Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thank God for Bridgeman!

One great source of up to date information on copyrights is organizations that cater to documentary producers. My husband and I belong to one out of the San Francisco area, and they have some very good pro-bono lawyers who will give decent information. That is where we learned about Bridgeman. They also help provide "errors and omissions" insurance policies to cover those little "oops, I forgot to get Harold to sign the release and now he is suing us for ..."
This has been the most concretely helpful chapter-worth buying the book. Pity it wasn't published before 1923! Really, the struggle to get permissions is the biggest headache in any production. Sometimes you get lucky, copy an image out of a book, then find where that same image had been published in a ninteenth century book. As long as our Federal Government doesn't subpoena our library records, there is little or no way to prove you didn't get the image out of the older work. Unless the newer publication has some sort of watermark or identifier built in. This cat and mouse game adds untold costs to any publication--that is part of the reason why your textbooks cost so much! We once spent $3000 for 29 seconds of a Czech film shot in the 1950's-one that never has nor probably ever will be released in the US. That money went just to purchase the broadcast rights for five years. Our film was later picked up by a distributor for direct to home sales, and the rights holders of the film wanted another $3000 for five more years. We edited the scene out. Did it hurt? Hell yes! But we refused to be black-mailed every five years.
Music is another raquet. The rights to use any recognizable piece of music are obscene. We found a publishing house who speciallized in classical music recorded by good but little known orchestras (Lower Slobovia Chamber Orchestra). So we got music for soft-core prices. Came right off the CD, recorded on non-digital instruments (violins) and sounded great. My favorite music-for-video story came from a friend who shot a gathering of kite-enthusiasts in Long Beach, WA. Some hippie in a Volkswagon van was hanging out at the gathering playing a hammer dulcimer for tips. He was good, too! So my friend stuck a mike under the sound board of the dulcimer, and turned on his camera for an hour. Then he stuck a ten dollar bill in the guy's jar, got the musician to sign a release and voi-la -- instant soundtrack. Remember, many times it is the performance, not the song that is covered by copyrights. Can you get a garage band or a friend with a synthesizer to record a particular piece? Lots of starving musicians out there. Just be sure to get the release signed! The technology has changed radically since the days of music libraries and needle-drop charges--back when scratching an LP was a bad thing! Unless you need a particular piece, a soundtrack can be manufactured to fit in the digital realm. Very cool.
Oh yeah, I can't pass up giving out one very important piece of advice for using inexpensive talent on camera--check out the person first! Very embarrasing things can happen. Like the time we shot a full day using a model for a training tape on how to run woodworking machines safely before we noticed our model was missing a finger. Yup, he lost it in another woodworking machine. Or the on-camera talent we used as spokesperson for a hospital emergency room before we learned the guy had been involved a few years earlier in a messy DUI accident where a young kid had gotten killed (the ad agent was responsible for that screw up). OK, sometimes getting rights doesn't seem like that big of a deal.


At November 21, 2006 1:16 PM, Blogger SaS said...

I can't believe you spent $3000 for 29 seconds of a Czech film that will never be seen here! I mean, did they have some hope that it would be disseminated one day or were they just being...well, I won't say it!! Then they wanted another $3K!!! I am very glad you edited it out and told them to...well, I won't say that either!


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