Obtaining permission to shoot on location:      5 things to avoid

Nicholas Duron Posted in Video
10 November 2015


Aside from choosing a Director of Photography and camera for a shoot, locations are the next most important production decision. Now – not every shoot is going to have a budget to engage a location manager and cover off hire fees for different locations, and even when you do, you still might have to get creative and either approach locations directly or shoot run and gun style without a permit. Even on a big budget set like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, DOP Michael Libatique, famously shot the New York Subway scenes guerrilla on 5D to avoid the hassle of obtaining an expensive public transport filming permit.

While shooting without permission is best avoided, here are some tips to help you manage the process when approaching locations directly.

1. Leaving it to the last minute

When it comes to obtaining a suitable location, it's vital to plan ahead. Most venues have media policies and can have tedious processes that takes time to finalise. Even if you are planning on shooting in a public place, its important to notify the local council and obtain any paperwork well in advance so that you don't face the possibility of having the set shut down on the day. Do your research and really dedicate some time into a shoot schedule that not only suits you but suits the venue. For example, if you plan on shooting at a bar, the best time is early morning or during the day as patronage is low and you won't impact their business. Taking the venue's needs into consideration will make life easier for everyone involved and help keep things moving without unexpected issues arising. Chances are – if you approach a venue early enough – that you may even be able to film a commercial production free of charge.

2. Seeming unprofessional

First impressions count. If the venue isn't too far away, make your first point of contact, face to face. When contacting a private venue for permission to shoot on location, it's important to make a good first impression that will give them the confidence that you will treat their property with respect. Dress professionally and have answers to any questions they may have, What's your project about? How big will your crew be? How long will you be here? Give them honest answers and be upfront with everything you plan to do on location to avoid any problems down the track.

3. Not having a backup plan

While everything may be going to plan, problems can, and often do arise. You can't always trust the weatherman, and something as simple as a rainy day can totally throw your plans out the window. Whether it be leading up to the shoot or on the day, if something goes wrong, having a backup location makes it possible to continue shooting without losing a days work from your cast and crew.

4. Leaving the location untidy

You should aim to leave every location, looking better than it did when you first arrived. By doing this you are showing the venue management that you respect their space and that having film crews on location isn’t such a nightmare as they’ve been led to believe. By setting up a good relationship with locations it helps you easily book the space for future projects and can be a point of reference for any new venues that are sceptical about filming in their space.

5. Remember, Not everyone is a film-maker

Just because venue management allows filming on site doesn't make them experts. While some people will be relaxed about how or what you are shooting, others may not. It's important to be open about what you are shooting in their space. Talk to the staff with the aim of having the venue fully understand your project before the shoot day. Give them a call the day before shooting and remind them of your schedule and a rough idea of how the day will go, so they know what to expect.