The proliferation of awards shows, TV docs and celebrity bios like “E! True Hollywood Stories” has given rise to a bitter standoff over the use of film clips.
On one side are producers, who manage such shows under tight deadlines and modest budgets. On the other side are the Hollywood Guilds, which are determined to provide their members with every possible penny in re-use fees.
Traditionally, many producers have simply bypassed the Guilds, hoping no one noticed until the claims period ran out — usually two years. One clearances expert estimates that as many as 70% of clips that air on TV have not been approved by the Guilds — even with SAG’s threat of triple damages for each actor.
But the guilds are stepping up efforts to squeeze producers of clip shows.
“The Directors Guild of America closely monitors the use of excerpts to ensure that our members receive their contractually guaranteed fees as per our agreements,” says DGA spokesman Morgan Rumpf.
“We are aggressively pursuing claims for clip use is both basic cable and network television.” said WGA West assistant exec director Grace Reiner.
One documaker was startled recently to receive a DGA letter asking for tens of thousands of dollars in licensing fees for film clips in a variety of programs he produced over several years.
“We get hassled unrealistically by the guilds, sometimes years after the fact, and their demands are making it impossible for us to operate,” says another producer.
Producers now face a byzantine clearances system. Simply licensing a clip from a studio — which could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 in exchange for several years’ use — was already an exacting process.
But it’s relatively simple compared to sorting out the re-use fees guaranteed to talent under DGA, WGA and SAG contracts.
The DGA charges $227 for film clips under 30 seconds used on TV, $650 for up to two minutes and $157 for each minute after that. The process is stickier when it comes to SAG because members can negotiate their own deals or simply refuse requests for re-use altogether.
The explosion of clips shows has created a cottage industry of boutique firms, like Entertainment Clearances, headed by former Sony exec Cassandra Barbour, that specialize in obtaining rights deals.
But these firms have their work cut out for them as the industry’s appetite for clips increases.
Just imagine the demand for a personalized “Jerry Maguire” ringtone with a clip of Renee Zellweger delivering the signature line, “You had me at hello.”