Screenwriting : Getting Permissions by Freyja Seren

Freyja Seren

Getting Permissions

Geniuses of Stage32, I need some help...

I'm struggling with the idea of getting permission to use brands. So, I gather if my main character is driving a Bentley then I'd need to get permission form Bentley to use their cars, right? But if the character just so happens to be wearing a pair of Nikes would I need permission for that? Also, what about using things like WhatsApp or Chrome or Reddit or Instagram - if they come up, would I need permission for those, or need to make up a fictional analogue?

Cheers folks, hope you're all having a massively creative weekend!

Vanshdeep Singh

Hi, Freyja! I'm no expert, but I think just go ahead with what you want to write. These details can be later looked upon by the production designer and director and producers etc. I believe that your job as a writer is to create the best mental picture in the reader's mind as you possibly can, rest can be taken care of during production. Take care :)

John Austin

I am not a lawyer, but I've been repeatedly informed by people who know more than I do in this area that you can mention brand names without concern, providing you're not casting them in a negative light. So, for example, if you wanted characters to meet at Burger King, absolutely fine. If they're meeting at Burger King to plan their next atrocity, that slips into the problematic area, and you'll obviously want to steer clear of anything that could be construed as defamation.

The other primary thing to watch out for is if you use a brand name in a way that might inadvertently imply support or affiliation. However, in general, long before this becomes a concern a production team's lawyers will have gone through the whole thing to make sure they're safe.

Freyja Seren

Thank you both so much! Got myself in a bit of a tangle wondering if this is something I should be aware of and sort out before it goes anywhere. Back to it :)

Lindbergh E Hollingsworth

Go write your script and have your characters use, drive whatever they want. When it comes time for production the production team, clearance coordinator will work things out.

Philip Sedgwick

I am not an entertainment and am not providing you with legal advice...

My suggestion is to CYA when it comes to legal clearance for everything. If you define your budget and end game for the film, clear intent for making the film, I do find many companies will engage with you. It does help if you have a legal form prepared, though many already have them.

For a short film I recently completed, I reached out to Celestron Telescopes and they were insanely cooperative and never requested to read the script. As well, I went as far as to contact Panavision, so that in the BTS photos I put up on the film's website, their crew wear could be included sporting name and logo. They were more than pleased to help.

There are websites with fake products for film and gaffer's tape is amazing. If your film will get into major fests or when you seek representation legal clearance must be solidly in place for anything recognizable.

Many companies have protocols. I've talked with multiple car companies about film projects. Several mandate no drugs can be used inside or on or around the vehicle and no crimes can be committed by those using the vehicle.

I would recommend every single detail be covered... queue your team (especially script supervisor and producer) so no one leaves a coffee cup on a table brandishing a logo on an epic fantasy series...

Rohit Kumar

You are basically giving free advertising for them, so why would anyone worried, unless there is some kind of negative publicity of brands. Sometimes based on the concept you can charge them too. For instance if there is woman centric films, most of the brands do have funds allocated to do promotional works too, so you can avail such benefits with that. So just write it, later can think of what can be done with it. Just don't over do like how some one called Bay does lol. Product placements will always be there, issue only arises when that product itself holds a creative copyright of another artist not willing to share those. For instance painting or book of an author or music or lyrics or such.

Philip Sedgwick

While there is merit to writing without consideration of what a project might require in terms of production, specifically clearance in this case, if you're in contention with another script(s) that require less of the production team, the deciding vote may well go to the script that's easier to produce.

Christine Capone

I believe it's called product placement where the brands give you permission to use their products as a form of advertising in the movie. When you've watched movies or tv shows, I'm sure you've seen where, for instance, a water bottle is turned around to not show their label. But, in the background you might see a box of Kellog's Frosted Flakes : )

So yes, you would need permission for any form of advertising, based on what I've learned while working in production.

Doug Nelson

Just keep it generic unless there's a reason to be specific in the story - then it's called product placement and may/may not be worth a buck to you - you don't pay them to advertise their products. As a side note; in ye olden days of film, Mercedes used to let the studios use their cars - until they realized that it was the big-time criminal characters who were driving their cars. I guess they felt that it was bad publicity - so they stopped.

Freyja Seren

Thanks a million everyone! I know with scripts like James Bond the writers need to make sure they put in the flashy watch scene and the flashy car scene and have certain vignette targets they need to hit for the product placements. Then there was that tornado film from the 90s that looked like a 2 hour Pepsi ad. It's the accidental stuff I slightly worry about. It's so easy to talk in terms of brands sometimes, rather than generics - he wears Skeechers and Levis is shorthand for a certain kind of person, that sneakers and jeans might not cover [that one is a bit general and open to interpretation (and yes I am slightly stuck in the 90s) - maybe Prada rather than 'a nice dress' - something like that].

Actually the thing in the script I'm working on at the moment is more around apps - Reddit, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube. They're so ubiquitous and tricky to create an analogue version of. I remember back in the day all the pretend Googles that were used - some of them could be pretty dire... I'll just write and worry about it all later. I think my biggest fear is coming across like a noob - but that's a piece of music I'll have to face regardless XD

It's seems strange that car companies are so averse to criminal activity and the 'bad guy' using their vehicles. That's where all the cool factor is!

Philip Sedgwick love your mention of The Coffee Cup. Someone's tush was in a sling that day XD

EDIT: I just want to add that I'm not defining my characters by their clothing. There's a lot more to people than jeans and shoes and I create full-fledged humans (and non-humans) with personalities and everything as well...

Rohit Kumar

Freyja Seren I'm sure you have seen Caricatures ? Think of brands and famous people like that. Sometimes I for fun-sake and knowing, lived the uglier side of business, twist their brand names or famous people's names. Like Billy Goots or Elony Musky or "WhatsSlap". It's like being stupid and not giving too much importance to one self and things humans built around in a self obsessive nature as Me Myself approach.

This is evident you can see in most Indian movies where you can see a brand name or it's logo being used but twisted it's words and even like Chinese companies in China they copy past the Apple to iAPPle or something like that and create a product. The cultural philosophy behind is giving that proclaimed best product to each and every human rather than keep it to one self; i.e. only to rich group of people, while most European and Western countries run behind IP rights and sue people who use that, while they are fine stealing things themselves. Most countries suffer from Social stratification. Like Bill Gates when asked about his reply of Steve Jobs accusing Microsoft stealing the design of Mac. Bill Gates replied: "Well, Steve, .... I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

You can read about it

Same thing happening right now in Vaccines where European & Western Unions are holding on to IP rights and not sharing it or making a Universal sharing of Vaccine while many people are dying around India, Africa and Asia. But same when US had a peak they sort of threatened to attack India to get medical supplies, while Indians were basically happy to give medical supplies without have to be threatened. Because of cultural differences of too much self importance most of us value everything we are surrounded by more than we think of it's true value over humanity.

Point being, we are artists in broader perspective, think of brands like caricatures. Say whatslap or Rolledit or whatever, or even as a character working on those apps while sneaking in other person's chat history just what chat companies do "STEALING INFORMATION". You can not only caricature a brand as person but can do many analogies. This way you will be more relaxed as an artist to experiment rather than become someone like Bay movies as I pointed out where he uses movies for promotions of many brands he can. Because he hardly care about movie at one point. Lately he is changing it but yeah. That's been a long lasting complaint too.

One of my friend yesterday shared this funny pic. You might get some ideas. So think in terms of caricatures if you want to duck the axe of IP or be those brand production promotion talking to your Production Manager. But we as filmmakers we have better position to break the social stratification without feeling the direct insult as journalism or documentary can do.

CJ Walley

As a spec writer, you're good to go and don't need to worry about it.

As mentioned by Philip Sedgwick, the script will be run through clearance by any competent production team. This is often a third-party service that specialises in identifying potential issues.

It can be a tricky area and most people don't know what brands are cool with. A close friend of mine is the regional president of a supercar manufacturer. I reached out to him about a film I was developing that stood a good chance of featuring his cars. He specified that they prefer not to see half naked girls or any drugs near them in shot. Fair enough. Not what a lot a people would assume.

Product placement is huge now and only set to become more of a factor in film production as AVOD continues to explode.

Dan Guardino

Some things are exempted from trade mark because they are all over the place. The producer is the person who is responsible for obtain clearances not the screenwriter so don’t worry about it.

Dan MaxXx

the way movies are made, unless an item is specific to the character (Lethal Weapon Riggs uses a Beretta 9mm, John Wick drives a Ford Mustang Boss 429), the filmmaking team creates the world with the help of a legal & marketing staff. I met writers' assistants on Law & Order SVU tv series and part of their job is changing character names, location names, props if they don't pass network censors.

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