Releases and Why They Matter

Release form on a computer screen.
Video production projects require preparation, gear, know-how, and including the proper releases! Proper documentation is essential in this industry, as we have learned....

Businessman reviewing release forms on a tablet.

I’ve covered the importance of communication and organization in past blogs, but this month I’d like to drill down to focus on a very specific topic: releases. I’ll share a brief anecdote about why this is on my mind at this particular moment (which just happens to be a moment 30,000ish feet above the Atlantic Ocean as I’m flying to Aruba for some much needed vacation time). Just yesterday I had a highly valued, long-time client contact me about a project we completed a little over three years ago for Bayer Crop Science. You can check out the video in question at the end of this blog, should you so desire.

Basically, they were looking to use the animated video, which had originally been deployed only in the US, for a new campaign in Europe (specifically, Germany) and wanted to make sure that the voiceover and music track were properly licensed. Here’s where the importance of organization comes in. We have a folder specifically for releases for each project on our SAN, right alongside the project files and media. Grabbing the talent release for the voiceover artist was as simple as navigating to the proper folder on Diego (that’s the name of our 300 TB SAN…SAN Diego. Get it?) and emailing the signed paperwork to the client.

The music license was a bit more tricky, but mainly because the project came from a time BEFORE we standardized our organizational practices for royalty-free music purchases. The song in question was purchased from Pond5 back in 2013. Unfortunately, back then we didn’t all use the same login info, so there were multiple accounts used to purchase music. We also didn’t own a SAN, but we’re in the process of moving all our pre-SAN projects over and making them conform to the new organizational procedures. Nowadays, I can just log into the main ECG Pon5 account (login info stored in our password Google Keep, along with all the other stock music libraries we use) and search my download history, then grab the licensing documentation for any song (or piece of stock footage, or stock photo, or sound effect) through my Pond5 dashboard. Unfortunately, this being an older project, I had to dig up the login info for some of our legacy accounts in order to hunt down the proper paperwork. Not too bad, all things considered, and I was able to get the client what they needed in pretty short order.

Release form on a computer screen.Now imagine this scenario slightly differently: what if we didn’t have a proper talent release for the VO artist. Then imagine that when we went to contact said artist to get one retroactively, they were traveling overseas for a couple weeks and weren’t available. Now we’ve got to tell an important client, who is making a very simple and perfectly reasonable request, that they need to wait…and possibly need to wait for a long time. This makes them look bad in front of their client, adds undue stress to their job and may give them pause the next time they need to engage you (“what OTHER things that we thought were handled fell through the cracks?”).

To look at it from another angle, what if I didn’t know what library we used when we purchased the music…or worse, what if we had used a track without properly licensing it. Either way, I’m looking at a long delay or an unexpected expense (or possibly both) in order to get the client what they need. The biggest issue from a business standpoint (aside from looking incredibly inept) is that you have now created unnecessary work that you can’t bill for. There’s no questions that this is 100% on you as the producer. It’s more than likely that you’ll be slammed when a request like this comes in. Proper documentation and organization will allow you to handle the client need without having to break stride on the paying gigs that need your immediate attention, plus you’ll make them look like heroes, which never hurts.

Here’s one more scenario – let’s say you have a feature film or TV pilot that you produced and someone with money is interested in it. One of the first things a potential distributor is going to ask is whether you’ve got all the proper clearances, and even then they’ll want you to get an E&O (errors and omissions) insurance policy in place just to be sure everything is clean and protected. If you can’t produce the proper documentation and signed releases, that deal will slip right through your fingers. Nobody is going to wait around while you get the paperwork in order. They’ll be on to the next thing in no time at all, and you’ll be feeling like an asshole for skipping such a simple, but integral, step.

You’d be amazed at how many old projects come back to life in a way that requires us to produce signed releases long after the fact. In the world of video production, proper documentation and clearances should never be an afterthought. You never know what content is going to find new life or be repurposed. A little front end work and an established system will make it so a request like this can be fulfilled without hardly giving it a second thought.

Do you have a story about missing releases biting you in the ass? Do you have a tip or trick you use to keep things organized with your clearance paperwork? Let us know about it in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!

Bayer Crop Science video

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