David Fincher on copyright clearances
From Director’s Commentary track 1, Fight Club
00:25:35: The book takes place in Wilmington, Delaware, because that’s like a headquarters for a lot of credit card companies. We wanted to make the film take place in Wilmington, Delaware, but there’s some kind of clearance issues if it’s a specific town then you have to get clearances for specific names, streets, you know, apartment buildings. We decided to, in the interest of clearances, which has really become just the bane of my existence, the whole of legal clearances. I think there was actually a situation with Marla Singer. Where when they did the name clearance on Marla Singer, they went and they did this like global search, or at least, you know, continental United States they do a search for Marla Singer. Had they found five or six Marla Singers, or a thousand Marla Singers, it wouldn’t have been an issue because somebody says “hey, I’m being disparaged in this movie, I’m this chain-smoking person addicted to support groups, you’re disparaging me” but if there’s a thousand, you can always say “well, it’s not you, it was meant to be this other person” or whatever. “Prove that it’s you.” So you don’t have to get any kind of clearances.
00:26:50 But there’s only one Marla Singer in the continental United States, in Illinois somewhere, of course, as soon as attorneys get involved, the whole thing gets completely fucked up. Somebody called her and told her there’s this book, and we’re making a movie based on this character that had her name. All of a sudden, her attorneys are calling and we have to pay this person off. So it becomes this big issue, if you set a movie in a specific place you have to get specific clearances based on, like, the Pearson Towers. If they say it’s Wilmington, Delaware, then you have to go and get permission if there’s a Pearson anything in Wilmington, Delaware. So we just said it was any city, any city anywhere. But our homage to Wilmington, Delaware is that the, I believe the Delaware state motto is “Delaware: a place to be somebody”. So, we decided to put, on the Pearson Towers, their little logo on the brass sign is “a place to be somebody”.
00:27:48 We also had the Delaware state flag in the backgrounds, so the property department kept bringing the Delaware state flag and we would put it on the flagpole. In this scene, you don’t see it, because the camera never tilts up high enough to see it; but of course, all the Fox representatives were down there on the set looking, watching the monitors, making sure you couldn’t see the Delaware state flag because then you’d have to go and re-clear everybody’s names. “There might be a Lou’s Tavern in Wilmington, Delaware!”