A Practical Discussion of Appearance Releases Part 1: What Does a Documentary Appearance Release Typically Contain?

POSTED ON November 27, 2018 / IN Documentary Toolkit



This Q&A was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Documentary magazine, a publication of the International Documentary Association, a nonprofit media arts organization based in Los Angeles.

Appearance releases take many forms and should be tailored to the type of production being made. Most appearance releases contain the following provisions:

  • An authorization to record the participant and to use the recording and other material about the participant in one or more productions and related advertising and promotion, in all media, in perpetuity.
  • A statement of the compensation to be paid to the participant (or that no compensation will paid).
  • A provision that the producer owns the recordings in which the participant appears and any contributions to the production made by the participant.
  • A release of claims in favor of the producer.
  • A choice of law and venue provision for the producer’s preferred jurisdiction.

Some appearance releases go considerably further, such as by authorizing the producer to make re-creations (dramatic sequences) portraying the participant, fictionalize events involving the participant, or use the material authorized under the release in books and even scripted feature films. If a re-creation, fictionalization or similar production technique, or a book or other derivative, is actually contemplated, provisions like these are appropriate. But while a producer might think to include such provisions “just in case,” they are objectionable to many participants and could stand in the way of a release being signed. In order for a producer to obtain signed releases successfully and without lengthy negotiations, it’s wise to include provisions like these only when needed.

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