If you want to film or photograph on location, you may need to obtain a filming permit, sometimes referred to as a location shooting permit. Every city and state has an office that handles the granting of filming permits. The process can sometimes be completed online and generally requires paying a fee. 

When Must You Obtain a Permit?

Casual filming or photography does not generally require obtaining a permit. Similarly, shooting on private property does not require a permit. However, filming on public property or in such a way that it would impact other people does necessitate applying for and receiving a filming permit. 

Permit Requirements for Car Chase Scenes in Urban Areas

If you plan on filming a car chase, you may be required to fulfill additional permit application requirements. For example, filming a car chase scene within the city of Los Angeles may require you to conduct a filming survey. This survey should indicate that you contacted the residents and businesses that may be affected by your filming and discussed any concerns they have. Similarly, Los Angeles requires proof of production insurance, including auto insurance. 

If you plan to shoot any part of the car chase using an aircraft or drone, you may have to submit additional documentation. The City of Baltimore, for example, requires proof that the drone operator has a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA as well as an insurance plan that specifies coverage for an unmanned aircraft system. 

Filming this kind of scene will most likely require road closures and traffic control. Since most chase scenes involve blowing through stop signs and other such violations of normal traffic codes, additional permits may be required for closed-course driving. Dave Abels lists stop sign and stop light violations as one of the most common causes of collisions, so DO NOT try to film without working with police! Requests to film during peak travel times are almost always denied. Similarly, filming a scene using moving vehicles may necessitate a sit-down meeting with the local film office and the police department. These factors may increase the time to process your permit as well as increase any fees associated with the application. 


Permit Requirements for Pyrotechnics

Most municipalities treat pyrotechnics similar to fireworks, so learning about local fireworks laws will be a good start. Licensing requirements for pyrotechnic operators will differ from city to city and from state to state. Most applications for filming permits will ask about what kinds of physical effects you plan on using, and will contain additional information on how to obtain any necessary permissions.

Another time to be careful is when you are using realistic firearms as props. If concerned neighbors see cast members walking around on set with AR15’s, Glock 19’s, and M16’s slung over their shoulders, they are liable to call the police. This is another reason why it’s important to make the municipal government and local police force aware of your intention to film in that locality. You can reduce the risk of scaring neighbors (and reduce risks to your stunt crew) by adding sound effects and muzzle flashes in post, rather than using blanks. While blanks are more realistic and generally safe, nobody wants a repeat of Brandon Lee’s tragic accident on the set of The Crow!

These permit requirements may seem tedious, but they are in place to ensure not only the safety of the community but also the success of your shoot. Without police assistance, for example, your car chase scene would be plagued by unwanted traffic and pedestrians. The best way to ensure your application is accepted is to follow all permit application requirements and provide accurate, descriptive information about your needs. Finally, the more complicated your request, the longer it will take to be approved. Plan ahead and be patient!