Your art in the movies

Dear Artist, Recently, a fellow painter phoned to tell me that one of his galleries had asked him to sign a “Motion Picture Exposure Agreement.” From time to time the dealer might rent his work to motion picture productions, take a small fee and give little or nothing to the artist. “It’s good publicity,” said the dealer. I told my friend to go ahead and sign, but to make sure they kept him in the loop ahead of time on each deal. In my thinking, getting paid is of less concern than knowing what kind of film your work is going into and in what context the work will be shown. I won’t, for example, allow my work to be shown in any kind of brutal or gun-oriented movie. “Driving Miss Daisy” is more my kind of film. Product placement is big business. Brewers pay big bucks to have stars slosh their brew. Automobiles, household furniture, even lamps and coffee table dingbats vie for your eye and are often sponsored. I’m one of those guys who has some of his stuff listed with a prop rental company. So far I’ve turned down calls for my ’69 E-Type Jaguar roadster. I just can’t see my girl in a deodorant commercial. I want her to be like the Ferrari in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — the star of the show — with lots of low-angle lingering shots at sunset. My car is, after all, art. I rued the day I rented myself and my 1921, 30ft open launch, Miss Reveller, to a Disney production. Changing the boat’s name to Ms. Ugli, they had me roar around in the pouring rain. The guy sitting beside me had dynamite strapped to his body. There were two storm-troopers with caulk boots and machine guns standing on the bow. When I got home, the $700 a day they paid me didn’t cover the refinishing of the mahogany deck. Never again. Regarding rentals of art, most galleries carry the insurance for you. Make sure of this. While production companies tend to treat your stuff very well indeed, a couple of my paintings have come back with damaged frames. Also, make sure no blood is going to be spilled. Splashes of non-tomato-type fake blood are difficult to remove from the linen liners of frames. Besides, I really don’t think you want your work in that type of movie. Best regards, Robert PS: “Always ask for your name in the credits.” (Zeke Malone, ’20s Hollywood muleskinner) Esoterica: This weekend we’re all at the Santa Barbara Film Festival for the premiere of the gentle and charming Old Stock, the first feature film directed by our son James. James used a couple of my paintings, as well as those of his sister, Sara. He got our stuff for free. The twins’ brother, Dave Genn, composed and directed the musical score. Dave got paid. As they say, nepotism is okay provided you keep it in the family. I offered myself as an actor at scale but was unfortunately rejected. I tried free but that also failed.   Produce fast or miss out by Robert Toth, Salisbury, NC, USA  

“Dark mountain”
original painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Robert Toth

I’ve had my work purchased by MGM, Miramax, 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures. I get calls to buy my work for movies and they want fast delivery, with no formalities, no questions. Or they go to the next person that can fill the order. It’s all about providing a service.       No howling cats! by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

“Columbine and Pierrot”
pastel painting, 38 x 28 inches
by Sharon Knettell

Many years ago, when they were filming The Scarlett Letter in and about Salem Mass, I got a call from my sister to ask if I could have my local cat shelter let them ‘borrow’ 30 cats at $20 per head for 6 weeks. This was to add ‘atmosphere’ to the faux set. My sister lent them her horse Jaka because she was so thrilled Daniel Day Lewis would be riding her. My brother-in law also lent some of his period colonial reproductions to the set. They both regretted their decisions as they were not recompensed, poorly credited and Jaka came back a wreck. Needless to say I nixed transporting 30 howling cats to Salem. It took a year before my sister spoke to me.         Annoying business by Anonymous gallery   In most cases the movie people don’t want to pay much for the art they rent. In the cases where we manage to get a good rental fee, we share it with the artist 50/50. But in most cases they go around to the various galleries — there are three in this town — and play one against the other. A typical fee is $100 per work if we can get it and often we have to deliver and pick up. It is actually an annoying business for so little gain when we could be trying to sell art to our customers. We do, however, ask that the gallery name and the artist’s name be included in the end credits and it sometimes is.   Art leased by film industry by Liron Sissman, New York, NY, USA  

“Hudson River at Boscobel”
oil painting, 22 x 18 inches
by Liron Sissman

As an artist who has leased art to be featured in the movies, I would say the artist, too, should get paid for it. The film industry tends to lease by the week and they pay well. Why should the dealer get paid but not the artist? In my case it was a 50-50% split. Attached is an image of my painting: Hudson River at Boscobel, oil, 22″ x 18″ (framed), as featured in Warner Bros. Something Borrowed starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, Colin Egglesfield, and John Kransinski.     There is 1 comment for Art leased by film industry by Liron Sissman
From: Anonymous — Feb 07, 2013

I agree. If a film company pays to use your home or garden, for example, as a location, and also hires props, they should pay the owner of the art as well – it’s a prop too, and is yours until the gallery sells it.

  Movie house supports the arts by Sheila Page, Sechelt, BC, Canada  

“Forest floor”
acrylic painting
by Sheila Page

In our small town of Sechelt, the managers of the local movie house project a variety of images showing the work of local artists and photographers before every show. There is no charge. The title, dimensions, media and artist’s name is posted with the image. Everyone enjoys the pre-show event, especially the artists. What great support for the arts and boost for our community spirit!   There is 1 comment for Movie house supports the arts by Sheila Page
From: Suzette Fram — Feb 05, 2013

What a GREAT idea. Kudos to whoever thought of that.

  Check fine print for restoration clause by John DeCuir, La Crescenta, CA, USA   Whatever property you are allowing a film company to use (boat, car or your front room), as you suggest, check the fine print in your contract for the “restoration clause.” Our crews do their best to behave when handling other people’s property but film-making is a rough and tumble game at best. The insurance money is there to fix any damage the crew may have caused, especially if you are working with a large company. In fact, over the years I have met several people who are in the location books that “seem” to make a living having their carpets replaced, wall repainted and bathrooms remodeled. So don’t hesitate to point out any damage to the location manager in writing. The good ladies and gentlemen that have worked with me over the years in collecting art work for my sets, have a challenging job. While the art rental houses and dealers do their best in offering a variety of quality choices, the search for the right painting is a tough one. I push the challenge even further: using paintings, not simply to “decorate a wall” but to create a color palette for the entire set. The painting can become the inspiration for a variety of color-related decisions including wall colors, window treatments, furnishings, not to mention a tool to coordinate with my costume designer. After I get a good feeling for the character who lives in that set, I try to put myself in their “color persona” and collect two or three paintings that I think they would have selected themselves, (if in fact they were decorating that room, office etc.). Sometimes, as in a bar, office or bank lobby, the owner isn’t even scripted. which requires me to create that character and his or her back story in my mind. Several very interesting things happen in this process. One is that the color palette of the set reinforces the color persona of the scripted inhabitant of the set (depending on how well I have interpreted that character’s “color temperature”). Second, and most important for me, I have the talent, skills and expertise of artists who have spent years and years struggling with the challenges of color selection on my creative team. I enjoy the notion that I can partner up with contemporary artists or masters long gone in choosing my color selections. So, for me, paintings in a film set go way beyond “decorating” a wall… Thanks for letting film squeeze into your painter’s dialogue. There is 1 comment for Check fine print for restoration clause by John DeCuir
From: Jim Carpenter — Feb 05, 2013

Thanks for this. The creative process – particularly in this collaborative setting – is fascinating.

  Is it legal, unannounced? by Lena Leszczynski, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Lena Leszczynski

Several years ago I was watching a video of The Santa Clause, and in the first few minutes of the film there was an abstract painting on the wall of the living room set which caught my eye. “Hm, I thought, I like that work.” A second later, “Hunh, that’s a lot like my work.” Then, kablamm! “Hey, that IS my work! That’s one of my paintings!” Cheering as it was to know that my work had been chosen (likely out of the AGO’s Art Rental), it was also dismaying to realize that I had not been consulted nor asked, nor credited. At the time, several years had passed since the making of the movie, and I would not have had the faintest clue whom to go after to right these wrongs — although given the seasonal popularity of the movie, its “product placement” value might have been considerable for me. So I let it go, and every time I see the movie in shops or thrift stores I have the pleasure of thinking, “Hey, that’s my painting in there.” Which raises the questions: Should one’s artwork and its maker be noted in the “credits” of the film? And, strictly speaking, is it legal for a movie maker to use artwork unbeknownst to the artist? I wonder what copyright law would have to say about this? There are 5 comments for Is it legal, unannounced? by Lena Leszczynski
From: Mike Barr — Feb 04, 2013

Honestly – who reads the credits?

From: Anonymous — Feb 05, 2013

I read the credits.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 05, 2013

I think if you sold that painting it belongs to whoever bought it to do as they wish with it, including loaning it to a production company. The only time I read credits is if some element of the film interests me, like the music in “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” I was unfamiliar with the performers and it was one of the very few movie soundtracks I’ve ever bought.

From: Michael Jorden — Feb 05, 2013

Actually, under North American copyright laws, the artist holds title to the image unless it’s a commission and should have a say over its reproduction. I think we are talking copyright infringement here.

From: Brenda — Feb 05, 2013

This is clearly a copyright infringement. You should contact the producer (see the credits) and request a compensation. Get a lawyer to write the letter for you.

  Damaged artwork by Gregg Rochester, Amery, WI, USA  

“Evening call”
oil painting
by Gregg Rochester

I had a show in a large museum-like setting. I was told that my paintings would be insured, and was asked about the value of each one for this purpose. About a week before the show ended, my wife and I went to photograph it. She exclaimed, “Look, this painting has a tear in it!” I inspected the piece, and it showed a two-inch tear in the bottom left quadrant of the painting. I informed the visual art director, who immediately photographed the damage and sent it to their insurer. This is a large painting (60×60) which retailed for approximately $8,000(US). There was communication between the adjuster and the art director by email, which she shared with me. The adjuster procured some estimates from restorers to repair the painting. At no time, did anyone actually look directly at the painting, just the photos of the damage. I waited for months for some communication. Nearly eight months later, I received a phone call from the adjuster, who offered me $1500 for repairing the painting. I answered that this should cover a repair, but what about the loss of value of the painting, since it could no longer be sold as “new.” He said that he didn’t know what I was talking about, and further said that the insurance company would only pay for a repair. I did some online investigation of my own, and found some resources who spoke directly to this issue, even going so far as to illuminate the fact that insurance claim adjusters are often ignorant of this issue. I referred one of the these articles to the adjuster, posing some hypothetical questions as to how I would tell an art dealer that this painting was damaged, repaired, but that I wanted the original price for it. He was mute. I contacted my own insurance company, who seemed to understand the situation very well. I have purchased insurance for my work, where it is covered in my studio, in transit, and up to 90 days in other locations. My insurance company spoke with the art center’s adjuster, looking for some sort of compromise. There didn’t seem to be one, so my insurance company paid me for a loss of value of 50% of retail. In the end, I received a total of 50% of the retail value (after deductible), which seemed fair to me. I also got to keep the painting. I think my experience might be useful to artists not anticipating such events. In hindsight, I would have liked to have seen the art center’s insurance provisions, not just to assume that I would be adequately compensated for the loss. Obviously, I was happy I had insurance as well, and it’s not terribly expensive. There is 1 comment for Damaged artwork by Gregg Rochester
From: Anonymous — Feb 05, 2013

Would you mind sharing where you procure your insurance? I have not found anything that I would consider affordable…

  Gallery trusts the film industry by Sandy Nelson, Kitty Hawk, NC, USA   I was disappointed to read your experiences with renting artworks for the movie industry. My gallery has been doing that here in Wilmington, NC for almost a decade. We have several large movie studios here and have been a ready resource for film. To date, we have never had anything injured or disrepected by the studios we work with. Recently we’ve had works in Iron Man III, Revenge, Hart of Dixie, Nights in Rodanthe, Dawson’s Creek and several other pilots that didn’t make the cut. ALL of the rental receipts are passed on to our artists, even though it is a bit of work for us; we keep nothing as we think the artists really enjoy having their work out there to a large audience. We insure the works off-premise as we’ve come to trust the studios in our area. Artists who are asked to do this should certainly either get all the info before signing the agreement or feel confidence that their galleries know and trust the film industry reps they work with. We think it’s a lot of fun!    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Your art in the movies

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Jan 31, 2013

Whereas I would love to have my art/calligraphy in the movies, I think I’d like to reach the masses with a more static mode, such as keychains at grocers and gas stations. They’d be small, but what a cool thing to be in the hands of John Q. Public and go where they do.

From: Janet — Jan 31, 2013

This letter is very confusing. It makes no sense. Usually I get something from your letters, but this one is just jibberish.

From: Elissa Gore — Jan 31, 2013

Hello! My gallery rented out one of my paintings for $300 once. It was a work on paper and came back from vacation framed to boot. My reputation was not tarnished. It showed up for three and an half seconds out of focus on the wall…but at a very dramatic moment in the film the “Horse Whisperer.” Only its mother could have identified the painting under those circumstances. The gallery gave me the entire fee and the frame too!!!

From: John Ferrie — Jan 31, 2013

Dear Robert, This would be some very sage advice for someone who is on the same parallel as you. But for the rest of us, the name of the game is exposure. For heavens sake, Joan Collins made PORN in her early career and she is proud of it. I am afraid when you are starting out, even mid career, you really cannot pick and choose where your paintings will get exposure. Do everything…and if it doesn’t work out, then don’t do it again! I was thrilled one night when watching a Ben Stiller movie to see one of my paintings in the kitchen scene of the film. I had nothing to do with the placement of the piece, but many people commented they said they recognized my work. While I do have rental programs for my work, I would much rather make a sale. Sadly, nobody will treat your work as well as we will. But when you are starting out, you really cannot pick and choose. That is just me…John Ferrie

From: Brigitte Nowak — Feb 01, 2013

I’ve ben fortunate to have had my work used in a film: I was paid 50% of the regular price for a few days’ rent, was able to resell the painting, and the set decorator was kind enough to send me a still from the movie. Other artists have suggested that many film companies prefer to buy the work, so they don’t have to take extra care with what is, essentially, a prop.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Feb 01, 2013
From: Linda Kukulski, Nanaimo BC — Feb 01, 2013
From: Marvin Humphrey — Feb 01, 2013

Yes, we must be very careful of our affiliations, both artistically and personally.

From: Eileen — Feb 01, 2013
From: Rich Mason — Feb 01, 2013

Face it, Robert, it’s their world now, you just live in it and paint of course, and then there are times when your expertise is required.

From: Lynn Nickols — Feb 01, 2013

My husband has a ’65 E-type Coupe and agrees entirely with your comments.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 02, 2013
From: Sue Kurzman — Feb 02, 2013

I enjoy and use your column and, as is often the case, an issue you address in the technicalities of painting is something that I have recently pondered myself about my own work. Such is synchronicity. This week, I see your (entire!) family has produced a movie. Just wanted to also offer congratulations to everybody in getting that accomplished. It looks like it affirms that artistic bent is a genetic trait.

From: Paullette McLaren — Feb 02, 2013

Now please don’t take this the wrong way but you and my rescue dog have a lot in common. You put a smile on my face.

From: — Feb 05, 2013

Love the sky boat you use color well. What other media have you tried besides encaustic or acrylic

From: Lorraine Khachatourians — Feb 05, 2013

A ’69 E-type Jag! Now that is artistry. It is my all time favourite dream car.

From: Jeanette Paul — Feb 05, 2013

While it is no doubt better to be listed in the credits than not, I am wondering what difference it actually makes to anyone’s art career. Those credits are so extensive and usually whirling by so quickly, I’m wondering if anyone actually keeps on reading them after the first few dozen.

From: Marilyn Sullivan — Feb 05, 2013

I have been freezing more movies to view artwork lately. I find the artwork in films lately is wonderful! Marilyn from San Francisco Bay

From: Astrid Davidson — Feb 08, 2013

A few years ago I met a wonderful artist who told me the story of how she had put together a group of 10 women and how they met monthly to critique each others art. She told me that over several years they had all improved and all 10 are now signature artists. It took me 2 years to put together 8 women and we meet bimonthly. We bring two finished paintings and yes, we are told to do it kindly. Our group consists of all media and styles. Most of us can’t wait for our next meeting. I have found the suggestions wonderful. Being relatively new, I think a harsh critic would discourage me. And, do you know, this is certainly better than nothing.

From: Russ Hogger — Feb 10, 2013

Why use original art in a movie when everything else is fake?

From: Christine Seaver — Feb 13, 2013

Your pictures look to be painted very spontaneously and fresh in application. The colors chosen for the pieces, I don’t find them complementary to each other. The pieces themselves for me, at first look don’t say much. The subject doesn’t interest me or my eye. The titles are great and the media mix of use. : ]

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Cotton Fields at Dusk

oil painting, 9 x 12 inches by Brenda Behr, NC, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes John Fitzsimmons of Fayetteville, NY, USA, who wrote, “My Daughter, Lauren Fitzsimmons, is a production designer so she has called upon me to rent artwork for several movies. It’s fun and is a good resume line and good cocktail conversation material. However, it seems that the artwork seldom makes it to the screen! And also Nadi Spencer of Three Rivers, CA, USA, who wrote, “Watching a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm I was shocked to see a piece of wood art that I had completed many years ago hanging on the wall of the set. Every time the shot went to a person you saw it. And I was annoyed that they used it without my permission.    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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