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Forums Business & Career Building Question about shooting in public locations with or without a tripod.

  • Question about shooting in public locations with or without a tripod.

  • Stephen Pickering

    April 25, 2014 at 3:36 am

    Hi there,

    I have a friend who would like to shoot some footage of some park/city scenery (not a busy street, train tracks, government building, etc). We won’t be filming anyone specifically (the public), but the “talent” will be walking and talking in some of the shots.

    Our equipment will consists of a DSLR camera, wireless mic/receiver, and lightweight tripod or hand-held steady cam. There will be a total of 3 people (1 camera, 1 script supervisor, and the talent). We wont be using a dolly, boom, light reflectors, etc.

    On a shoot like this (low budget) I’m happy to do run-n-gun shooting. But, how careful do we really need to be? If we were questioned or asked to leave we would be willing to do so, I just want to be sure we’re not getting ourselves into trouble with this without realizing it.

    Thanks for your thoughts!


  • Todd Terry

    April 25, 2014 at 3:45 am

    It depends entirely on where you are.

    If you were on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, you would have four bicycle cops surrounding you before you even pulled trigger.

    If you were in my hometown, you could shoot anywhere and everywhere on public property, with a 10-person crew and a 3-ton grip truck and no one would say anything. There’s no such thing as a film permit here. Not even an office to ask about it.

    Chances are, with the minimal crew/equipment you are using, most places won’t even look twice at you.

    And that Vegas story isn’t an exaggeration… it happened to me, and we didn’t even have talent, just a two-man crew with no more equipment that you’re using. Fortunately we were fully permitted, but the cops were sure there to check in a heartbeat.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Stephen Pickering

    April 25, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Wow, that’s crazy! So, just for my education, what would have happened if you didn’t have permits? Would they simply say “leave” or would there have been actual fines/consequences? Researching this it looks like one actually can be fined and equipment confiscated, at least in big cities.

    Now the good news for me, we won’t be filming in Vegas or any other big/busy location 🙂 It’s pretty low key.

    Thanks Todd!


  • Todd Terry

    April 25, 2014 at 4:19 am

    I’m sure the consequences vary from city to city, state to state…depending on whatever the particular laws/ordinances are in that particular area.

    I would imagine that in most cases if you were shooting unpermitted (assuming permits are required) you would be asked to stop, and possibly given the opportunity to go secure a film permit.

    There probably wouldn’t be too many dire consequences in most places… in most places…

    For example, I was directing a medium-to-smallish shoot with a crew at San Francisco International Airport… again, we were fully permitted (not only by the city but by the airport’s media relations office which requires separate clearance/permits/payment), but had we not been the consequences there would likely have been greater… and probably would have involved quite a while sitting in a windowless room being grilled… at minimum. Probably a lot worse.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Stephen Pickering

    April 25, 2014 at 4:30 am

    I appreciate your input Todd. Tomorrow I’ll look into the different locations and see if “film commissions” exist for them and see what I can learn about them.

    Thanks for your time!

  • Mark Suszko

    April 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Most states and many large cities have a Film Office or something by that name: they can be a great resource for everything related to our work, including a fast-track to any permitting process or special rules. Some parks do in fact have certain restrictions on filming commercially versus privately, because they charge fees for commercial access that help maintain the resource of the park or attraction for everyone.

    You kind of allude to this regarding the tripod: in a world where security guards and rangers and cops are not at all expert on the distinctions between tourist home movies and commercial film makers, the use of a tripod was often pointed to as a way to distinguish “pros”. But as cameras get smaller, they all look like tourist cams now, and many have built-in stabilizers, making tripods less necessary. This does not help the security guard to figure out if you’re legal or not, so they may well become more arbitrary, the less well-defined the situation becomes.

    Every year, I read about near-tragic situations where student or “indie” film-makers without permits or even the courtesy of advance-notifying the local police dept., go filming in a public or publicly visible private space to capture a scene with weapons, and the poor cops called to the scene, or stumbling onto it, get to test their shoot/no-shoot decision-making skills, with real lives on the line. I’m not saying that’s you, specifically. But it happens a time or two every year. Every TV or Film teacher should begin every semester going over these rules and safety procedures first, and quizzing students to ensure understanding.

    Complicating your situation is that in today’s post 9/11 security culture, low-level law enforcement authorities often mis-understand the boundaries of photographic access laws, and you can find yourself being confronted, – in a legally free-to-film area – by security guards or foot patrols telling you what you can and can’t legally shoot – all because of the generic “9/11 “security” blanket assumption that anything not mandatory is forbidden, “because, reasons” and “freedum”. On private property like malls, they can enforce what they feel like enforcing. On public right-of-way, in public parks, they may press harder than the law in fact allows, because they are erring on the side of over-caution and general suspicion of the foreign or unusual.

    Be well-informed and documented, and you can often dis-arm such overly-aggressive, mis-informed people before things escalate. You can find a “photographer’s rights” card from a google search. Keep a copy in your wallet, but better yet, read and know the info and take proper advance measures, so you’re not put in a position to HAVE to argue about it with some authority figure.

  • Bill Davis

    April 27, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    [Mark Suszko] “Be well-informed and documented, and you can often dis-arm such overly-aggressive, mis-informed people before things escalate. You can find a “photographer’s rights” card from a google search. Keep a copy in your wallet, but better yet, read and know the info and take proper advance measures, so you’re not put in a position to HAVE to argue about it with some authority figure”


    Best advice here IMO.

    I have exactly that type of printed “shooting in public” regulations citation card tucked into the lining of all my camera cases. They indicate the formal statutes in effect. BUT… All I will ever use those for is to very slightly shift the power balance in situations where the person telling me that I illegally shooting something seems to be doing it in a knee jerk fashion. I would NEVER rely on that or anything else to try to force a situation. Basically, my experience tells me that if I push back on an authority figure as an oppositional party – they will just go out of their way to find another way to apply a different regulation in order to hassle me.

    It’s not a contest. You’re simply trying to get a thing done with the least resistance possible. I find a smile – and a polite “well officer, I have a card that outlines the legal requirements for this type of shooting – maybe it will can bring some clarity to the situation” followed by – “and of course you’re free to check with anyone you like to make sure this is accurate… ” and 9 times out of 10 that diffuses everything. Particularly if you’re super polite and maintain eye contact and have an easygoing demeanor.

    I’ve never seen the word “tripod” mentioned in any regulation or law. Ever. So if it’s not in the law, it can’t be the legal deciding factor as to whether or not you’re in violation of anything. However, “public nuisance” IS in a lot of statutory language. And thats often a judgement call that falls on the officer to pursue or not.

    One thing all law enforcement has, in my experience, is a distaste for “shirt-tail lawyers” trying to claim that they know the law better than the officer involved. That’s why I take it in printed form. It’s not me telling them whats what – it’s a direct written citation to the law in play. So it’s not personal at all.

    Tone and demeanor is the main element. Make them want to accommodate you because you’re not being a jerk about it. The law is the background authority that helps them decide to work with you – rather than against you.

    My 2 cents.

    Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out – video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.

  • Todd Terry

    April 27, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    All good advice.

    Though the original poster seemed to be asking about discretely shooting in places that were perfectly legal to do so… although they might require a permit. Maybe I’m reading his original post wrong, but that was the impression I got.

    If that’s the case, to me the easiest/best/foolproof way to do that without threat or fear of any hassles is pretty simple — get the dang permit.

    If the law requires you to be permitted to shoot a commercial project in a certain place, then do it.

    We’re fortunate that most public places we need to shoot in do not require permits, and we have never once in 17 years been stopped or questioned in a place where no permits were required. But when we DO shoot in places that require permits, we get them.

    People skirting that I will have to admit does irk me a little, I guess, because we are painfully honest and if a permit is required we get it and pay for it. It’s ever so slightly akin to irritation I feel when I hear what I know is unpaid-for copyrighted music on someone’s video. We never do that (as much as I would sometimes like to), so it bothers me to know someone else is ripping it off, too. The film permits don’t bother me quite as much as that… but still do to a degree.

    If you are not shooting a professional or commercial production, then no… you don’t need a permit… and the advice given above is excellent. But if this is a paying commercial gig and a permit is needed… get it.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Ty Ford

    April 29, 2014 at 12:28 am

    If you’re in Washington DC, around the capitol and other government buildings, there is a requirement to register and have a card that says you can use a tripod. The reason given (last time I heard one) was that someone might trip over the tripod and hurt themselves.

    I always wondered what would happen if you tried a mono pod



    Ty Ford

    Want better production audio?: Ty Ford’s Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
    Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford’s Blog

  • Mark Raudonis

    April 30, 2014 at 3:23 am

    But in DC, there are some specific locations around the capitol, whitehouse etc. that are “permit free”
    zones that the network use on a daily basis for the classic stand ups.
    Find those and your good to go.

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