Location Permits -
What Are They & How Do You Get Them?
I don’t try to guess what a million people will like. It’s hard enough to know what I like.
– John Huston
Location Permits - What Are They & How Do You Get Them?
You’ve probably heard the expression “It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Or some other similar iteration of the phrase. I know I have. I have used this excuse many times, to differing degrees of success. However, once you’re past the stage of guerrilla filmmaking, professional ethics (and hopefully personal ethics) dictate that you do not film on any property that isn’t yours. We know how overwhelming it can be to navigate the red tape and paperwork. So we decided to simplify location permitting so you are better prepared to ask permission and increase your chances of getting it, while lessening that chance of getting fines for trespassing.
Oh, and since we’re on the topic of making a movie, why not find your cast and crew through us! Our Cast and Crew lists are full of amazing local talent. Or you could make a free account, you’ll thank me later.
What's A Location Permit?
A permit for location, for filming or photography, is simply permission from the landowner to use their property in a certain way and within a specified time frame. You can also get a less formal release from private landowners, such as a cabin owner, to allow you to film on their property. It’s not necessary for every property. However, it is important to check the requirements before you go out with your camera. Nothing is more embarrassing as a filmmaking than having the police roll up on you in the middle of a shoot!
When Do I Need To Get One?
Although there is no definitive answer, it is best to ask before you start asking for forgiveness or paying a heavy fine. Most locations, including national parks and city sidewalks, will require some type of permit for certain projects. These are some quick tips to help you determine when a permit is likely to be required.
- Your Property vs. Other People’s Property – If you’re shooting on your own property or on the property of a friend, family member, or neighbor, you’re fine (as long you ask permission!). All other? Fair game for a permit.
- Personal vs. commercial – What’s your purpose for the shoot? A permit is not required if you are simply photographing for your own enjoyment. If you are interested in commercial or potentially commercial photography (i.e. If you are hoping to make money with your work), the chances of you needing a permit increase.
- Impact on Others – Will you ask for special access to an area that is not public? Are you required to close a street in your city or county for filming? Are you preventing pedestrians from using a park? All of these situations can have an impact on public use.
- Equipment and Props – This is the same as intent. A tripod is allowed for personal use. That’s fine. Lugging along props, pyrotechnics, or intrusive camera equipment? It’s time for you to get ready for all of the paperwork.
How Do I Get One?
Before you can begin the permitting process, it is important to identify the right person to contact regarding the property where you want to film. It’s not always the most obvious thing, it can be pretty obscure depending on the location.
You should contact the city’s special events or film office if you plan to shoot in public areas, such as a street or beach. Depending on the city, it may be easy or much more difficult to find the appropriate information about shooting in the area.
- City, County and State Parks Information – Although you can find information on each park system’s site, it is not the best place to go. Local and regional film offices are there to help you if you have any questions.
- Wilderness Areas – These are managed by a variety of agencies, including the National Park Service, United States Forest Service and state parks systems. Although each agency might have their own rules regarding what is permitted in wilderness areas, all agencies will follow the 1964 Wilderness Act. Commercial activity is strictly restricted to preserve wilderness. Often, the only type of filming permitted is educational or promotional purposes that disseminate information about the lands. You should contact the land manager responsible for the wilderness area where you want to film.
- Bureau of Land Management – The BLM rules are similar to those of the Park Service. You will need to contact your regional office to obtain your permit. Permit parameters can vary among regional BLM entities.
- National Parks and National Monuments – Commercial shoots generally require a permit, while still photography and personal shooting do not. You will need to contact the park unit where you intend to shoot to obtain a permit.
What's The Process Like?
Once you have determined that a permit will be required, and have reached out to the correct entity, you will need to give them a variety of information:
- The nature of the production – still photography or film/video. Also, a description of what you are planning to shoot and the dates.
- You must provide proof of liability insurance (if you don’t have a policy, this can be purchased on an as-needed basis) and possibly a deposit for damages
- If you plan to use props, animals or explosives.
- Contact information for someone who will be at the location.
- They may request a map or exact location.
- Information about your vehicle
There may be additional fees depending on the nature of the project, details of the production and location. This fee can be quite low in some cases but can rise to hundreds of dollars if you are working on a larger production.
Allow yourself enough time to contact the permit office and complete all paperwork. This is especially important if this is your first experience with permits. To avoid any rejection of your permit application, take the time to read through the paperwork. Once you have been granted the green light, be sure to comply with all regulations. Also, don’t forget to bring your hard-earned permit to the shoot.
Ready To Start Shooting?
I hope this information will help you with your location on your next shoot! Taking your time and making sure all the information you provide for the permit is true and correct will make the process as smooth as possible.
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