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July 18, 2005



What about a film like the excellent "Los Angeles Plays Itself" which was basically a 169-minute essay on Los Angeles as seen through the movies -- with tons of clips from hundreds of sources. If the director had, from the start, tried to negotiate all clearances, I'm sure he would have gone crazy. I am curious if anyone knows if this film actually did get every single one of its clearances, if it argued fair use, or what -- because I know it had a theatrical run on the arthouse circuit.

Joe Swanberg

Tricky stuff. With my new film I'm working on, I'm avoiding this by having my friend write original music for the film, and by not having much music in the film anyway. I'm also being super cautious to not accidentally film any artwork or anything like that that I would have trouble clearing. It sucks to have to think about that stuff, but that's life I guess.

AJ Schnack

I got a bunch of comments on this topic offline (via email and in person) from filmmakers who confided that they, too, were working without a net, specifically using hard to trace music cues or just hoping to get away with some rights, with the hope of pleading ignorance if they were caught. For some, they assume the film will only play festivals - and smaller ones at that - so how likely is it that someone will find out?

I must admit that I still feel uncomfortable about it - both as an artist who would want to be asked permission and as a filmmaker who wants to stay on the trouble-free (or at least less hassle) side of the fence. And while I do support, in theory, the notion of doing whatever it takes to get a film done, I also believe in a certain responsibility - not just to rights-holders, but also investors, actors, crew, subjects, anyone who hopes that a piece of work can be seen by as many people as possible.

All that said, it's also clear that certain rights clearances are needlessly complicated and that filmmakers run the risk of trying to do everything right and still failing to clear something or someone. It's definitely true that a more comprehensive definition of fair use is vital for all filmmakers.

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