Docs That Rock

One Other Thing to Note in Variety Last week


That Variety article on music docs had one other interesting part well known to music documentarians: the brutal cost of music licensing. This fact alone makes music documentaries more of a highwire act than the typical doc because of a filmmaker has be an equally good wooer of licensees like music publishers, record labels and of course stars.


The article cites a cool film has been making the film festival rounds called The Wrecking Crew about the L.A. session musicians who played behind acts like the Beach Boys and Sonny and Cher. Director Denny Tedesco spent more than 12 years making the film. But it still hasn’t found distribution in part because of the “low- six-figure licensing fees” for more than 130 song parts used. (This could represent a tenth to a half of a music doc’s budget.) The article says:

Tedesco stresses the labels and publishers have agreed to let their music be used at a discounted rate, “but we’re still trying to raise the money for that,” he says. Otherwise, he fears his labor of love is “dead in the water.”

“We’re only interested if (the project) is completely done,” concurs Tom Bernard, Sony Pictures Classics co-president and co-founder. “Come to us pre-cleared and everything taken care of.”

That’s why I’m big fan of compulsory licenses for documentaries, where there is a federally mandated rate that filmmakers can pay to use music, without torturous negotiations or exorbitant fees. (It’s the same system the radio business uses to pay publishers though oddly they don’t copyright holders (labels and sometimes artists.)) I’ll bore about this more fully in a future post.

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April 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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