In my day job I deal sometimes deal with Rights Clearance Issues brought up by lawyers working for Big Entertainment Conglomerates. It’s their job to go through footage and spot the guy wearing the Yankees cap in the background and have us blur it in every frame just when we thought we were done.
Editors and producers will grumble, but you have to see it from the lawyers’ side. First of all, these are not highly-paid lawyers who are part of the Legal Department of Big Entertainment Conglomerate. These are freelancers, just like most editors are freelancers, and their reputation is on the line with every job. If they miss one little thing, if that painting in the background isn’t cleared and the artist sues Big Entertainment Conglomerate, that’s it for their job. It’s their profession to be paranoid.
But neither do they want to harm the project. I’ve learned they’ll go out of their way to let you know the rights issues you might run into, before they cause headaches at the very end of the project. Since the law assumes you have control over what’s on camera, you better take control.
I once saw a short film about a guy who was obessesed with Elvis. The producers were so worried about being sued by Elvis’ estate, they put a black rectangle over the eyes of every image of Elvis. That’s stupid. It distracts from the movie. The filmmakers would’ve been better off making all their images look almost-like-Elvis and have the character be obsessed with Melvin, a fictional iconic singer. That way, the audience knows who the filmmakers are referencing, and no one gets sued.
In the case of “Stull”, we were going to need to see some beer bottles up close. Even if we had the time and inclination to clear the rights to use a major brand, it’s unlikely the brand would allow their product to be used in a movie that simulates underage drinking. What to do? We could remove all the labels from the bottles, but then they would just look like bottles with labels removed. What to do?
Enter Rebecca Lysen, graphic designer. She was able to turn around a logo for a fictional brand of beer called Hub in very little time and with some fun details. Her slogan, “Have a Hub, Bub!” became a running joke on set. Best of all, the camera could get as close the bottles as I wanted without my having to worry about getting sued.