After years of working in the corporate video production industry in the streets of Britain and America for clients all over the world, here are my top ten tips for getting permission to film a video in a public place:-

1. Don’t ask: get the camera out and start filming. The chances are that nobody will challenge you, and by the time that they do you’ll probably have finished shooting the scene anyway. In the UK there are no laws to prevent anyone filming on public streets. Trespass is not a crime it’s a civil matter. In most states in the USA Trespassing is a misdemeanour; and in order for someone to be considered a trespasser a sign must be posted and the person must be asked by the owner or a Police Officer to leave and refuse to do so.

2. Understand a bit about the law: Trespass on railway property, electricity sub stations and places like military installations is a criminal offence. Unreasonable obstruction of the highway (pavement) is also a criminal offence. In both cases a successful prosecution would normally depend on you being given (and failing to respond to) a reasonable request to comply with instructions and exit the area. When filming in London be aware of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008: an offence is committed when there is a reasonable suspicion that film footage is intended to be used to provide practical assistance to terrorists. The thing to remember when working on the street is that if you cause a disturbance, obstruction, noise, nuisance, damage, fire, or a health and safety hazard then you are probably breaking a law.

3. Get insured. Public Liability insurance is widely available and cheap; you need it, so get it. Go for a package that covers you up to $5 million Dollars of public liability. Also, most insurers will be happy to re-issue a certificate to stipulate a specific country, state or borough (you must have this when working in the USA).


4. Don’t look like a film crew. Dress like the public around you. Aim to become invisible: Roll up with a ton of flight cases and a gang of luvvies and you are bound to get noticed. Think small, blend into the background and you’ll become invisible. A small HD camera held at waist height will go unnoticed. A bigger camera on a tripod will stand out in a crowd. TIP: film with the smallest team possible.

5. Act like a Diplomat: Nominate one of your team as the “Diplomat”. The person who deals with: the Police, security guards, officials and curious members of the public. The Diplomat should carry a clip board full of documents: Public Liability Insurance Certificate, Health and Safety Method Statement, Photo ID of the crew (photo copies of passport) and business cards. TIP: when the Diplomat is dealing with an official, keep on filming!

6. Be nice and polite. Treat everyone with politeness, dignity and respect - and everything becomes possible. A tramp stopped a colleague of mine whilst she was filming near Westminster Abbey in London. She was charming to him and described the purpose of the video she was shooting. It turned out that he was an officer from MI5 and part of a surveillance team who had been watching the crew. Her impeccable manners saved the day and gained us permission to keep on filming.

7. Know whose property you are standing on. Places like public parks, shopping arcades and squares are not public places, they belong to someone. Find out who owns the property and then apply for permission to film.

8. Apply for a permit, or permission to film. The film permission business is booming. Most local authorities, UK and US cities have departments which issue permits to film. Be aware that you may need several permits. As an example, say you decided to shoot some generic street scenes in Denver City in the quarter square mile area between the State Capitol Building and 16th Street. You would need three permits issued by: the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, Denver Parks and Recreation Department and the 16th Street Partnership. TIP if in doubt, refer to point 1.

9. Recce the area before the shoot. Good reconnaissance is never wasted. Spend time checking out the area and plan your shoot schedule in advance. TIP If you are shooting and moving around a city, then hire a cab and driver for the day.

10. Don’t panic. If somebody stops you (and you haven’t got the right paperwork) be nice, move on and film somewhere else.

I hope you have found these tips useful. If you would like to ask me for my advice on a shoot you are planning, please do get in touch with me.

Our team has filmed more than 40 years of combined experience producing corporate videos. We also create Internet Videos and Virtual Events for clients all over the world. If you would like to find out more about working together on your next video project, please do contact us today.

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Sean Malone