I’m writing a comedy where two main characters are discussing Michael Bay films. One hates the man and his work, the other is more neutral.
Is this okay and considered “fair”, to talk/discuss/rant about a person like Michael Bay (or Uwe Boll, or Nicholas Cage etc.)? Do you need permission from them?
Feel free to have your characters discuss Michael Bay. Say good things; say bad things; say what you want. It’s pretty hard to cross into libel territory when you just have dialogue about somebody famous like Mr. Bay. Consider what South Park or Family Guy get away with every week.
Is it “fair?” I’d say that as long as it’s funny, you’re fine. When it stops being funny and is simply mean-spirited, you risk alienating your reader. Go and The Nines refer to some real people, not always in a flattering way, and I’ve gotten no objections.
Where you get into trouble is when you take potshots at someone who is not a public figure, like that weird girl in health class. Not only is it legally unwise to call out Millie Walker by name, it’s also unconscionably lame. So don’t do that.
Back to Mr. Bay for a sec: Keep in mind that there’s a difference between referring to a real person in a movie and making a movie about that person.
If you were writing a bio-pic of Michael Bay (Born in Slow Motion: The Michael Bay Story), you would need either his cooperation or significant legal reassurance that whatever protections you were counting on (public record, parody, whatever) could really hold up in court.