So you’re an independent filmmaker and you’re ready to take on the big city and shoot your film in a large city or out in public for added realism. Things are going well, you’re on schedule for once, your actors know their lines. The stars have aligned.
You’re just about to call “Action” when all of a sudden the boys in blue show up with a cease and desist.
All of a sudden you find out that in order to shoot a film in public you need to fill out some sort of permit, as well as forms 124-135, subsections “GOOD” and “LUCK”.
Now you’re mortified. Cold sweat starts to bead up on your forehead and you desperately wish someone would have warned you about this and would have told you what to do! Well don’t worry, I’m here to save you from all of these frustrations and headaches.
First thing you need to know is that filming on public property is legal… with some strings attached, before going out to film do a bit of research to know what you can and cannot do. (Disclaimer: these are not government sites and may require further investigation)
Please note that I’m not advocating for you to break the law, just giving you a bit of information on how to avoid being shut down while you’re filming.
That being said, here’s some advice to help you out:
- SKELETON CREW
Filming with a smaller crew is good for a couple of reasons, first of all, you don’t draw much attention to yourself which is always a good thing. Second of all, it might save your crew from being kicked out of your location.
A few months ago I was working on a film that was being shot in a National Park, we were approached during our shoot by a Park Ranger asking if we had gotten a permit, being student filmmakers we definitely didn’t. Our Director immediately got online to the park’s site and found out we were one crew member short of being considered a film crew in the park’s eyes. If we had one more person working with us we would have been slapped with a $500 fine.
Ergo, the smaller the crew you have, the better.
- BE INCONSPICUOUS
Nothing will ruin your shoot faster than having either a security guard, or a police officer shutting you down. Again, I’m not advocating that you break the law, but often times you can be asked to stop filming solely because an authority figure sees a film crew outside. On the last film I directed we made sure to switch everything over from a camera bag to a backpack. You’ll not only have more mobility while moving around, but you’ll be next to invisible. Also make sure to keep your equipment to the minimum. Now I know your dolly jib shot is indispensable, but get creative with what equipment you can easily move around.
- HAVE A FLOATER
This one’s more for if you have a skeleton of a skeleton crew, but when putting together your crew roster it really helps to have someone around to warn you beforehand if a store owner or police officer is nearby. Having a floater also helps with traffic control. No matter how inconspicuous you are, you will always have people asking questions and you can’t just stop your shoot every five minutes, you need someone on standby to Jedi mind trick people outta there.
“Move along. Move along.”
If you’re fortunate enough to have an AD on your set, just make sure to prep them beforehand that they’ll probably have to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi for a moment.
- STAY AWAY FROM LOGOS
This one might seem obvious, but really make an effort to keep any corporate logo or ad OUT of your film. It might seem trivial and you might be thinking, “But Greg, there’s no way Starbucks is even going to see my film.”
Trust me, they will. I don’t know what crystal ball companies look through to find these things, but they have employees working around the clock to find an excuse for a law suit. So do the smart thing and DON’T GIVE THEM ONE.
After that you should be good to go, but honestly the most important thing to do before you shoot in public is read up on the laws in your city. If you opened the links I posted above you can see there can be a million loopholes and each city has different regulations and variations when it comes to filming. Knowledge is your greatest ally here, know what you can do for sure and know what you might be taking a risk on. It will help you so much more in the long run.