Which means everything, everything, has to be cleared. Logo on a baseball cap? Needs clearance. Music playing on the radio? Clearance. Clips from TV shows? Clearance. Did you know that “Happy Birthday” is still under copyright, and the estate of the composers routinely charges $15,000 to $20,000 for one verse? Ditto “God Bless America,” which is owned by the Irving Berlin estate, described by one filmmaker as “notoriously hard bargainers.”
This is the golden age of the documentary, with movies about basketball wannabes and spelling bees and misguided war policies and dance contests making a splash at the box office. But it is also the leaden age of the documentary — documentary producers are saying that rights and permissions accounts for more than 50 percent of their budgets.
Matt Cheney, in a discussion on Hal Hartley’s latest film, comments on “message works of art.”
There is a difference, I think, between artists who “decide that they have messages to communicate to the world” and artists who “feel that they have messages to communicate to the world”. It’s probably true that everyone who creates things and makes them public feels they have something to communicate; otherwise, why bother? But to decide that you have something to communicate seems to me to be different, because a decision is more specific than a feeling, and it’s the specificity — the idea that you have a handle on Truth and now must go forth and communicate it — that I dislike in narrative. A decision smacks of certainty; a feeling suggests exploration. It’s the difference between something that makes you say, “Boy, that was preachy,” rather than, “Wow, that’s got me thinking…”