You’ve finally decided to fulfill your dream of shooting your production in the Big Apple. You’ve got your story, your cast, crew, and locations (if you don’t, or are just not happy, you may wanna check out our best locations in New York), but hold on – what is it that you hear about a film permit? Do you need one? How much does it cost? How hard is it to obtain one? How long will it take? In this article, we’ll deep dive into the film permitting process in New York, and answer 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 New York, the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting issues permits to productions filming on location in the City of New York and provides free police assistance, parking privileges and access to shoot at most exterior locations free of charge (after paying for the permit, that is).

Do I need a film permit?

Thankfully, not all filming activity requires a permit. In New York, things work a bit differently as compared to how they are in LA. In NYC, as far as permits are concerned, productions can be divided into three categories:

  1. No Permit Required

  2. Small productions that use a camera handheld or on a tripod, handheld props and equipment, don’t assert exclusive use of City property, don’t use prop weapons, vehicles or stunts, don’t have actors in police uniform, and don’t request parking privileges for production vehicles don’t need a permit.

    This means that your rom-com or drama short, sans any crazy shooting and chase scenes involving cops, shot on sidewalks and bridges, may not require a permit. Yay you.

  3. Permit is Optional

  4. The same type of productions as listed above, without prop weapons, vehicles, police uniforms or stunts, can also apply for an optional permit. This permit is not subject to an application fee, however.

  5. No Permit Required

  6. This applies to larger, more equipped productions. If your production has anything more than a handheld or tripod-mounted camera – cranes, robots, vehicle-mounted cameras – you’re required to get a permit. If you request parking privileges, you need a permit. If you’ve got stunts, prop weapons, police uniforms – you need a permit. You also require insurance.

    As you can see, unlike in LA where the requirement of a permit depends on the commercial prospects of a production, in New York it largely depends on the potential of the production to disrupt public life.

    That means, if you’re just a casual photographer taking your girlfriend out for an NYC themed photoshoot for her (or yours) Instagram account, you don’t need a permit. Don’t fret.

When should I apply for a permit?

This depends on the kind of production you have. While a permit in NYC can be issued in 2 business days, if you have an elaborate, large production, you may need additional time for other considerations. Read more below to find out more.

What if I’m a student?

The same rules apply as above. If you’re simply using a handheld or tripod-mounted camera, not asserting exclusive use of City property, no prop weapons, stunts or other crazy stuff – you don’t need a permit. Anything bigger, as above – you need a permit.

However, as a student, you don’t have to pay the $300 fee, and your school’s insurance will cover the filming activity.

If your production involves prop weapons, actors in police or other emergency response uniform, prop police or other emergency vehicles or any sequence that can potentially impact public safety (think chase scenes!) you’ll need the assistance of the NYPD Movie/TV Unit. This is a unit of the NYPD that will be present at your shoot to make sure things go smoothly and you don’t face any weird problems with the public thinking your actors are real cops and asking them for help. You don’t want that.

PRO TIP:
Visit the NYC Events webpage to make sure that your shoot doesn’t coincide with any large event held in or near the location you plan to shoot at. You don’t want any surprises on shoot day!

Do I need a permit for YouTube?

Same as above. If it’s a simple production, then no. If it’s more complicated and has the potential to disrupt the public – then yes.

How much will a film permit cost?

In the City of New York, a film permit costs $300.

However, if you’re shooting at a DCAS (Department of Citywide Administrative Services) building such as the Manhattan or Brooklyn Municipal Buildings, Borough Halls, City or State Cours – these will cost you a lot more. $3200 more, aside from the $300 you pay for the new application fee.

While it sounds steep, keep in mind that this is far less than in LA where permits start at $685 for a motion permit. And of course, if you’re a student you don’t have to pay for a permit. :-)

How do I obtain a film permit in New York?

The process of obtaining a film permit in New York is thankfully quite straightforward – it consists of just three steps!

Step 1

Do you need a permit?

Read the guidelines above and at the MOME website to understand whether you truly need a permit. Remember, in New York, the requirements are far less strict than in LA, and even if yours is a for-profit shoot, you can still get by without a permit.

Do you need insurance?

If you require a permit, in order for you to eligible to receive one, Liability Insurance is necessary for your shoot. A COI must be provided to the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting 48 hours in advance of your online permit application submission. Read more details here, along with a list of insurance brokers listed on the MOME site.

Do you need NYPD support?

If your project is:

  • At an exterior location
  • Requires traffic control
  • Has a scene with prop firearms, weapons
  • Or actors in police uniform

You must request that the NYPD Movie and TV Unit be assigned to your location. Thankfully, this is not going to cost you any extra money.

Do you need a pre-production meeting?

If your production is an elaborate one such as a feature film, TV movie, series or special, or is an elaborate commercial shoot or music video shot with celebrities in exterior locations, it is required for you to arrange a meeting with the Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting.

This meeting is recommended to be scheduled three weeks before the shoot, so keep that in mind if you’re on a tight schedule.

How much parking do you need?

When you get a OFTB permit, the permit provides special parking privileges at locations for vehicles essential to your shoot. However, you must supply each vehicle’s plate number and state, description, and size in advance.

Do I need special permissions?

If your shoot involves children, pyrotechnics or have any special requests (removing a lamppost, changing a street sign, etc.) – these will require special permissions from various different departments involved.

Step 2

Once you’ve figured out all the details in the previous step, it’s time to make the actual application for your permit.

You can make the online application here.

It’s also best to read all of the application instructions here.

Once you’ve applied, the permit is reviewed and processed 72 to 48 hours before the shoot day. However, if you plan to shoot at Times Square, the review and process is done 7 days before shoot day.

Step 3

After you’ve received your permit and before you shoot, you must notify the neighborhood you’re shooting in, of your shoot. When filming in a residential neighborhood or business district, it’s your duty to give proper notification to each merchant or neighbor who is directly affected by your shoot – parking, base camps and meal areas included – at least 48 hours prior to filming.

Think about this – if a huge film crew pulled up in front of your house unannounced, won’t you be annoyed? For this reason, it’s important to make sure that all the local residents and businesses are informed of your shoot in advance.

Read more about notifying the neighborhood on the MOME website here.

What else?

That’s about it! Although we’ve tried to fill in all the key information you need to know about obtaining a film permit in the City of New York. We highly recommend that you go through the MOME website carefully, so that you’re able to get a crystal clear understanding of the entire process.