A Practical Discussion of Appearance Releases Part 4: Can an On-Camera Verbal Release Substitute for a Written Release?

POSTED ON December 18, 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.

Obtaining a written release is best practice for a number of reasons. First, it’s likely to be more detailed—and therefore more protective of the producer—than an on-camera verbal release. Second, it will conform to the requirement of insurers, distributors and others that written releases be obtained. (They may have to be convinced to accept a verbal release in its place.)

Some interview subjects, however, may consider signing a release beneath their station—for example, high-ranking political figures. Some might be nervous about signing legal documents without a careful reading or first getting legal advice. Some simply might be contrary in nature. Under any circumstances in which a prospective releaser refuses to sign a written release, a well-considered verbal release is better than nothing. 

A verbal release should cover at least the most basic elements of a written release and the simplest procedure is for a production team member to read the release with sound and video rolling and ask the interview subject to acknowledge the terms on camera. Those basic elements should include the purpose of the interview, where the interview will be used initially (i.e., in a specific film or episode, as well as in related advertising and promotion), and that the completed work in which it appears may be shown in all media and by all means of transmission and other delivery, worldwide and forever.

And if getting an interview subject to acknowledge all that is a problem, the next best approach is for a production team member to read with the camera rolling all that key information in the form of a notification, rather than as a request for acknowledgement. (e.g., “Before we begin, let me reiterate that this interview will be used for…”)

Of course, if an interview subject refuses to sign a release before an interview begins, it doesn’t mean that she won’t sign immediately after, if asked. She first may need to know how the interview goes. 

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