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Film Permits... Do you bother?


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#1 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 02:12 AM

I want to shoot footage in cities, not for any particular project but maybe for stock footage or just to kill some boredom. It would be me, working with a very big video camera on a tripod.

But my plans have been foiled by permit fees and insurance requirements (goodbye civil freedoms, hello police state). So, I'm debating whether to pay for the permits or just shoot without any paperwork. If I buy the permits, I'll run out of money after just a couple of cities. If I shoot without permits, I might have to deal with fascist police and penalties in court.

So, what is your take on permits? Do you buy them or not?
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#2 kevin baggott

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 02:23 AM

I want to shoot footage in cities, not for any particular project but maybe for stock footage or just to kill some boredom. It would be me, working with a very big video camera on a tripod.

But my plans have been foiled by permit fees and insurance requirements (goodbye civil freedoms, hello police state). So, I'm debating whether to pay for the permits or just shoot without any paperwork. If I buy the permits, I'll run out of money after just a couple of cities. If I shoot without permits, I might have to deal with fascist police and penalties in court.

So, what is your take on permits? Do you buy them or not?


The last film I directed was a feature and I didn't get permit one. It was a hd project with a crew of 6 and I needed to shoot in a lot of places - I'm not saying where - where I knew we wouldn't be able to get permits. Hey I was raised in NYC. This is my town! No one was going to tell me "you can't shoot here and you can't shoot there!" Screw them! All the best.
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#3 Paul Bruening

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 08:11 AM

It's about appearance. If you have the appearance of a movie production, then you might have to get a permit. When I say, "appearance," I mean big trucks, blocked and long term parking, blocked streets, blocked sidewalks, generators humming, yada, yada, yada.

But, if you're shooting small, especially in small looking cameras like 16mm, 8mm, DV with few people, lights and aren't blocking anything or taking up space, then you appear more like a hobbyist. Non-intrusive hobbies don't require permits even if they are actually real movie making.

If you look bigger than hobbyist, try to look news-crewish. News is allowed more freedom in our society.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 09:00 AM

Come to Phila, no permits required to shoot on any public property!
Or, aside from that, as mentioned, keep it small, and perhaps, to be really good, hire some students, and I do mean hire, bring them along and teach them, and then, if asked, explain you are out with these students, teaching them filmmaking. I doubt people would hassle you then. Don't take advantage of the students just for their student IDs. If you bring them out, and want to kill some boredom, share with them some knowledge. It'd be a boon to all parties involved, says me.
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#5 Tom Jensen

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 09:21 AM

Goodbye civil freedoms, hello police state? Facist police? You have no idea what you are talking about. I have a good friend who had no less than 100 of his family and friends disappear completely. You don't know how lucky you have it here. On your city to city tour do you need a permit to go from city to city or state to state? Avoiding the police and permits is easy if you use your head. First off, call the city film commissions and ask them what are the requirements. Often they will say if plant a tripod, you need a permit. Ask them, what if you are a student? Ask, what if it just for my personal use. Don't tell them anything. Tell them you are just curious. Go to a local city college, enroll in a class and get a student ID. When you shoot, look for cops, keep a low profile. Get a smaller camera if you can. Be quick and don't linger. If you have no crew you will have less problems. If you have a crew or talent, don't prepare them for the scene out in the open, get them in and get them out. If you get pulled by the police just say you are learning how to use the camera and you were testing it out. Tell them you are a student. If they ask you for a student ID, whip it out. Apologize and tell them you had no idea. Smile and talk your way out of it. Don't start whining about civil liberties and call them facists. That won't work.
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#6 Tom Hepburn

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 09:46 AM

You know I haven't never been asked for anything in terms of documentation and I shoot around Chicago a lot.
Keep in mind it is usually just me and one other person and I try to stay out of the way. I'm also using an Eclair 16mm which is pretty discreet. I have tried to shoot in the library here which was not a problem UNTIL (as was mentioned) I told them I had a tripod. Then I was told I would need insurance. I can understand that, but surely can't afford it.
I believe that if I'm not obstructing day to day life of what's going on around me (in the city), then I'm going to be fine. I see it all the time down here, where people set up tripods near the side walk, but out of the way and just let it run to shoot people walking. If I was asked by the police what I was doing, I would tell them I'm shooting this to get into film school. If they ask me to move, I move. The cities are big enough to get the shot at a different location.
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#7 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 11:57 AM

If you're not going to get a permit for something don't even call and ask about it - it's easier to claim ignorance that way. But basically, as others have said - go for it but be smart and discreet, and if you get kicked out apologize and walk away. I've been kicked out of plenty of places, but never fined or arrested.

I've shot without permits in a lot of places, and in my experience you're most likely to be shut down by private security belonging to the location you're shooting in - especially if other shoots pay to use that location.

2nd most likely to shut you down is some local with a chip on his/her shoulder.

I don't think the cops have ever shut me down on their own accord (ie. without some store owner asking them too because I was blocking their display window)

In general you're less likely to be bothered in an areas where film making is less common. People tend to see you as more of a curiosity and less of a walking bag of money.
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#8 Tom Jensen

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 02:44 PM

If you're not going to get a permit for something don't even call and ask about it - it's easier to claim ignorance that way.


The forewarned is the forearmed. You can still plead ignorance. Just don't give them your name. They get calls like that all the time. But if there are no restrictions why hide if you don't have to. You should at least know what it is you are trying to avoid.

Edited by Tom Jensen, 21 May 2009 - 02:45 PM.

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#9 Chris Keth

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 08:45 PM

You can always just say you're doing it for a personal project and that you're not a professional. That should get you there as long as you're not trespassing or anything like that.
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#10 Bob Hayes

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 10:03 PM

First of all if you shoot buildings or people’s faces on the street and they are recognizable you need a release. If you use your film professionally there is a good chance they will ask about your rights to use these images. This is regardless as to whether you have permits or not. If you shoot some straight to the web 16,000 hit video this probably won’t be a problem. If your project ultimately gets some visibility it could.

I’m not bothered by your desire to steal shots. We’ve all done it. I’m a little taken aback by your portrayal of law enforcement as fascist and the requirements for insurance as defining a police state with out civil freedoms. In the US if you get caught the cops will probably just tell you to move on and ask you when your film is coming out. There are plenty of countries where you’d do eight years in jail.
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#11 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 10:36 PM

Goodbye civil freedoms, hello police state? Facist police? You have no idea what you are talking about. I have a good friend who had no less than 100 of his family and friends disappear completely. You don't know how lucky you have it here.

There's a balance between complete lack of police intervention and total police intervention. If people are disappearing, then there are issues that might need police involvement. In my area, police seem to focus on trivial issues and traffic tickets. I've been interrogated by police while photographing time-lapse freeway pictures downtown. I was interrogated by a forest ranger while doing time-lapse photography out in the sticks. Once, I was out for a walk after dinner (no camera), when two squad cars stopped me for an interrogation. They told me they thought it was odd that I was out walking in the evening (never mind that it was daylight and I was a few hundred yards from a public park). After they took down my home address, and discovered that my house was a few blocks away, they left me alone. But that's the kind of police activity we have in this area.

More recently, traffic cameras have been installed all over the place so that the police can keep tabs on where everyone goes. Safety is one thing, but I think things have gone way too far.

I am happy to hear that Philadelphia doesn't have permit requirements. I'd like to hear about any other cities that don't have permit requirements.
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#12 Tom Jensen

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 10:44 PM

If people are disappearing, then there are issues that might need police involvement.


The police were involved. That was the problem. There is a big difference being interrogated and questioned. I know a guy that was thrown into a pit in Bolivia for three months because he looked suspicious. Being questioned by the police is not the end of the world.
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#13 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 21 May 2009 - 11:23 PM

The police were involved. That was the problem. There is a big difference being interrogated and questioned. I know a guy that was thrown into a pit in Bolivia for three months because he looked suspicious. Being questioned by the police is not the end of the world.

That's a lousy situation in Bolivia. I'll have to avoid that country if I decide to shoot footage in a tropical location.

What we have in America is certainly better than a lot of places, but we have to fight for our freedom otherwise our rights will erode away. If we don't do anything about it, we could end up with interrogation pits just like Bolivia.

So, back on the topic of permits, I'm now also wondering about permits in foreign countries. What countries (or major foreign cities) are open to letting people shoot video without permits?

Edited by Mark Bonnington, 21 May 2009 - 11:27 PM.

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#14 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 05:40 AM

Overseas countries, and cities, will all have different requirements. When I was in Africa, we didn't have permits, but we were a small doco crew and most people didn't seem t mind. Of course, at the same time, I had kept a few hundred dollars of my own on me in case anyone did ask my for my "permit." (corruption was high in the cities, the cab we were in was pulled over 4 times and told it wasn't "authorized" to transport tourists.... and then was "fined" 2000CFA, which is around $4)
Other countries will vary, of course, and you have to work with the locals on a case by case basis.
In Pisa I recall we needed permits that we didn't have. Thankfully the producer spoke fluent italian, went off really quickly, came back, and then boom, we were up in the Leaning Tower, along the wall, on the grass (next to the stay off of the grass sign) with a police escort to keep people moving. We were an equally small crew there, and when we went to Villa Di San Giovanni, which was outside of Treveri, it was such a small town and they were so happy to see us, we just wandered and shot all day. Just some of my experiences.
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#15 Paul Bruening

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 08:02 AM

You'd be surprised to find out how often it's just a matter of the cops being bored and finding you as interesting as any star-struck civie does. If you're groovy with them, smile and give them the "hobby" answers, then they can be delightfully cool with you. Sure, that's not always the case. But, if you keep being groovy in mind, sometimes, they will follow that lead and kind-of endorse you being there. Weird, huh?
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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 May 2009 - 08:06 AM

I also find sometimes offering to "roll" on the cop and sending them a nice little clip afterwards can be helpful, if they're down with it.
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#17 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 10:24 AM

So, back on the topic of permits, I'm now also wondering about permits in foreign countries. What countries (or major foreign cities) are open to letting people shoot video without permits?

Someone I know shot a doc in India. I think he said that officially you needed a permit, but unofficially all you needed was a 20 rupee note in your pocket to pay any police officer who bothered you. Except the one time he ran into an honest officer :-)

--
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#18 Tom Jensen

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 10:27 AM

I also find sometimes offering to "roll" on the cop and sending them a nice little clip afterwards can be helpful, if they're down with it.


I don't know, whenever a cop gets on video out here it's usually trouble for him.
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#19 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 11:11 AM

In the cases where I have gotten a cop to be "rolled" on, normally they just give a "shout out" to someone, and/or, say hi to their wives/gfs. It's probably one of those city specific things, you know? Here in Philadelphia, with our murder rate... I think the higher-ups in the police force have bigger things to deal with. That's just my little take on it.
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#20 Richard Boddington

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 11:18 PM

I've shot with my 35mm gear in cities all over the globe, never got any permits. Here are some of my experiences:

Washington DC: I had a permit to shoot on the grounds of the "monuments", but not the city streets. I was asked by the secret service if I had a permit to film the White House from outside the gates, I said I did and if he wanted to see it. He said no and told me to be gone in 10 mins, I said ok. A DC cop standing near by said to me, he can't tell you what to do let me see your permit, so I showed him. He starts reading it and then says well it doesn't specifically say you have permission to film the White House, just the monuments. After some calling around he said, just go ahead.

On this same shoot I got myself and my camera onto the actual grounds of the White House. I was told over and over that this would be IMPOSSIBLE to accomplish, well I did it. I won't say how, but I did it. FYI, 20th Century Fox paid me a lot of money to use that shot in Tail To The Chief. If you rent the DVD you'll see my shot as the girls POV when she gets out of the car.

The studio was dumbfounded that I had this shot, no one else had it let alone on 35mm they told me. Yes I'm a genius ;)

NYC: Filmed all over the city, no permits. I was ordered out of a park by some guards, I went just outside the gate and took the shot from there while they watched me in a huff. They had no authority outside of the gate. I noticed that Central Park had signs every where against "commercial photography" I ignored all of these signs and filmed any way. Get over it NYC, you have way bigger problems than one guy with a camera and tri-pod!!

London England: The film London website clearly states that people shooting with just a camera and tri-pod don't need a permit. I printed this off and took it with me any way. Sure enough the cops in Picidilly Circus decided to question me. No problem I showed them the page from the website they said ok and walked off. Buckingham Palace police however insisted I needed a permit to film the changing of the guards even from the street. So I just skipped the whole deal.

Miami Florida: This was a fun one! I had the cab driver pull over so I could film the cruise ships at port. As I was filming two black zodiacs with police in them started to charge toward me. The cab driver started to freak out, I said relax it will be a while before they get here. I just kept filming. Finally I packed up and the cab driver sped out of there like a bat out of hell. He was really worried, very funny.

Then I was at this park, it's just a plain old public park, and this woman wearing a uniform and driving a golf cart pulled up and starting yelling at me in Spanish and waving her finger at me. Now I thought basic English proficiency would be needed for an official job like that in the USA? She did not speak a word of English yet she worked for the city of Miami. Finally a waiter from a restaurant came and translated for me. She went away and I got my shot any way after she left.

Alexandria Egypt: I was filming the Med at sunset from a sea wall and two soldiers came up behind me and clearly wanted me to stop. The both had AK47s so I was not about to argue with them. I was smiling and showing them that I was complying and packed up my gear. They walked away so I got my gear back out and kept filming. So glad I did because the shots where amazing! The most intense orange I have ever seen on film.

Egypt was a great place to film, I never got a single permit we just paid off all the police. Very easy.

My rules of thumb are.....shoot and pack up quick, don't draw any attention to yourself. If you are in doubt shoot on a Saturday or Sunday, this way the cops will never be able to get a public official on the phone to verify any "story" you are giving them. If the police tell you to move, don't argue, just do it and be nice about it. If you don't speak the local language be EXTRA careful. Never ever shoot a military base, or police station, you are asking for trouble here.

Of course in each of my above cases it was just me and and a tri-pod I wasn't making a film per se. As for Miami and NYC....GET OVER IT GUYS!!! Both of your cities are in the economic crap hole you can't afford to run off the very people who are going to promote your cities for FREE!!

R,
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