What's Legal: Location Legalities

You can shoot video at many locations without needing pricey permits and going through long application processes but how do you know if you are able to film on private or public properties? What rights must you obtain before doing so? Which offices can you turn to in order to get permits for public properties, including federal properties?

What you may not yet know is there are plenty of properties that you can shoot on without needing pricey permits and long application processes.

In this article you will find a lot of the information you need to know to shoot on city, state and federal properties and be fully protected by the law. This kind of information could save you much time and potential legal fees for your video projects.

Types of Permits

Depending on where you plan on shooting your video, there are a variety of permits to choose from. Permits can be obtained through city offices, state offices and even federal offices. Special parks permits for public parks and specific street closure permits are sometimes required.

Each place varies slightly on the type and number of permits needed but for the most part the permit procedure is not too complicated. Be aware, however, that you will have to disclose details such as insurance information, whether you have employees, what equipment you will be using, etc.

Small City Permits

When you decide to start shooting in a small town like Binghamton, New York, you should follow several procedures. Obviously, the scale of the video is the first thing to consider. If your project will not affect the daily activities (e.g., pedestrian or vehicle traffic) of the town or city, no permit may be needed to shoot within the city limits.

If your video will include shots of any local parks or buildings such as a state office building or local businesses, a Miscellaneous City Permit is needed and can be obtained through the City Clerk’s Office. Lastly, if the your shoot will be requiring sidewalk space and/or street closures, then an Engineering Permit must be obtained in addition to the Miscellaneous City Permit. The only difference between a small city, like Binghamton, and a large city is the permit fee, which can vary by hundreds of dollars in a larger city.

State Permits

Where better to film than the movie capital of the world, Hollywood itself? California has some of the most interesting permit procedures in the country. First, a special detailed application must be filed in order to use any of California’s state or national parks. Included in this are many fees and special insurance procedures enforced by the state. In addition, California has a special permit that must be obtained in order to shoot on highways and roadways.

Due to the high number of applicants that the state of California receives, a special commission is devoted to issuing permits. The California Film Commission (CFC) is a one-stop shop for all film permits, applications and questions. The state of California has an informative website regarding filming legalities: www.film.ca.gov. For other states, search your state’s governmental listings to find if they have any offices that work specifically with filming procedures and permits.

Federal Permits

Contrary to what many would believe, obtaining a permit to shoot on federal property is no more challenging than on city or state owned land. There are, however, some minor differences. First, the city that the properties are in must be notified of the start and end date of the shooting. Next, in order to use any special effects (fire, guns, explosives, etc.) in the area, a special permit must be obtained for that as well. As with any other location, you will have to pay a fee and obtain one or more insurance policies. See your local insurance agent for suitable policies. In order to obtain more information on shooting near national monuments and in order to start the permit process, visit www.film.dc.gov.

Click here to download a PDF of the various location permits.

Contributing editor Attorney Mark Levy specializes in intellectual property law. He has won many amateur moviemaking awards. Candice Geller is a college senior planning to attend law school in the fall of 2011

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