Q: My screenplay is based on a true story. Most of the characters are long deceased and the facts of the story are on public record. However there are four people still living whose names appear and two of which are characters. I'm not doing life stories of either rather just using their names and depicting brief appearances. Is there some kind of standard release I can obtain without a long legal document?
A: This question raises a number of issues. First off, if the events depicted really happened, and the persons involved were really involved, it's possible that their consent won't even be needed. As the writer, you might prefer to let the decision whether to get a release fall on the shoulders of the producer of the project, either before or after he buys the project. But, you may prefer to err on the side of caution, and obtain a release to include when selling the script. If so, it need not be a lengthy document, but it IS a legal document, so it's going to be more than a paragraph or two. What's involved is a person relinquishing some of their rights, so it's important that the document be thorough and complete. (The version I tell my clients to use fits on a single page… but just barely)
Lawyers hate the phrase “standard contract”, and will tell you that every legal situation is different, and that legal documents like contracts need to be custom-tailored to the particular situation. While this is true, there are some generic forms available on the web, or in form books. The trick(s) are knowing where to find a good form, and whether the form you've selected is appropriate to your particular situation.
As with most of my answers in this column, I have to recommend that you hire an attorney to give you more customized legal advice, and if necessary to draft a suitable document for your project. You might be surprised how little it costs to get things done right… so you can sleep better at night.
This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for readers’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.
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