Obtaining Records through FOIA as a Filmmaker

At Sorenson Law Office we’re a law firm that represents individuals, businesses, non-profits, journalists, and others in making Freedom of Information Act requests, administrative appeals, and judicial reviews. Today, I’m going to talk about the special needs of people that make videos. I’m talking about people that make movies, people that make documentaries, people that make funny videos to go on YouTube, and people that use their video skills.And of course, more and more people with the price of technology can actually make their own videos. We’ve been approached by a number of videographers and producers to ask, how can we get documents and records we need for our videos? And how can you help us get those? So today I’d like to talk about two examples where we can help someone and where we can’t help someone who’s under a contract or wanting to make a video and they need documentary information to help them.
Play Video

Appropriate TimeLINE FOR FOIA

The first is a positive example where a group of college students, black college students in the South wanted to make a movie or at least a documentary film about the murder of a person of color at a southern public university. They had limited funding to do that. They wanted us to speed up the process of making the government provide documents that they needed for their video. We were able to do that. We were able to help them improve their request. They’d already made a request, but we helped them amend the request, helped them improve their request, and then we helped them do an administrative appeal. While it was an administrative appeal, we got them the records that they need.


Now, I’m going to give you an example where we were not successful and something for you to think about when you are making a video, a film, or a documentary. We’ve been told by our Hollywood connections that typically there might be a one year period of funding to make a documentary. Well, if you call us in the first month of that 12 month period and say we’re making a documentary and we need these records, we might be able to help you. But unfortunately, the people I’m just going to describe waited until they’ve been six months in before they found us, and we were not able to help them because it takes a long time. That’s just an example of the two. One positive and one not so positive where we weren’t able to help. It’s something for you to keep in mind because making videos is a major industry in the United States.