Getting Location Releases: A Primer from FootageBank's Paula Lumbard

 For many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank (photo courtesy of FootageBank).

For many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank (photo courtesy of FootageBank).

Many of the houses, restaurant exteriors and other physical locations used in television shows and movies to set a scene come from stock footage agencies. And, like shots of recognizable people, these location clips typically require releases from the property owner. Paula Lumbard and her team at FootageBank have built a world-class collection of released location footage, and we spoke with her recently about the process. What is a released location? Is it mainly about buildings or are there other locations that need releases?

Paula Lumbard: A released location might be anything from a house to a restaurant to a stadium. It means we have a property release signed by the owner of the property in question. A released property could also include a private airplane, yacht, car, truck, limousine or even rights to an event.

FN: Why is it important to obtain releases? What can happen if you don’t? 

PL: It’s important because without a release anyone using an image or clip without permission by the owner of the property is in violation of the rights of privacy of the property owner. The user leaves themselves open to litigation against their use of the clip or image. It is not a risk worth taking. 

FN: What are some good examples of released locations in your collection?

PL: We’re known for day and night matching shots of locations such as restaurants, cafes, diners, and unusual locations such psychics offices, laundromats and factories. We have houses in all types of architectural styles, from tudor style to craftsman to modern as well as all sorts of businesses. We also have parks, lodges, motels, clinics and so much more, all day and night matching scenes, all angles, and all seasons. One of our most popular shots is a classic New York diner that we have shot in all seasons and all times of day. 

FN: Who are the main clients for released locations? In other words, which types of clients care about location releases and what do they typically use the released locations shots for?

PL: Our main client base is all scripted programming from network, net cast, cable movies and shows as well as feature films and commercials.  When a television show wants to establish a location in the story they often use a stock clip, if a character is in a restaurant or bar the outside of that bar will be shown to set up the scene. That bar location may be licensed from us. Characters in shows can live in a location licensed from a stock house; for many years the characters in the show “Bones” lived in a house licensed from FootageBank, likewise the characters in “Two Broke Girls”.   We produce our content for this market. 

FN: Do all locations need releases? 

That is a good question and when I’m asked that I refer my clients back to their legal advisor. I would say that of course a skyline does not need to be released. Does a neighborhood street need to be released? Is a street a location? That answer is determined by the show, or licensor of the clip. Legal departments have differing points of view on this issue. Does a public museum need to be released? Again, that is up to the licensor. We do the research to determine who built and owns the property and share that information with our clients. 

FN: Generally speaking, how do you obtain a location release? What is involved?

PL: We keep lists of those categories of properties that are in demand and are the best revenue earners. We share that with our top earning and best cinematographers. They go out and scout, secure releases, and shoot locations. We check releases as the footage comes in to us for ingestion. We also counsel shooters on what and what not to shoot as well as what may or may not be working about their clips and how they are shooting them.

FN: Is the licensing process different for released locations? Does your license indicate that the location is released?

PL: A location is listed as released in the metadata with each clip on our website.

FN: Are there certain types of location releases that are really hard to get?

PL: Hotels are very hard to get released, airports are impossible, and hospitals are hard. Churches too. 

FN:  Do released locations cost more to license?

PL: No, we charge the same. We have a couple of locations that have “premium pricing.” One is aerial footage over Washington, DC near the White House, and The Pentagon. That is because the shooter had to pay a lot for the permits. 

FN: How big is your collection of released location footage?

PL: Tens of thousands of clips. Location-Released clips and Rights-Released playback clips are the areas FootageBank specializes in. 

FN: How do you obtain the releases? 

PL: Each DP has their secrets; I have to say it is a personality thing. It is harder in other countries because of the language barrier but we are getting more all the time because we have someone full time in Europe and Eastern Europe. All our DPs pay a location fee and if a location is used a lot (such as the Bones house) we go back and pay the owner of the location extra fees.

FN: Is there a Holy Grail of location releases? Some place or building that is absolutely impossible to get released but that you would love to have in your collection?

PL: Anything recognizable and current in North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. More practically, almost anything can be released if you have the revenue. But that is the territory for location shooters on feature films. For FootageBank, I am currently looking for arenas and sports stadiums (I am working with a new supplier with many but am busy doing due diligence on releases). 

Another Holy Grail has more to do with access as opposed to releases. That is close shots of airports, bridges, ports, and borders. Since 9/11 Homeland Security is very watchful about anyone filming/recording near these locations. My cinematographers have been “rolled up on” by the police in numerous cities, numerous times, and even taken into custody because they were filming too close. Once was near the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC, twice at the San Pedro Port here in Los Angeles, and once was near the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. If we had the footage we would not need the release, we wanted good medium access and tight shots of the locations.