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Everything You Need to Know About Actor Release Forms

Understanding when you need an actor release form is knowledge every filmmaker should grasp whether they are working in narrative film, documentary, or television production. Without actors signing release forms, you may be surprised to find out your film might not belong to you. Let’s explore everything you need to know about actor release forms, providing a professional template to use for your next project.

What is an actor release form?

Actor release forms are a legal agreement between the filmmaker and the actor. It gives the filmmaker permission to use footage of their actor in the film for festivals, public showcases, and distribution. Without this document signed by all actors appearing in your film, any one of them has the right to request the video to be taken down or never presented publicly.

There are many scenarios in which actors can exercise this right if a release form is not signed. If an actor does not like how they are portrayed in your film, or if they simply change their mind about being seen in the film altogether, it is important to have written proof that you own the images that feature the actor.

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To whom do they apply?

Actor release forms are not exclusive to leading cast members. Frequently called “talent release forms,” these documents need to be signed by all talent who will be recorded during production including extras. It is common, especially on reality television shows, to see faces of extras or bystanders blurred out.

This is because the showrunners or producers did not get their signature on a release form and therefore do not have permission to use their faces. Without the legal right to show someone’s face, their identity must be hidden through pixelation.

When is an actor release form necessary?

It all depends on what you plan on doing with the film after it is completed. If you are only sharing the film amongst friends or for a student project, release forms are not crucial. Especially if you make sure everyone who was part of the film understands what you plan to do with it afterward. If the film is never posted publicly, you are in the clear. If you are ever planning on submitting your film to festivals, posting it online, or looking for a distribution deal, actor release forms are essential.

Image and likeness

Before you can publicly show and distribute your film, you must acquire the right to use the image and likeness of an actor. This is included in all standard actor release forms and allows the filmmaker to use the actor’s image, voice, and performance in their film. If there is more detail to the actor’s performance, such as playing an instrument or performing dance choreography, it is crucial to specify that on your actor release form.

Promotional Rights

Most actor release forms also grant the filmmaker permission to use an image and likeness in commercial advertising for your film, including trailers, merchandise, and posters. It is always a smart idea to communicate what you plan on doing with your actor’s image and likeness before you do it. Keeping them informed on your creative decisions will help them understand what they are getting into, making them far more comfortable with your promotional plan for the film, even if they have signed away their image and likeness.

Documentary film releases

Release forms do not always apply to actors, they are extremely important when working on documentary projects, too. Documentary filmmakers must establish a binding agreement with their interviewees so that they have the right to use the footage in their film.

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The release form template

Lawsuits against filmmakers are quite uncommon, but when working on larger productions, it is smart to be safe rather than sorry. It is much easier to avoid these potential financial nightmares by using this ​free template​ for your future productions. This template encompasses everything from image and likeness to promotional rights. Your talent must be at least 18 years old or have their parent/guardian sign for them.

Remember to always have clear communication with your talent concerning what their performance entails on set, as well as what you are planning on doing with the footage after production. It is important to be as specific as possible when describing your creative plans. This will keep both parties on the same page and avoid any confusion down the road.

Actor release forms can be useful for all productions, even sometimes when working with animal talent. To use the image and likeness of an animal, you must get signed permission from its owner first. The template linked above can come in handy under any situation on set. Make sure to bring extra copies of your actor release forms because you can never have too many of them.

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