Talent and location release forms

April 28, 2019

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!

A ‘release form’ is a legal document which, when signed, gives your client or your agency the right to use the still photo, audio, or video footage of the person who signed the form. This is one form which every agency account manager, or marketer, who attends photographic or video shoots must carry multiple paper copies of. The easy-to-remember rule is that if you are shooting someone for commercial purposes, get a signed release.


What is a release form for?

By signing a release form the signee:
  • Waives their right to approve or disapprove of the finished product.
  • Waives their right to receive payment (unless otherwise agreed to).
  • Acknowledges that the production is conducted professionally.
  • Acknowledges that they are over 18 years old (or over the age your country legally considers a person to be an adult).
  • Confirms that they are not breaching another contract by participating in your video or photographic shoot.

Why are release forms so important?

Example 1:

You are on a photographic shoot, and the location is a children’s playground. Your photographer intends to focus on the subject in the foreground, however, it is inevitable that one or two children will appear in the background of some of the shots.

In this instance your job would be to go to the parents/guardians of every single child who may appear in any of the images, explain to the parent what you are doing, and ask if they would be OK if their child appeared in the background of the shots. If they are not OK with it, then you need to (1) ensure that their child is not in any of the photos; (2) blur the child out of the final image; or (3) retouch the child out completely (much easier in a still shot than in video footage). If the parent is OK with the idea, then they need to sign a talent release form on behalf of their child.

Example 2:

Your agency shot a testimonial video for your client, which included past customers talking about their positive experiences using your product. This type of personal endorsement will become a powerful selling tool for your client, and everyone is happy with the results.

After running the video on your client's website for a couple of weeks, you receive a complaint from one of the customers in the video. It turns out that she does not like the way she was portrayed in the video and asks you to remove the video from public viewing, effectively withdrawing her verbal permission to use her image. As you did not ask this woman to sign a talent release form, you are obliged to do as the customer has requested and either remove the full video or edit her section out. 


Getting the forms signed

Release forms should be used on every single shoot, even if you know the people involved well (such as using people you work with as the talent).

You’ll need to get the release forms signed BEFORE you start shooting. It’s nearly impossible to try to chase people up after the shoot, by which time they may have even changed their minds.

It’s also a good idea to take a photograph of the person who is signing the release form. If you need to gather permission from multiple people, it’s going to be a challenge to remember which release form matches which person in the footage. Therefore you can use a small whiteboard and write the person’s name on it and get them to hold the whiteboard while you take the photo.


Talent release vs filming notice

If you are shooting in a public place (such as a shopping mall or sporting event), you can put up a sign (a ‘filming notice’) which reads “we are filming here, and if you walk into the frame you agree to be in our film”.

A filming notice is usually sufficient to handle the random passerby who happens to wander into the frame. However, anyone who is intentionally featured as part of the scene you are filming needs to sign a proper talent release form.


What about photojournalists?

The law governing photojournalists (still photos and video) is usually different from those who are filming for commercial gain. (NOTE: the law does differ country to country, so you do need to check.) Photojournalists do not require releases if they are shooting for editorial purposes (e.g. newspapers, TV news stations, online reporting).

Photojournalistic images need to be impartial, honest, and tell a story in a way to complement a newsworthy event; and the photographer/videographer is not allowed to ‘stage’ anything within the image that they want. If they fulfil this criterion, they will not require permission or signed release forms.


Other types of releases

Release forms can be applied to other things as well as talent. For example, what would happen if the school that you used as a background for your commercial, or the café that you used for the photographic shoot, doesn’t want to be associated with your brand anymore? To safeguard your company, you should ask the owners of private property/buildings/businesses/land for their permission to shoot, and to sign a ‘location release’. Their permission may come attached with conditions you will need to abide by (and a possible fee payment).

It’s important also to point out that shooting in some public locations will require you to obtain a full location shooting permit, and you can find out more detail through your local city/state government film commission. To be granted a permit you will need to know the exact times and dates, the amount of gear you will use, and the number of crew members. You will need to specify whether you want to close down things such as streets, or entrances to public buildings or parks. The permit will require you to pay permit costs and processing fees.

You can also request the release of rights for industrial design (e.g. the design of manufactured products); trademarks (e.g. logos); or trade dress (e.g. the visual appearance of a product or its packaging, or the design of a building).


How do you get people to sign the form?

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not that difficult to get people to sign a release form - especially if they are already involved in the shoot in some way. This group of people seems to sign readily and without even reading the fine print. It’s trickier if you are asking members of the public to sign, who are not personally involved in the project.

You can certainly make the idea of signing more appealing for people by following these six simple steps:

  • Ask rather than tell. A release form is 100% for your client’s benefit, and 0% for the signee; therefore you’ll be far more successful by asking very politely and empathetically rather than demanding that the form is signed.
  • Start with ‘why’. The first thing that you need to do is clearly and concisely state why you’d like them to sign a release form. Explain who you are, which company or agency you represent, what you are filming, why you are filming, and where the footage will appear when it is edited.
  • Summarise the document. The person has probably never heard of a talent release before, so you’ll need to explain what that is about, why it’s important, and why you’d be grateful for their cooperation. If your document contains a lot of words (especially legalese) it’s courteous to help the signee understand what they are committing to. They will trust you more if you take the time to explain the form in detail than if you try to hurry the process along. By all means, you can then address any concerns that they may have, but it’s also important to respect their final decision - if they say ‘no’, it’s a ‘no’.
  • Be excited. If you show that you are passionate about the project, other people will catch your excitement and might think how fun it would be to be a part of this project with you.
  • Set realistic expectations. It’s good to cover off a few points to help set realistic expectations. People usually like to know how long the shoot might take, when the editing will be done, and when and where they will be able to view the final work. It’s also important to tell them that there is a chance that shots/footage including this person may not end up being used at all.
  • Say thank you. Signees are, effectively, giving up their right to have input into the creative process, or dictate how their image is used. That’s a big ask! The least you can do is say a heartfelt “thank you”.

Spoken agreement

There will be times when you’ll be caught out without a paper release form. Never fear, every smartphone can take video these days, so you can get away with a verbal release if it’s done properly.

You do this by having the person read a short script while on camera. That verbal agreement needs to have the person’s name, the date, the video production company or producers’ name, and defined understanding of what the shoot is for. For example, the script could be:

(To be read aloud while being filmed)

I, [person’s name], give [your client's company name] the right to use my name, likeness, still or moving image, voice, appearance, and performance in a still photograph or video footage. This grant includes without limitation the right to edit, mix or duplicate and to use or re-use this still photograph or video footage in whole or part. I acknowledge that I have no interest or ownership in the images used or their copyright. I also grant the right to broadcast, exhibit, market, sell, and otherwise distribute this still photograph or video footage, either in whole or in part, and either alone or with other products for any lawful purpose. In consideration of all of the above, I now acknowledge receipt of reasonable and fair consideration. Today’s date is [day/month/year].


Times when you will need a signed release form:
  • If you are using a person in your image/video for commercial purposes.
  • If the event you are shooting is private, even if it’s in a seemingly public place.
  • If the event is private, you might need permission from the owner, or agent of the property.
  • In places that appear to be public places but are privately owned, such as a sports park, tourist attraction, and other large private venues.
  • You are using someone in a training video, regardless of whether they have a speaking part or a non-speaking role.
  • When someone’s face is seen in an advertisement, endorsement, or as a representative of a business, product or service.
  • If an advertisement or endorsement includes any company or product trademark, or a recognisable building.
  • If the shot was taken on private property.
  • If the shot was taken of private property.
  • If the shot was taken on public property of events happening on private property, such as a wedding, people having a BBQ, children playing in their home garden, or inside someone’s home without their knowledge or consent.
  • Anytime, anywhere when you are shooting minors, especially very young children.
Times when you won’t need a signed release form:
  • Unexpected events. If the house across the street explodes into flames, you might rush out to capture the activities surrounding the incident. It’s OK to shoot the fire, the firefighters and the emergency personnel. However, be discreet and respectful about shooting other people, especially if people are grieving.
  • When shooting for editorial coverage as a reporter, as long as you remember that you’re shooting what’s in the public interest, rather than just what might interest the public.
  • When you’re at a public place such as the beach, on the street, a government-owned building like a courthouse, or city park.
  • When the person is in the background of a shot and their features are blurred or too far away to be distinguishable.
  • Anytime you are shooting in a public place that is not a private gathering.
  • If the person is not recognisable, e.g. the back of the head, hands-only model, large crowd shots, etc. or doesn’t have anything on their body that is recognisable (e.g. a unique tattoo).

TEMPLATE: Talent Release Form

Talent Release Form




    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.

    Also in Latest Tips & Tricks

    Agency burnout – a preventable disease

    August 10, 2020

    Burnout is (unfortunately) a common occurrence in modern agencies. It’s highly preventable IF management cares to do something about it, so let’s look at a couple of reasons why burnout still exists today.

    View full article →

    Having courageous (post-COVID) client conversations

    July 24, 2020

    Agency revenues have taken a hefty whack thanks to COVID-19 and the subsequent lock-down, and it can feel more than a little ‘inappropriate’ to ask your clients for more business. What can you do?

    View full article →

    Account management today

    July 05, 2020

    Agency account managers are pretty amazing people, but they can only be as amazing as the training that they get from their seniors and their wider agency teams. And they can only be as amazing as senior leadership allows them to be. What do I mean by that?

    View full article →

    My gift to you!