After coming home from a very emotional series of Gold Nugget events today, I wanted to share some hard-earned wisdom with my fellow Paradise (go Bobcats!) and other Butte County neighbors.
There may be documentary crews asking your to sign something that sounds reasonable, but will actually exclude you from our story in many ways. It may also be a barrier to rebuilding some of the institutions we all love.
I came to Butte County in 1993 for college and in some ways never left. I chose to live here, my wife and I chose to raise our kids here. I love Butte County. But much of my professional work has been in Hollywood.
Because of this I know the openness, earnestness and honesty (well, mostly, LOL) we all love in our Butte County neighbors. I also know the openness, earnestness and honesty (more than you’d assume actually) of people who work in Hollywood.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s I made my living as an entertainment journalist (journalism degree from Chico State 1996. Go Wildcats!). I interviewed many of the people who inspired me into filmmaking. I got to talk to directors, writers, actors. I talked to Will Farrell about his first movie (Superstar). I talked to M Night Shyamalan the week before he released The Sixth Sense. And I interviewed to Ron Howard as he prepared to release Ed TV (yes, he’s as nice as his reputation). But by this point, you don’t need me to tell you that.
In the mid-2000s until now I’ve been running my own production company out of Butte County, dividing my time between making my own documentaries and educational programs while also contracting out for various companies across the nation for various reality TV and documentary crews.
So I’m not coming at this from assumptions or things I’ve read. I know my way around Butte County and I know my way around the film and TV industry. What I learned was this: Almost all TV and filmmakers in Hollywood is trying to do a good job to make something people will enjoy. For the crews working on those films and shows, it’s a lot like any other job: People are just trying to get through their day.
And like every other job, there’s some people who just make things hard for everyone. We’ve all had that bad boss, that dullard co-worker, or that schemer who makes office politics awful.
That’s why I’m here now.
Watch Out For This:
When a documentarian talks to you, they’ll probably ask you sign what’s called a release. Among other things, it allows them to edit you into their documentary without the fear of you suing them. Many networks, streaming services, etc. require releases for every interviewee in a documentary or they won’t air it.
As I make Three Days in Paradise, I ask everyone to sign a release because eventually I want it on the biggest network or streaming service I can get. I want the world to know our story, to know Butte County, to know our history, and to know what this fire did to us.
But there’s another, shadier kind of release that screws things up for everyone. This kind of release is called exclusive release.
What an exclusive release says is you can ONLY talk to the documentarian for which you sign it. You can ONLY appear in their documentary. But what’s worse is it binds you even if they never use your interview. Documentarians shoot a lot of interviews they never use. So if you sign an exclusive release, that documentarian talking so nicely to you now can literally leave your story of the Camp Fire on the cutting room floor. No one will ever see your story. But here’s what’s worse:
If you sign an exclusive release, you cannot give interviews to anyone else.
You cannot talk to other local documentaries. Not just me, but the many others who need your stories.
You cannot talk to other non-Butte County documentaries, who we need to help keep our story alive.
You cannot talk to the many interviewers looking to record our stories for the Gold Nugget Museum, the Butte County Historical Society, or other local history institutions.
You cannot talk to the crews from Chico State looking to record our oral histories.
You cannot talk to the local news.
You cannot even talk to the video crews from our local high schools.
If you sign releases with exclusive clauses, you take your voice out of our local community. You are silenced.
Maybe that’s something you want to do. Maybe it makes sense for you. I’m not telling you what to sign or not to sign.
I’m saying I would never sign one myself. I would never ask anyone to sign one. There’s no good reason for a documentarian to ask you to sign one. If you appear in Three Days in Paradise, it’s no skin off my nose if you also appear in any other documentary.
I’ve never seen a filmmaker I respect ask someone to sign an exclusive release for a documentary.
So if anyone asks you to sign an exclusive release, think long and hard about it. It doesn’t guarantee your story will be told. It DOES guarantee you will be silenced for local projects and may be silenced forever.