Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fair Use: or if you're going to film a movie, make it a silent picture

An interview with the producer/writer of Mad Hot Ballroom (which looks fantastic) explains how damn costly it is to license all the songs they used in the movie.

Sewell:...the industry should have a different set of standard for documentary films. We're not Applebee's...As a businesswoman, I don't blame them for making money. I just think the prices should be fair.

But this is my favorite part:

Stay Free!: How much did it cost for the average song?

Sewell: It depends on how many entities are attached to it. Our typical total cost for a classic was about $15,000-20,000, split between publisher and master rights. With the Rocky Theme, the publishers didn't want to overexpose the song.


When it comes to high-budget, major motion pictures, the kind of money spent on clearing the music is merely a drop in the bucket. Sewell does acknowlege that there are discounts for indie filmmakers, but they hardly seem reasonable to me. I'm sure our resident lawyer might have some thoughts here.

And Jess, didn't you do an indie film that somehow got the rights to "That's Life" by Sinatra completely free?


At 6/28/2005 5:10 PM, Blogger Z said...

I wonder how much of School of Rock's total budget ended up being eaten by licensing costs. They had some heavy duty songs across the board there...

At 6/28/2005 7:04 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Clearance fees are negotatiated. There are no standards, no fee schedules, no preset discounts for documentary filmmakers. Each filmmaker is responsible for calling each individual rightsholder and working something out. The same song owner can give the song to one film for nothing, and charge 20 grand to the other, it's totally up to them.

Documentary filmmakers, predictably, HATE this. I've been to numerous presentations put on by documentary film organizations screaming for reforms, but there's no real impetus to get any reforms through.

One (snarky) filmmaker, to prove a point, did a 5 minute documentary on an Ansel Adams photograph, the credits and music clearances were about 10 minutes long. I saw the documentary at an NYU Law Seminar back in 01, I can't find it on Google. I'll look when I get home from work to see if I saved notes from that class.

At 6/28/2005 7:26 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Although I haven't seen it, I believe there's a bonus feature on the School of Rock DVD on how hard Jack Black tried to get a Zeppelin song in there. Zep has been notoriously difficult about licensing songs - I believe Cameron Crowe experienced a similar problem with a Zep song in Almost Famous.

Obviously the right song can have a major impact in the feel of a film ("Tiny Dancer" in the abovementioned Crowe flick, "Unchained Melody" in Ghost, "Hungry Eyes" in Dirty Dancing (okay, I just threw that one in there for the hell of it). But beyond that, there's this other issue about having to get the rights for songs that just happened to be playing in the background, or on a ringtone. When does it end?

At 6/29/2005 4:38 PM, Blogger Brian said...

you just want to hear Patrick Swayze sing, "She's like the Wind"

oh he's so DREEEEEEAAAMY!!!!

At 7/01/2005 11:38 AM, Anonymous Jadey! said...

I have no idea. I didn't notice! You probably know more about that than I do!!
And yes, he IS so dreamy, dammit. :)


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