How to Obtain a Permit for Production

You’ve got the script, cast, and crew sorted. Now all you have to do is secure your location permit. Once you get that out of the way, the cameras can start rolling.

Your local film offices will help you secure location permits for your production. And depending on your requirements, you may have to submit additional documentation and bear extra costs for the following:

  • Using drones/unmanned aircrafts
  • Shooting car chases
  • Using pyrotechnics
  • Filming in schools
  • Filming in airports

Now, let’s start with the basics.

A location permit is normally issued by local, city or federal governments, so start by looking up your local film office for information.

The film commission websites also list contacts of relevant people who could help you with the process, so start googling!

Applying for a film permit

A location scout normally takes care of finding and securing sites for filming, but if you’re on your own then don’t fret because most film commissions have made it possible to apply for permits online.

(Links to local film offices at the end of this post.)

Here’s how you can go about the process:

  1. Look up your local film commission, download the relevant forms and contact the agency to let them know you plan to permit.
    Check to see if the locations you want to shoot at fall under your film office’s jurisdiction or not.
    For example, if you want to film at LAX you’ll have to apply for the permit via Film LA.
    Ask your contact questions to see if there could be conflicts with your proposed production schedule and check if you’ve fulfilled all the requirements so you get your application right in the first go.
  2. 2.Don’t delay the process too much. You could obtain site approval 5 business days prior to your film date but if your shoot is elaborate then it could require 10 days or even more. The California Film Commission specifies that Caltrans ramp and lane closures require a minimum of 12 business days in advance of prep/shoot; freeway closures require a minimum of sixteen 16 business days.
  3. Be thorough when you’re going through the forms and read the fine print. Don’t skip any details when you’re filling the forms out and remember:
    • Write or type legibly.
    • Attach maps if necessary.
    • Build in time for ‘rain days’.
    • Make sure the dates for filming are accurate.
    • Mention exactly where you plan to film.

     4. Have a COVID-19 plan ready to submit with your application.

     5. Get your certificate of insurance evidencing coverage of General Liability, Workers’ Compensation, and Automobile Liability.
         Check if there are additional requirements, such as police assistance, community notification, parking passes, etc., and fulfill them.

     6. Submit your form, pay the fee, and follow up to make sure everything is on track.

     7. Make sure you receive the signed permit and keep it with you during production.

Drone permits

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the commercial operation of drones – small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

The regulations under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 107 set the minimum safety standards for small UAS operations in the United States.

Additionally, on December 28, 2020, the FAA announced final rules. The requirements include Remote Identification (Remote ID) of drones and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions.

Exceptions for educational usage (considered non-commercial) and for students

Students enrolled at an accredited educational institution may operate small UAS for school projects under hobbyist rules.

According to the California Film office, film permits are still required, but the commercial requirements of Part 107 do not apply.

Additional insurance requirements

According to Film CA, if your production team is going to use a drone on location, then you’re required to have proof of UAS coverage with a limit of at least $2,000,000.

You could add this to your General Liability policy with a separate endorsement showing proof of UAS coverage.

Permit requirements for car chases

If you want to film a car chase, then you’ll have to fulfill additional requirements for your filming permit.

Shooting a car chase in LA may require you to conduct a filming survey.

The survey would indicate that you contacted businesses and residents that may be affected during your shoot.

You will also need to collaborate with the local police department for scenes like these. The film office may also get involved. All of these factors will hike up your permit application fees.

Permit requirements for pyrotechnics

Generally, municipalities treat pyrotechnics like fireworks. So, learn about your local fireworks laws and alert the local government and police department about your intention to film such scenes.

Licensing requirements for pyrotechnic operators are not the same across all cities and states. To learn more, you will be able to refer to your film permit application as it contains additional information about the types of physical effects and how to obtain the necessary permissions to use them. 

And here’s a tip: to reduce the risk of scaring the neighborhood, avoid using blanks. Add muzzle flashes and sound effects in post. This also reduces the risk of accidents happening on set.

Now that you’ve got the basics, just fill out the forms, be accurate, descriptive, and honest. Make sure to plan because the more elaborate a permit application is, the longer it will take to get approved.

Permit requirements for filming at airports

If you plan on filming at an airport, you’ll have to state that on your permit application. Your fees will go up as a result and you’ll also have to comply with the airport’s rules and regulations.

LAX, for instance, does not allow scouting airport property without LAX Film Office or Airport Operations staff present.

You may also be required to submit additional documents, such as a filming letter of Intent (LOI), to get permission to film.

For more information, check out these guidelines.

Important update—filming on federal land

On January 25, 2021, a federal judge ruled that the “commercial filming” permit requirements in the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violate the First Amendment.

On February 23, 2021, the National Parks Service announced interim guidance regarding the management of filming in park areas.

The guidelines state that low-impact filming will be exempt from advance notice and permit requirements. Other filming activities may need a permit but until further guidance, the NPS will not require location fees, application fees, or additional cost-recovery charges.

For updates, visit this page.

Final thoughts

Paperwork can seem daunting and regulations are often a maze to traverse but hopefully, after reading this post, you’ll approach the film permit application process with more confidence.

If you’d like some more guidance, contact Revolution. Our team will help you in any way we can.

Below you’ll find links to local film commissions:

Aspen

California

Film LA

Florida

Fresno

Greater Philadelphia

Hawaii

Houston

Idaho

Inland Empire

Louisiana

Maryland

Madera County

Massachusetts

Miami

Mississippi

Please note: The State of Mississippi does not require permits or fees for filming.

Your production might be required to obtain a Certificate of Authority from the Secretary of State’s office.

There are also certain guidelines for filming on historical sites and properties. You can contact the film office to learn more.

Montana

New York City

Nebraska

Nevada

New Mexico

North Carolina

Ocala/Marion

Oregon

Piedmont

Pittsburg

Rhode Island

Savannah local film commission

Saratoga Springs

San Francisco

San Luis Obispo County Film Commission
South Carolina

St. Pete Clearwater

Utah

Virginia

Please note: The Virginia Film Office does not issue film permits, but they can help connect you to the right person so your shoot can go off without a hitch.