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Film Permits: Are they really Necessary?

Film permits are a necessary evil in the film production world and, if you don’t take the appropriate steps to ensure you’ve got your permit handled ahead of your shoot, chances are, you’ll be delayed–for a while. Don’t let the common question, “Do you have permission to record that?” Hold your shoot up. Make sure your answer is, “Yes!” every time by following these steps on how to apply for a film permit long before you intend to begin your shoot.


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When Are Film Permits Necessary?

gated entry to location

Great locations for a film shoot can be found all over the world, but this doesn’t mean you can just grab your camera and begin rolling. For commercial productions, film permits are almost always necessary if you intend to film on location.

Failure to apply for a film permit before you shoot, or your decision to film Guerilla Style without a permit, may cost you money, time and even your job.

Don’t let an angry landowner, fussy tenant, or feisty business owner stop your film from being released. Just get the film permit so that you know, for sure, that you won’t face potential legal issues when it comes time to launch your film.

If you’re not sure whether you need a film permit or not, consider the following situations:

  • Your shoot is a commercial project.
  • You will disturb local conditions such as traffic or sidewalk pedestrians.
  • Your equipment may be on city streets, sidewalks or structures.
  • You are using a public area in any way other than how it is regularly used on a daily basis.

I Have a Location Release Form, Isn’t that Good Enough?

Beverly Boy camera crew green screen

Don’t be mistaken into thinking that just because you have a location release form that was signed by the store owner where you intend to shoot, or the tenant of the restaurant you intend to film at, or the landlord of the office space that you’re planning to use, that you will not need a film permit.

A location release form is not sufficient and does not take the place of a film permit. Having permissions from location owners or tenants to film in the area is a great start, but you’ll still need a film permit because:

  • You may interrupt other businesses when filming and a location release form will not release you from having any liability to those other business owners.
  • The owner’s permission to shoot in a building does not provide you with appropriate city permission to park your work trucks in the parking lot.
  • The tenant’s permission does not provide you with permission from the city to potentially attract crowds if your film production includes celebrity talent.

A film permit will release you from many of the potential liabilities that could arise in these situations, your best bet is to get the permit in advance rather than to wait until something comes up to prevent you from shooting during your scheduled time.

How to Get a Film Permit

video production proposal

To apply for a film permit you’ll need to make sure to communicate with the correct local agency that is in charge of permitting. It’s easy to get caught up in a bureaucratic runaround as you attempt to get to the right individual in charge of accepting and approving your film permit. The local film office for the city in which you intend to shoot on location is usually the best point of contact to speak with about permitting. A quick search of “City film office” will generally lead you to the right place.

Once you’ve found the appropriate office to get in touch with for your film permit, complete the following steps to apply for a film permit:

Contact the agency in charge of film permits for the location in which you will be filming.

Make sure that the agency has jurisdiction to answer any questions you have and to provide you with details regarding the permitting process.

Apply for the film permit either in writing or online. 

Film offices are different and each require a slightly different process for application of permits, follow procedures set by the location in which you are filming.

Ask the agency how long it generally takes for the permit to be approved.

This way, you have a timeframe upon which to follow-up in if you do not hear back.

Some locations will turnaround a film permit in a few days whereas others may take closer to two weeks or more. For this reason, it’s a good idea to begin applying for your permit as soon as you know the location in which you will be shooting.

Complete the film permit form in full.

If there are any sections that you are unsure of, do your best to fill them out and include as much detail as you can. Be honest.

Submit the permit form with signatures of those in charge.

As well as any fees required or damage deposit sums as outlined by the location in which you are filming.

Provide your proof of insurance if such is required as part of the permitting process.

Even if insurance is not a requirement for the permit, now is a good time to double-check your insurance to ensure you and your production agency are covered should something happen to someone during your shoot.

Discuss with the agency in charge of permitting any additional requirements.

This includes things like police escort through town for celebrities, proper notification of the community, or signed affidavits regarding local rules or other details.

Do not consider yourself legally permitted to film until you have a signed copy of the approved permit.

You must have the final assigned permit copy in the event that you face police presence, security, or other situations in which you are asked the age-old question, “Do you have permission to film that.” Now’s your chance to say, “YES, I sure do!”

How important are film permits

Now that you know what it takes to get a film permit and how important film permits are, make sure you’ve done due diligence before your shoot to ensure your paperwork is in order. If you don’t hear back from the permitting office within the time period in which they told you the permit would be approved in, follow up.

Proactively call the agency and ask them the status of your permit. You’ll be surprised how many times a simple phone call leads you to the answers you need and, possibly even to the permit you intended o already have in your hands.

The worst thing you can do, when filming on location, is waiting until last minute to apply for a film permit or to not apply for a permit at all and get caught filming in an area where doing so is unacceptable without a permit.

You certainly don’t want to be caught in a situation where your film is ready for release to a mass audience, but because you didn’t take the necessary steps to get permitting in advance, you can’t use any of the footage. Make sure you have your film permit!

Follow these tips to ensure your permitting process goes without a hitch:

Discuss with the potential economic benefits of bringing your production to their city.

This way, even if the permitting location is not keen on your permit at first, they will be. However, most cities appreciate the economic impact that comes from film production in the city and are happy to accommodate your production in any way that they can as long as you’re willing to follow their rules and apply for the permit to shoot.

If you intend to film in multiple places, don’t decide yourself whether your permit is enough.

Talk with the permitting agency about your intentions and ask if you will require more than one permit or if they provide an alternative such as a roving permit that will allow for a broad spectrum area in which you can produce your film.

Each city is different so your best bet here is to talk it out in advance.

Ask the location manager if the permitting requirements vary with the production size.

Some locations will have separate permitting for smaller or larger productions which, in the case of a small production, could be money saving. Just ask!

Treat your film location with respect.

Be respectful of others in the community while you are on-location filming.

If you intend to shoot on private property, you should also contact the location owner.

Make sure you have proper location release forms signed from those involved! This would be in addition to the film permit that will come from the city. Do Not Skip this Step!

Consult Experienced Professionals

Need help determining whether a film permit is necessary for your shoot or are you looking for a location scout that can help you find and secure the best location for your film production? Give Beverly Boy Productions a call to discuss the next steps to achieving your video production dreams. We can’t wait to help you out!