and photography model release forms. A photography model release form or just a simple model release form, is signed by the talent. But a basic photo release is signed by the the photographer so they can print multiple copies of their work later.
You can find free model release form templates all over the internet. It’s probably why you’re here.
However, as with any legal document, you should always exercise caution.
It’s important to make sure any free model release form template meets the requirements of your specific situation. While the concept of a model release form sounds simple in theory, you should know that it can get pretty complicated in practice.
That’s not to knock free model release forms. Or anything that’s free really.
But it’s important to talk with your production’s lawyer(s) to ensure your photography model release form pdf or simple model release has all the clauses your specific production needs.
In choosing or designing a model release form template for your individual needs, be sure to be specific, clear, and thorough in what the contract outlines. If you’re planning to digitally manipulate a photo, include a clause that specifies your intention.
If the subject of your film or photo series is potentially controversial, include a clause that confirms your talent’s awareness of that fact beforehand.
Take a look at any sample photography model release form and you’ll see that it’s all about licensing.
Unlike other model release forms, photography release forms ensure that the on camera model acknowledges that the photographer or the entity hiring the photographer have the right produce, alter, and print the model’s image.
How long they have the right to do this depends on the contract’s terms.
On the other, a photography contract like this relinquishes the talent’s right to the image of themselves.
For example, if a model wanted to sell their photos to a stock photography site like Shutterstock, they wouldn’t be able to without the permission of the photographer, who according to the form, owns the photos.
Despite many obvious similarities, a model release form (or any kind of free model release form template you might stumble upon around the internet) is NOT the same thing as a location release form or an intellectual property release form.
While model release forms serve an important purpose in all variations on commercial image-making, it’s important to note that they’re only one element working in an intricate series of processes designed to keep your professional production running safe and smooth.
If you’re producing a project that requires video, you’ll probably need a film and video release form as well.
Unlike a model release form for photography, actor release forms spell the terms of your film’s release and distribution.
Other than that, it’s basically a photography model release form for video. It is important to note that on your production, you’ll probably need your talent to sign both.
While your video and film release form will cover everything inside of your project, it usually won’t extend to the film’s marketing materials including posters, billboards, or any other print material.
Photographing or filming people in public spaces is a protected right in the United States. Individuals who are physically in a public space do not have what is known in legal circles as a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
On the other hand, if you’re standing in the private space of your home, you can reasonably expect that no one is even looking at you without your general consent, much less capturing your image.
But if you’re walking down the sidewalk of a busy street, you’re knowingly allowing yourself to see and be seen by anyone else on that same street. In that case, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Following this basic legal logic, you generally do not need a model release form to photograph or film individuals in a public location…unless you intend to use the images for commercial purposes.
Then, the waters get significantly murkier. If you make money off a photo and don’t have a videography or photography model release form, any individual who is “identifiable” in the photo (whether by their face, clothing, silhouette, tattoos, or literally any other unique visual characteristic) might have the right to file a lawsuit against you, particularly if you’re selling the photo to be used in advertising or any other purpose that the individual might consider defamatory or harmful.
Of course, there are times when it’s completely impractical to get someone to sign a model release form. Documentary filmmakers, perhaps more than most, struggle in this grey area, particularly when shooting events or public gatherings. Fortunately, there is one common tool to help mitigate the risks of this specific situation.
It’s called an area release.
An area release or crowd release is a large-scale version of a model release form that does not require a signature or even explicit consent from subjects. In practice, a producer, photographer, or event organizer may either post an area release sign around the perimeter of a location in which an event is being held or provide an area release notification when a ticket for an event is purchased. The release sign or notification will state that by simply entering the specified location, they are giving their consent to being recorded.
When using an area or crowd release as a substitute for the individual model release form, video record or photograph the sign at its posted location as a proof of its posting. It’s advisable to timestamp this footage in some way for more thorough legal protection.
To secure the right to post an area release for your next shoot, contact your location representative and the relevant permit office for further guidance.
A public figure is arguably anyone with whom “the public” is widely familiar or interested in, like a politician or celebrity. But don’t worry. You won’t necessarily need a different free model release form template just because you’re photographing someone famous.
Even with public figures, the function and basic rules of model release forms don’t change. But public figures do illustrate a complicated area that you should be aware of.
Following this basic legal logic, you generally do not need a model release form to photograph or film individuals in a public location. If you’ve looked at a tabloid cover recently, you’ve probably seen at least one celebrity photo that probably had no standard model release form. Given everything written above, why is the capture and sale of that photo legal?
The short answer is because it’s being put to what’s known as “editorial use”, as opposed to “commercial use.”
The fact that money is exchanged for use of a photo or video does not inherently classify that usage as commercial. In fact, the actual definition of what constitutes “commercial usage” is quite vague. Essentially, anything that could be seen to promote or endorse a product, person, or even an idea is considered commercial. That includes advertisements, obviously, but it could also arguably include more abstract forms of publication, like a professional photographer using an image as part of their public portfolio to attract prospective clients.
However, if the photo or video is being distributed in a format designed purely for informational purposes (news, educational materials, consumer publications, etc.), it could instead be considered editorial usage and is, therefore, protected under the Constitution as free speech.
As you may guess, this is a gray area.
Without a model release form, you could not, for instance, sell your candid street photo of Donald Trump to an advertising campaign for, say, your local tanning salon, but you could sell that exact same photograph to your local newspaper without issue.
The bottom line is that you should always at least try to get a model release form. California and some other states have laws designed to prevent paparazzi from capturing images in ways that might violate a celebrity’s privacy, but the laws surrounding the publication of similar images taken in public are highly subject to interpretation.
Whether in video or photography, release forms are always necessary to fully protect your commercial intentions.
In most of the United States, any individual under the age of 18 is considered a minor and is not legally allowed to sign contracts. Therefore, if you want to film or photograph a minor, you won’t be able to get a model release form directly from the talent. You’ll need to get his or her parents or legal guardian to sign what’s known as a “parental consent form.”
A parental consent form is effectively just a model release form for minors. It guarantees all the same things as an adult’s model release form template, except that it also contains additional signature lines for parents or legal guardians.
Technically, you only need the signature of one parent, but getting two signatures will reduce the risk of one of the parents revoking their permission at any point in the future.
Along with setting up a Coogan account, getting these signatures is paramount when working with talent under 18.
Whether you’re practicing filmmaking or photography, model release forms can be used to create a greater sense of comfort and security for not only yourself, but also your young talent and their guardians.
Working with kids can be tough in any format, but exercising an extra degree of sensitivity will go a long way toward making your shoot successful.
At a glance, this might sound insane, but the reality is that you do, in fact, need to have signed model release forms on file for pets and domestic animals.
No, Lassy, Fido, and Rufus aren’t likely to take group legal action against you anytime soon, but it’s not impossible that their human overlords might do exactly that.
A “pet release form” is a model release form for any animal legally owned by another human being.
While it does contains the same information as every other free model release form template out there, it also includes the pet’s name, their owner’s name, and their owner’s signature.
If you’re working with professional animal trainers, animal release forms should be business as usual.
However, even if you’re just filming your friend’s hamster or casually photographing a particularly handsome Shiba Inu at the park, having a release in your files is always the safest way to go.
With any kind of filmmaking or photography, release forms are your friend, if not more.
Someone on your production staff should carry a stack of them in their kit at all times, or, alternatively, keep one of the many free model release form apps active on their phone anytime you’re working.
That’s why it’s crucial to store all of them in one safe place that can easily be accessed before, during, and, especially, after the production is wrapped.
On almost every production, this location is the wrap binder – a thick tome containing everything from photography contract pdfs to PA expenses to film budgets from every stage.
While some still go the analog paper route, you an easily store your model release forms in the documents tab of Wrapbook.
Using their cloud-based software, you can easily store your model release forms in your production’s shared documents folder and set custom permissions so only the proper people have access.
Once your production wraps, sit back and relax as Wrapbook stores all your production documents from expenses to payroll stubs to I-9s.
Always make sure the information on any modeling contract for photography or video is legibly written when you receive it. Create multiple physical and digital copies of the model release forms for your records. And plan on keeping those copies for an indefinite period (i.e. forever), just in case.
Whether you’re using a free model release form template from the web or a model release form template tailor-made by your lawyer, at the end of the day, there really isn’t a situation where having your talent sign a release isn’t a smart move. Download our talent release form, drafted by a lawyer, to jumpstart the process.
It’s the kind of document that you never want to use but always want to have.
Without a model release form, you might not be able to show footage in your final product. So when in doubt, get the signatures! And once you do, digitally store each of the signed forms in Wrapbook.
Disseminating and safeguarding the necessary paperwork is part of what makes a successful production. So stay prepared. Check out our post on how to use a digital startwork solution to make this process a whole lot simpler.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
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