Film Independent Wed 1.17.2018

What You Need to Know about Filming in LA: a Permitting Primer

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article originally ran on our blog in October of last year. We’re republishing it here. Special thanks to author Meri Hilalian, Film Independent freelance blogger.


On September 27, Josh Mingo and Tim Overbeck from Film LA joined Film Independent Members and Moderator Paul Cowling, Film Independent’s Associate Director of Film Education, for a full night of learning all about permits, prices, location scouting and more. The key takeaway? Permits are important and always necessary—so do your homework and keep reading…

Film LA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to guiding filmmakers throughout the permit process. They also offer production-planning services. As Mingo said, “Production is a big part of LA County. We’re tasked with answering to neighbors who also have questions about filming,” adding, “Community outreach is a part of what we do here.”

Overbeck states, “We get calls everyday from filmmakers who are pulling permits or asking about locations. We try to help you, the filmmaker, figure it out before production begins.” So—have questions about filming locations? Permits? You know who to call!

Shooting in the desert? Guess what? You need a permit.

When does a filmmaker need a permit?

It’s simple. A film permit is required when the project has any commercial value. If your project is meant to be distributed and sold, you need a permit—probably even a few. Something you’re making for your own enjoyment and for that of your friends and family? No permit required. However! For all of the YouTubers out there, since the videos you’re creating are considered commercial, you’re going to need a permit too.

Students: Film LA is rooting for you. They offer a lower rate for student filmmakers enrolled in accredited schools—and not just film schools!

What are the rates?

It varies, said Overbeck. “Permits can start at $25 for student projects. It boils down to how complicated your permit is, like if you’re closing down a street or setting something on fire.” The non-student cost for a production permit, at a minimum, would start at $740.

When can you get away with filming without a permit?

Overbeck noted something to think about: how running the risk of getting shut down will affect your pocketbook. The bottom line is, never assume you won’t need a permit.

“With a permit, LAPD has your back,” he said. “LAPD will stop people to the extreme—large scale productions have been shut down, where equipment has been confiscated, people have been detained…” Unfortunately, this is the price you must pay if the rules are broken or bent. However, as Mingo observed, “They’re pro-filming. LAPD isn’t out there just trying to bust people. We—they—do everything in that power to work things out.”

Now, down to the nitty-gritty: Yes, a permit is required if you’re filming on the street, yard or inside a home. Any private or public property. Even my own home, you ask? Yes!

“The minute you touch city property is when you acquire a permit.” Overbeck said. Keep in mind we’re talking in bulk about Los Angeles here. So if you’re looking to film in a hotel parking lot, a permit is required and the fire department should be contacted. Regarding drone activity, the fire department must have an officer on site. The same goes for high-rise (office or apartment) buildings. Basically, never assume you won’t need a permit.

Don’t get shut down by these guys!

What triggers police officers within LA city?

Impact on traffic or roadways—this is key. Any setup that holds traffic, such as closure of the street, will require officers to be on site.

Remember, the more complicated the shoot, the more officers required and fees might go up. Luckily, Film LA is available 24/7 and will spell out the guidelines when there’s a request for an activity. “We can always help with a phone call.” Mingo noted.

How can I search for locations?

Loco Scout is a location database where you can search use free locations, along with Giggster, “the Airbnb for filming locations.”

Mathieu Goudot from Giggster, also in attendance, jumped in. “Property managers put their locations up, you can browse online, contact the owner, set up scouts and book everything online by credit card.” Simple and easy!

A word about LAUSD properties: We all know shooting at schools gets pricey—LAUSD schools run into the $1,000s. With that in mind, look to private schools! Probably the only time an LA private school will be cheaper than its county equivalent.

What about parking?

“All permits will reflect no cast and crew parking on streets.” Overbeck stated. Cars must be on private parking during shoots. Your best bet is probably a church parking lot. “It’s like you’re a guest in these neighborhoods, make sure there’s an awareness that people live or work here.”

Also: don’t get towed!

When money is on the line, take a moment to ask yourself, is it really worth the risk? Is it worth getting shut down? Is the added anxiety worthwhile? No! According to municipal codes, the location manager and first AD would be held responsible if a production was shut down in Los Angeles. This means getting arrested; the responsibility must fall on someone’s shoulders when operating without a permit. These are the rules.

As a final tip, if you’re looking to imitate New York, Downtown LA has pockets which have a NY feel and is used to replicate the city often. Griffith Park also has great filming locations, various caves and forests. It’s really all about the camera angles.

You can create so many distinct looks with different feels in this town. The landscape is huge and there’s room to play and explore—so long as you don’t forget the permitting process!


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