What Is a Video Release Form? Here are the 6 Key Elements

Film director discussing movie plan with the actors in the office scene

Your stack of signed release forms is some of the most important paperwork you’ll need for your production. If you’re new to putting together a media release form, don’t stress. While the language itself can skew toward the technical, the essential message you want to convey is simple: “I have the right to use this footage however I need to.” 

A release form with that message will give you the editorial freedom you need to create something amazing out of all the video you shot. Without it, you could lose key moments and valuable content.

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What is a video release form?

A video release form is an agreement signed by the people featured in a piece of video footage that grants the producers and distributors of the footage permission to use their recorded audio and likeness in the eventually released piece of media. Put simply, if you shoot footage with people in it that are recognizable as themselves, you need them to sign a video release if you plan to use the footage.

When is a video release form used?

You’ll want to use a video release form in pretty much any instance where you plan to show people on screen. This obviously applies to a wide range of video projects, including news footage, documentaries, public service announcements, educational videos, narrative film and TV, commercials and other advertisements, televised or broadcasted interviews, and Youtube videos.

Essentially, if someone can watch a video featuring Ms. So-and-so and reasonably say, “Hey, that’s Ms. So-and-so,” you need Ms. So-and-so to sign a talent release form before you start filming them.

Why is a video release form necessary?

There are numerous laws on the books that grant people privacy rights in terms of how their likeness and other identifying materials are used. If their likeness is being used for commercial purposes (i.e. to make money) or being exploited for some other purpose without their consent, they could sue. That’s why seeking permission before you capture someone on film is so important: If they haven’t explicitly granted you permission to show them on video—or other forms of media—you don’t have that permission. Legal implications aside, it’s a good idea to be on firm footing with everyone involved in your production.

6 crucial elements of a video release form

Keep in mind that the signed release forms you collect as you film are there to protect you from a situation in which the onscreen talent wants to revoke their verbal consent or doesn’t otherwise appreciate how you’ve used their likeness. 

Before you film, think about all of the possible uses you may have for your footage and make sure it’s all included when your stars sign the form. Here are some clauses to consider:

  1. Which parts of the footage you’ll use, and how. The filming release is theoretically for the video you end up producing, but what if you plan on taking stills from that footage or featuring some of the audio on a podcast or radio show? In reality, your video release form should really be an audio and photo and video release form. Even if you don’t end up using all elements of the footage—or any of the footage at all—you should still make sure you can use all of it.
  2. Third-party rights. By including a clause (or clauses) that allow you to grant a third party (i.e. someone who’s not you or the talent) rights to the footage, it opens up the opportunity for you to sell the footage (in its raw or finished form) or have it featured in a venue you don’t own. For example, if you make a short film that’s featured in a festival, your video release form should ensure you don’t have to double back to get permission from your actors to show it.
  3. Modification rights. Editing is usually a pretty big part of video production, so you should include language that makes it clear you can modify the footage as you see fit. That might mean cutting out parts of an interview for clarity or looping the audio from that interview for your next deep house track. Whatever it is, give yourself enough freedom in the form that it won’t be an issue.
  4. Payment details. Maybe you’re paying your talent; maybe you’re not (but you should be). Whatever you’ve agreed on, you should have it in writing.
  5. Commercial and non-commercial usage. Even if you won’t be making money on the video, you should outline in your consent form that the eventual product could be used in a range of possible projects.
  6. Timeframe. The creative process can take time, so make sure you build that time into your release form. Unless your talent explicitly objects, it’s a good idea to include language that grants you rights to the footage indefinitely, or “in perpetuity.” 

All of these tips and caveats are useful if you plan to write your own form, but you can also find a release form template that suits your purposes online. (You should still read it yourself to make sure it grants you all the cover you need it to, of course.) Once you’ve settled on an agreement that works for you, file it away and free yourself from legalese so you can focus on the fun parts of your projects.

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