Asked & Answered – Can I use another film’s title or scenes in my screenplay?
Q: Cat asks whether it's practical to mention other films' titles, and to quote dialogue or include a clip of a scene from another movie in her screenplay, or will it deter producers from getting interested in her project.
A: My answer in the video below:
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“Cat” writes in with a question about using titles and snippets of dialogue from famous movies in her new script. Stick around for my response:
Hi I'm Entertainment Lawyer Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer common entertainment law questions to help industry professionals like you realize your dreams.
So here's Cat's question:
“My co-author and I have just written a spec script in which the titles of 4 famous Hollywood movies are mentioned, 2 of them are genuine ‘60s classics. These films are an integral part
of the plot: they inspire the protagonist’s action. Moreover, a brief bit of dialogue of one of these movies is quoted; and part of a scene from another one is inserted. The question is: is it realistic to think that the production companies interested could obtain authorization to use that material and, in this case, would the costs be affordable or ultimately impracticable?”
A: Well, First off , just referring to the title of a film, *or the brand name of a product*, is what trademark lawyers call a “nominative use”, Trademark and Unfair Competition laws are designed to prevent consumer confusion, and the mere mention of something in the dialogue of a movie is unlikely to create confusion. So, it's probably OK, as long as you're not creating some false suggestionthat there's an endorsement, or affiliation between the old film and the new.
As for the dialogue snippet, it really depends on a number of factors. A recent case involved The Woody Allen Film “Midnight in Paris” , in which Owen Wilson's character quotes (or actually, mis-quotes) a line from a Faulkner novel. The Faulkner estate sued, and the court ruled that it didn't amount to copyright infringement.
But ultimately, each situation will be different, and the outcome depends on exactly what's taken, how it's used, and the market for the original.
The answer is pretty much the same for the clip from one of the films. But, in order to use the clip, there's a raft of other legal hurdles to be overcome. First, the owner of the film will have to be consulted, but also each actor in teh original film must have signed a release that would authorize the relicensing of the clip. (And I should note that this is NOT the usual case for Actor contracts.), So you'd have to go and get the actors' consent, and that of their Union, the Screen Actors' Guild. Then, if there's any music in the clip, the composer and the recording artist might also have to give consent.
Clip clearance is a big part of what film production lawyers do. It's somewhat complicated, but not impossible. The real question is whether it's too much hassle, or too costly, and thereby makes your script a “hot potato” that producers won't want to deal with.
The bottom line is this: If the script is great, but it involves some techincal or legal hurdles, that will always be a factor, but you as a writer shouldn't let it deter you from including the elements that make your piece a great one. Be mindful of the cost and complexity of things, sure, but don't let them interfere with the storytelling.
Besides, scripts change repeatedly before the film is finished. Who's to say that scene you described will even make it into the final cut of the Picture?
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