Top 5 Tips for Licensing Film Content

You’ve finally done it.  You have financed, filmed and are busy finalizing your first independent film.  Congratulations! All that is left for you to do is finish the edit, license these few pesky photos and music and color correct. Then, you’ll be on your way next year to the Academy Awards.  Before you start writing your acceptance speech, let’s pump the brakes a bit and go back to that second item.  License.

One of my readers wrote in a few weeks ago asking about how early should they start seeking permissions for the materials that will appear in their documentary.  With his permission, I thought it would make for a great blog topic.

If you use a photo, news clip, music or any other content not owned by you to create your story, then it may be necessary for you to receive permission.  Licensing the content is what us legal minded people like to say.  A filmmaker who is in the realm of the non-fiction world by way of documentaries will want to start thinking about obtaining permissions as early as possible.

Now before you get scared and think you cannot afford to license, you must know that a license does not always mean an exchange of money, but it can.  A variety of factors will determine the fees, if any.  Some of the factors include scope of your project, budget, where the finished product will be shown or distributed, the sophistication of the opposite party who owns the copyright in the content you want to use or how valuable and well-known is the content you want to use.  Further, without proper permissions in place a filmmaker risks for copyright infringement significantly increases.

With the groundwork laid, here are my Top 5 Tips to Get to YES when Licensing Content!

  1. Start Early.  I have said it already, but it warrants repeating.  You have no idea how many requests for footage, images or music the opposite party you are reaching out to receives a day.  Maybe they do not receive many, but maybe they are a one person entity.  You do not know their situation, so it is best to start early and to rest assured you have the proper permissions in place.
  2. Stick to the Facts.  When you are requesting permissions, stick to the facts.  The licensing party does not care that you have been a fan of the music since you were five years old and that your film will just “not be the same” unless you can use the music.  While you are absolutely in love with your project, as you should be, they simply do not care.  Do not be a gushing fan.
  3. Provide all The Facts the First Time.  Speaking of facts – be sure to include those and make them as complete as possible.  Anticipate the questions that the licensing entity will want to know.  Those facts can include (a) your elevator pitch for what your film is about, (b) where you plan to distribute the film, (c) the legal name of the party licensing the content, (d) how long you plan to use the image or song (5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds or something more?), (e) in general terms your budget and (f) your genre.
  4. Keep it Short.  The entity you are requesting from probably receives many requests a day.  While you need to give as much information as possible, be sure to keep it short.  See #2 above – They do not love your project.  You are simply a way for them to make money.  Provide all the necessary information, but do not make it longer than necessary.  My personal preference when I receive requests is for it to come in bullet point format.  Short, simple and easy to read.
  5. Do Not Call.  I labeled this one “Do Not Call,” but in general it is a reminder about being patient, polite and professional in all of your communication.  With today’s technology, I would hesitate to pick-up the phone to call about your licensing or your project.  A polite follow-up email would be proper two (2) weeks or so after your first request, but only if you absolutely have not heard anything.  Another suggestion would be to make a phone call as your first step before initially emailing anyone a licensing request in order to determine to whom a licensing request should be directed to and the person’s contact information.  It serves to insure that your initial request went to the correct person.  However, bugging a licensing entity by way of phone or email every day will only guarantee they will get to your request later, and it will probably be moved to the bottom of the stack.

While this does not involve one of the Top 5 Tips itself and probably should go without saying, I unfortunately have seen nothing short of unprofessional rudeness when licensing content.  Remember – they do not have to grant you permission, and they are the ones setting the price.  As my Granmaw always use to say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  With that last thought in mind, go out and catch some flies and finish your film.  I cannot wait to see what you have produced.  Stay Tuned In!

Do you have an issue you think would make for an interesting discussion on this blog?  Take part in the Comments section below or contact me via the Stay In Touch page.

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One thought on “Top 5 Tips for Licensing Film Content

  1. Pingback: Walking the Legal Tightrope in Film | Statute of RyAnne

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