Docs That Rock

Paid to Be Yourself?

pxam04dvd1Nearly eight years after Jay Bennett left the band Wilco, he’s suing lead singer Jeff Tweedy. At first glance, it seems like the typical unpaid royalty case — but there’s more! Bennett and Tweedy’s dissolution was chronicled in the doc I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. But Bennett also claims Tweedy did not compensate him for his appearance in the film and that Tweedy “never obtained the necessary releases for the use of Bennett’s performance in the film.”
Welcome the sticky part of doc filmmaking -the releases. Should docs be considered the truest type non-fiction like news, where real life doesn’t require a person to sign a release? At the same point, docs are a commercial endeavor (at least in theory). So should a participant consent to appearing in one via the release?
I think most filmmakers like to get releases if only to make sure there is no ambiguity about the participant’s willingness to be distributed in a film. But Bennett also says he wants “compensation.” That’s a whole other arena. Many documentarians never pay people for obvious reasons that if you’re documenting real life, the profit motive may cause people to act differently. How can a viewer trust that they’re getting an unvarnished life if people had ulterior motives to act a certain way?
Then again, for celebrities and musicians, their is little distinction between their public and private lives. Their private lives are their only form of currency and they’re already getting paid by a variety of entities to be themselves. Why should a documentary be any different than any other product that features them?
So is Bennett right to ask for compensation? He is asking for damages of at least $50,000.

UPDATEIn a very sad postscript to this story, Bennett passed away May 24, 2009. That we’ll not known the answers to the legal issues raised by this case pales vastly behind the loss of not hearing any more music from Bennett.


May 5, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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