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Are you a run and gun guerrilla filmmaker OR Are you careful about your investment and got those permits on always on hand?
If you are a risk taker what justified putting your production potentially on lock down due to the cops seizing your equipment and paying a fine that costs more than the cost of the permit?
Recently I learned that if I want to film in L.A., even if its on private property, even with the property owner's permission, even with a preacher's blessing, even if its in my garage, I still need a permit.
I know that most people DON'T get a permit. They take the risk. They are lucky bastards.
They get away with filming without a permit because:
I want to film a small thing in Venice - Man on the street style with a three person cast and crew - me, a friend, and a host.
I got the quote today from Film L.A. Based on that amount I could film a low budget fantasy series with special effects, pay their meals, pay the property owner, and maybe even set a man on fire while he jumping out of a plane.
I probably won't be filming in Venice. But let's just say in a parallel universe I did...
I'm not familiar with Venice so I have no idea what I can and can't get away with. If I was walking around with a Manfrotto style fig rig and a stylish attractive host in a crowded summer beach environment would that be pushing my luck? Here is a reference pic. That is not my rig but its very similar.
If you have shot around Venice before, is it so saturated that the only way to go is a permit?
How can I be a lucky bastard too or do I have to be born that way?
You can do both, just depends on production. Personally, I will not get a permit for shots [on public property] that requires no dialogue. As long as you're incognito you can get away with most shoots without a permit, and if law enforcement pops up and asks you to leave, just leave and come back another day. But if you're backing up a production truck with a large cast and crew, you will need a permit for that!
I agree with Rich. If you're small and pretty harmless, they won't say anything. It always gets a little dicey when you have a sound crew with you. Then they know it's probably a production. Little harder to hide it or say you're just goofing off with a camera. Unfortunately there are times when people complain just to complain about you. I've been on a shoot in Burbank like that. The cop told my friend, normally they don't care as long as you're not in the way of anything, but if someone complains they are bound to shut you down.
If you're shooting in Venice two things could happen, either they don't care because so much is happening down there or the fact there's probably more cops around, that they might say something if you attract a crowd. I usually try to shoot where there are no cops. Or if you can, shoot with no sound crew around, or hide your mics. I actually shot right next to an arrest happening, but since it was just me and the actor, they didn't seem to pay attention. We didn't stick out. That's when you can get in trouble.
Venice is lax and film-friendly. I shot a music video there without a hitch. We even shot up and down the boardwalk with no issue whatsoever. If you're professional, courteous and mindful of people, you could get away with filming in most places without a permit. But on the flip side, getting thrown out for "stealing shots" is just unprofessional. Just be upfront and discuss with your cast and crew if you're going guerrilla. Let them know what could happen if you're caught, that way there are no surprises.
So overall the key is just to be small, courteous, and respectful.
I think I can pull that off. I will go over with my cast and crew one more time to make sure we all understand what we are getting into. The cast is just one person. The crew is just me but still its good to triple check my preparation. Next week will be a big week for me. It is a tiny step that a lot people do everyday but as someone still figuring this thing out it is huge.
Thanks Rich and Aaron!
Being outside of California, I am not familiar with permits, such as your describing. What does the permit allow you to do? Does it only say I have the city's blessings to be on that location or does it also allow you to have some control of the enivoronment?
The purpose of the permit is a means of controlling the impact films have on the city of Los Angeles (or any city really), its residents, its businesses, and its locations through inconvenience.
Do realize that all filming is an inconvenience because we are interrupting real life to create our visions of life. Its just some inconveniences have significantly more impact than others.
So a man or woman shooting b roll might annoy someone who doesn't want to be on camera but the inconvenience will be minimal.
BUT if you want to film an aerial shot in a neighborhood, the permit, if approved, allows you to shoot and gives the residents a heads up that their lives will be inconvenienced by your production because of your giant crane and the guy you set on fire after the motorcycle explosion scene. This gives people a chance to prepare and adjust their schedules accordingly or voice their concerns for safety or unique situations - like if you wanted to film near a sensitive wild life area and the noise levels from your set might disturb the protected animal near by.
Its also a matter of safety. After 9/11 a LOT of things changed. Remember that in the official investigation the terrorists scoped out locations with video cameras pretending to be tourists. So if you have a permit the police know that you are not part of suspicious activity and you are supposed to be there.
It also gives you a certain measure of control of the environment. Again, if you were approved you'd be able to close off certain areas while filming. But if not approved you can't go to the police and say, "Hey get this bum out the way. He's ruining the shot!" because you aren't supposed to be filming.
Permits grant you permission by the issuing city to film at the location. There are various levels though, such as you can't shut down a street on a mere basic permit. Cost also vary depending on the issuing city. Five years ago I did a run and gun style interview testimonials for Granier Fructis in Santa Monica, CA where we walked up to people and asked if they use the product... that cost $750 per day! Permits aren't cheap in this city!
A 2 person production screams "do guerrilla". Unless you're planning on blowing stuff up or blocking traffic I'd say your fine saving the money, especially in a public place. With the exception of one location, "After The Beast" was all guerrilla. That one location had "No Trespassing" signs all over it, so thus a permit. If there ever were people near by (but mostly not because of our remote filming locations) we just told them what we were filming so they knew we weren't a bunch of crazy militia people : )
The only trouble we ran into doing guerrilla was at a location that was near a suburban residence. Even though we were technically filming on National Forest Service Land it was close enough that somebody got nervous (actors in freaky costumes and guns) and called the cops on us. When the cop came we said hi, explained what we were doing, and assured him there was no live ammunition. And that was it. Production slowed down for three minutes. (However, we did know the county sheriff and had his number to call in case there actually ended up being trouble)
Thanks for your input AfterTheBeast! I don't know where your web series was shot but sometimes when I look at WSN and see what people have made outside of the big cities, especially outside of California, it gets me thinking of how much I could get away with.
You're right. LA is over-regulated. Too much red tape here. You're better off outside of LA.
After filming street life in Portland and Seattle for two years, some of that time with an audio/boom and an assistant I often wonder what it is that seems to attract trouble. I shot many days under a quick-tarp served as an umbrella when the off and on rains started up (again and again). While I never made a spectacle of myself, I really never made an attempt to hide what I was doing. I used a monopod never a tripod, had no bags usually (as well as no "filmmaking accoutrement"). I think the first mistake I see in the Bay Area is the overwhelming lack of awareness of surroundings. Instead of spending the extra time searching for what fits your actual needs folks seem to think they can "flash and dash" into Times Square or perhaps get that great POV from the Golden Gate. That results a lot of times in terrible footage.
In my experience one thing I have noticed about photographers is that some are "fly on the wall" and some are not. If you are the kind of person who unconsciously transmits "Hey lookie here, I am making a film!" then that's going to be the first issue. If you really, really need to circumvent the community where you plan to shoot and ignore their film commission then try your best to look like a tourist. Bottom line stop looking like you're making a film and you're golden. Almost all of my "stolen" shots were taken from a inside vehicle. I once raised the hood of a 240D, mounted the camera on the injector block and shot for 20 minutes. A CHP stopped and asked if we were ok and left. He never saw the camera. If you don't have the patience, ingenuity and common sense to steal a scene or two it may be because you are making a spectacle of yourself and might want to reconsider your "plans". After all, those things are assumed if you're a filmmaker. An old location scout from Washington once told me that picking a stealth location is more important than any other below the line asset.