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Release Forms and Contracts

I learned a few important lessons during my early years as a filmmaker.

  • Never be afraid to ask for free stuff.
  • Feed your crew well no matter how small your budget.
  • Always, and I mean always, get a signed release.

There are several different types of release forms, all of which serve the same general purpose—to cover your butt or, in slightly more mature language, to ensure that you are legally permitted to exploit whatever is being released.

The forms you’ll be using most often are the talent and location releases, although there are several others, including crew releases, music releases, photo releases, and more. The specific language in your release depends largely on what you’re shooting, as well as any union affiliations you may have.

Let’s look at an example. Any time you shoot an actor for your film (with a camera, not a Taser), you must also get their permission to use their likeness in your film. You do this with a talent release. Just because someone shows up to set, lines memorized, and delivers a stunning performance, that doesn’t mean they’re agreeing to let you include them in the finished film. Even if they stand there at the wrap party, celebratory beer in hand, and announce, “I agree to let you include me in the finished film,” they may feel differently the next day, or whenever they sober up. By getting a signed release form, you are guaranteed the right to use their likeness and performance in your film, your marketing, your bonus material, and everything else relating to the project.

“Yeah, but my lead actor is my roommate, so I don’t really need a release, do I?”

Yeah. You really need a release. Let’s say you’re preparing to submit your recently completed masterpiece to the Sundance Film Festival. Suddenly, you get a text from your roommate/lead actor. He explains that he just landed a huge role in the next Tyler Perry flick (Medea Eats a Sandwich). He says he doesn’t want your movie coming out and screwing up his chances at stardom. He demands you shelve your film. You don’t think much of it until he utters these devastating words: “I never signed a release!” You, my friend, are boned.

Now that I’ve sufficiently scared the crap out of you, allow me to soothe your psyche with a refreshing cup of reality. Getting signed release forms is no big deal. All you have to do is ask. Most actors don’t think twice, probably because they’ve signed dozens of them already. If someone gives you grief about it, you can always alter the language slightly to accommodate their concerns. If they give you a lot of grief, kick them off the project. Do you really want someone that problematic involved with your film?

Even knowing the potential pitfalls, many indie filmmakers still make the mistake of not collecting signed releases. Why? The excuse I hear most often is, “I didn’t have any forms with me.” Clearly, these people don’t own an iPhone or iPad. With either of these devices on hand, filmmakers will always have access to release forms. Here’s how.

Easy Release

While it’s not the first release form tool to grace the App Store, Easy Release is certainly one of the best. It’s so good, in fact, that my description of it might lead you to believe I own stock in the company. To prevent any misconceptions, I’ll begin by pointing out the app’s biggest flaw: It provides release forms only for talent and locations. Considering these are the two release forms you’ll be using most, I’m willing to overlook the limitation. With that incredibly harsh critique out of the way, let the love-fest begin!

Working equally well on iPads and iPhones, Easy Release lets you quickly collect and share signed release forms. Even though the included templates are terrific, you may need to make a few alterations in the text or use completely different language. With the app’s Custom Release feature, you can duplicate and edit existing templates and create new templates from scratch. Because my company has been using the same talent release form for years, I simply copied its text and pasted it directly into a new Easy Release custom template.

Creating a new release is a fairly quick process. Begin by tapping the easyrelease_plus.jpg in the upper right and then tapping either Model (talent) or Property (location). From there, you are presented a list of all releases available in that category—this will include the default, as well as any custom release templates you’ve created. Pick one, tap Next, and you’ll be asked to enter various bits of information about the production, the location (if it’s a location release), and some specifics about who will be signing the form. After that, your device’s camera will pop up. If you’re creating a talent release, take a photo of your actor. If you’re creating a location release, snap a shot of the location. Finish up the photo, and fill in the remaining fields, which will vary depending on your settings.


Finally, you’ll be brought to the summary screen where you can make any last-minute changes (FIGURE 4.26). When everything is up to snuff, it’s time to get that autograph! Tap the Signature field, and hand your iOS device to the signer. They’ll be given the chance to read through the entire release before signing, which they can do with their finger or a stylus (FIGURE 4.27).

Figure 4.26

Figure 4.26. Double-check all the information you’ve entered into Easy Release before asking your performer to sign. If you change anything afterward, the form will need to be signed again.

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27. The signer can use a finger or a stylus right on the iPad or iPhone screen.

Once the form has been signed, you can immediately generate a snazzy-looking PDF of the completed release and e-mail a copy to the signer (FIGURE 4.28).

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28. After you gather the required signatures, Easy Release will generate a PDF of your completed release form.

To achieve maximum efficiency on set, create your release forms ahead of time, making sure to input all the vital information, and then save them for later use. Then, when you’re ready for a signature, just reopen the appropriate saved release, get the signature, and move right along.

Easy Release will run you $9.99 for the basic feature set, but if you prefer a life of luxury, you can spend an additional $3.99 for the Advanced Customization Pro-Pack. The extra green buys you the ability to create multiple brands and assign any of them to new releases. This is especially useful if you work freelance for several different companies. You also gain greater control over existing fields and the ability to create your own custom fields. Finally, the Pro-Pack allows you to share your custom release templates with other Easy Release users as well as your other iOS devices. For me, the additional purchase was a no-brainer, but if you have no need for the extra customization, don’t feel compelled to spend the cash.

Form Tools PDF

One of my new favorite apps, Form Tools PDF, employs a fundamentally different approach to completing release forms.

When filling out a form in Easy Release, you must first enter relevant information into a succession of labeled fields. After that, the app generates a new PDF file containing the completed release form. It’s not until the last step that your finished form is blinked into existence. Conversely, when using Form Tools (as well as the next app, Cinema Forms), you begin with a fully realized form that incorporates blank lines that must be filled in with the pertinent data. In other words, it works the same as filling out paper forms. I’m not suggesting this approach is better, but I do think it will feel more familiar to those unaccustomed with digital forms.

Form Tools PDF was meant to work with your existing forms, and as such, it doesn’t come with any of its own. To import your existing forms, you must first convert them into PDF files (unless they’re already PDF files, in which case you get a gold star). On the bright side, if your release forms include a custom masthead or logo, those will be brought along for the ride. On an even brighter note, since Form Tools PDF works with any PDF file, you can use the app for just about any production form that needs filling, not just release forms.


You can import a PDF document from an e-mail attachment, via iTunes File Sharing, or from any app that provides the Open In menu (Dropbox, PDF Expert, and so on). As soon as a PDF is imported, Form Tools PDF immediately turns it into a new form. From there, you can add and position various form elements, including text boxes, date fields, drop-down menus, check boxes, and photo boxes.

Adding new form elements is a snap (FIGURE 4.29). Just tap anywhere on the document. You’ll be offered three main options: Text Box, Check Box, and Photo Box. Pick the one you want, and it will be added in place. From there, you can adjust its parameters, which vary based on the element type (FIGURE 4.30). There’s no need to add a special element for signature collection since the app includes a Pen tool that can draw anywhere on the form.

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.29. Use Form Tools to turn any PDF into an interactive form.

Figure 4.30

Figure 4.30. Each form element you create within Form Tools provides several adjustable parameters.

It’s worth noting that while the PDF file standard includes its own form elements, Form Tools PDF does not currently support them. Therefore, if you import a PDF document that contains form elements, you’ll have to re-create them inside Form Tools PDF.

Once you’ve added all the necessary elements, it’s time to put the form into use. Simply by switching the application’s mode from Edit Form to Quick Fill Form, the form is ready to be filled in and signed (FIGURE 4.31). When you have a completed form and you need to get another, just tap Entries (which displays a list of every entry associated with this form), and then tap New Entry. The form will be cleared out and made ready for the next signer. Every signer is considered a separate entry, and all entries remain associated with that form.

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31. This completed release form is ready to be exported.

Exporting and sharing is as easy as tapping formtools_export.jpg. You can e-mail a PDF of a single entry or a multipage PDF of all entries. You can even export your entries as an Excel-compatible CSV file (which won’t include photos or signatures). Finally, you can choose to e-mail a FORM file that can be shared with other iOS devices running Form Tools PDF.

Based on its versatility alone, I highly recommend this app.

Cinema Forms

Unlike the previous two apps, Cinema Forms doesn’t allow you to import your own release forms, or edit the text of the supplied templates. OK, that’s not entirely true. It does come with one talent release template that allows you to paste in a block of your own text, but for the most part, this is a take-it-as-it-comes sort of tool. However, what the app lacks in flexibility, it more than makes up for in versatility.

When you buy this $9.99 iPad app, it comes standard with talent and location release forms, but that’s not all. Cinema Forms also provides a breakdown sheet, a shot log, a location scout worksheet, an asset inventory log, cast and crew contact lists, a preproduction checklist, and a call sheet (FIGURE 4.32). (I originally considered putting Cinema Forms in the call sheet section of this chapter.) That’s a total of ten very useful, professional forms. While that may seem like a lot, it’s nothing compared to what’s available from within the app’s built-in form store, which currently offers more than (drumroll, please) 90 film production form templates!

Figure 4.32

Figure 4.32. Cinema Forms comes with a bounty of useful production forms.


You can buy additional template packs for $3.99 to $7.99, or you can buy the whole catalog for $29.99 (FIGURE 4.33). Naturally, that price may rise as the developer adds new forms.

Figure 4.33

Figure 4.33. Cinema Forms has its very own form store where it sells nearly 400,000,000 different production forms, or maybe it’s around 100. Either way, it’s awesome.

To use the app, simply launch it, tap the cinemaforms_plus.jpg in the upper left, and then pick a template. You’ll be asked to enter your company name and, optionally, a show name and production number. After that, your desired form will appear on-screen and get automatically geotagged (your current location will be inserted into the form’s metadata). All that’s left to do is fill in the blanks. It’s just like Mad Libs, but instead of filling in fart jokes, you’ll need to enter real, far less humorous information.

For a dash of panache, you can customize the forms with your company logo, address, and contact information. If you’re creating a release form or any other document that requires a signature, one can be added with a finger or stylus, just like Easy Release. Signed forms can be printed wirelessly via AirPrint (Apple’s wireless printing standard) or shared as PDF files via e-mail or Dropbox.

Because the app is tied into iCloud, you can rest assured that your data is safely backed up and protected. By the way, when it comes to releases and other legal forms, never believe anyone who says, “You can rest assured that your data is safely backed up and protected.” Signed documents are crucial, and you need to ensure your forms are secure (by backing up your iPad to your computer, uploading everything to Dropbox, and so on).

Cinema Forms is a fairly new app, so it still has a few rough spots, but if you have a recurring dream of having instant access to a library full of production forms, you should really consider therapy...and, you should check out Cinema Forms.

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