Congratulations! If you're reading this article, it's probably because you've defied the odds (and your parents advice) and decided to embark on the dream of producing a film project in Los Angeles. Now that you're committed, you're probably realizing that actually getting your project off the ground is a stressful and complicated process. You have your story, your cast, your locations... (if you don't, you may want to see our list of affordable homes to shoot in LA) but wait – what's that you hear about a film permit? Do you need one? How much does it cost? How long would it take to receive one? Read on to find the answers to all of your questions.
What is a film permit?
A film (or stills) permit allows you to legally carry out your production in the region that gave the permit. A permit is always issued prior to the shooting, after submitting details about the shoot including locations, dates, times, equipment, cast and crew, use of special effects, pyrotechnics, actions and stunts.
It is usually the responsibility of the location manager of the shoot to obtain a permit, and every city and state has an office that handles permitting. In Los Angeles, film permitting is handled by a non-profit organisation called FilmLA.
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When do I need a film permit?
In short, if your production is a commercial one, intended for profit and sale – whether it is stills, motion or digital, for print, TV, theatres or even the Internet, you are required to obtain a permit prior to beginning shooting.
In many cases, even if your project is for non-profit or educational filming, you may still require a film permit – although this depends on the city you want to shoot in. For example, the City of Santa Monica requires you to have a permit even for non-profit filming, so does the City of Orange. I'd advise you to check on this with the local government for the city you want to shoot in.
If your project has no commercial value – it's something that you're shooting for your own (and friends') enjoyment without any large, professional equipment, you probably don't need a permit.
Do I need a film permit if I'm a student?
You still need a permit for student films. However, you're in luck: FilmLA offers significantly cheaper student permits – starting at $26 for a simple permit. You'll however need a proof of student status as well as a letter from your instructor stating that the project is for educational, non-commercial use.
FilmLA has significant staff resources to help students and other first-time filmmakers with permit-related challenges – they're truly there to help you out, and you should make sure you utilize all of their resources to your advantage! They even offer free help from their Production Planning department if you're a student working on your senior thesis or any other more involved project.
Do I need a film permit for YouTube?
This is a tricky one. Basically, if your intention is to upload it to YouTube (or anywhere else for that matter) for personal, non-monetized use and sharing, you probably don't need a permit. If you are monetizing your video and earning significant ad revenue from it, it's best to get a permit.
How much will a film permit cost?
The cost of your film permit will vary depending on the exact location(s) you want to film in, but the basic application fee is $685 for a motion permit and $65 for a stills permit. There are fees on top of that which again will vary – this is just to give you a ballpark figure.
However, as mentioned earlier, if you're a student it will cost you far lesser. :-)
How do I obtain a film permit?
In Los Angeles, the process is handled by FilmLA, a not-for-profit organisation. The following is a rough outline of the steps to be followed:
- Before you finalise your location, give FilmLA a call to discuss about your location and intended filming plans. They can help guide you through permit requirements, as well as speak to you about the specific area/location you're interested to shoot in.
- Before you can apply for your permit, you will be required to furnish proof of liability insurance. The exact requirements may vary depending on the areas you intend to film in and the activities you intend to conduct.
- Submit your application for the film permit with FilmLA. This is an easy process that you can do online. Do note that FilmLA may ask you for additional requirements such as a filming survey, meetings, additional permits, utilizing a FilmLA monitor in sensitive areas, or others.
- FilmLA will then distribute official "Notices for Filming" to all residences and business in the proximity of your location, in order to inform them about when you're filming, activities that you're filming, and contact details.
- Pay for your permit – you can pay online or offline, using a variety of methods. This is when you get your finalized film permit that allows you to begin filming.
How long would the film permit take to get processed?
You need a minimum of 3 days to get a permit approved. The reason for this is that the LAPD has to see and approve every permit application. However, other delays can always pop up, and we recommend that you budget enough time for this.
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There you go – our rough guide to getting a film permit in the City of Los Angeles. If you're still in the beginning stage of your production planning process and are looking for locations, have a look at our website! If you already have a location and need help coordinating the details click through the image below: