Do I Need a FilmLA Permit?  Some Guidance from FilmLA

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Do I need a film permit?

So, you want to do some filming (or take some pictures) in/around Los Angeles and want to know if you need a permit. It’s a good question, and if you’re inclined to ask, the answer is definitely “maybe.”

FilmLA serves 23 different jurisdictions, whose rules for when permits are required vary.  Generally speaking, government authorities look at two things when determining when a film permit is required.

First, is there any commercial value to what you’ll be filming? Are you looking to shoot a motion picture for theatrical distribution or a television show for a broadcast, cable or streaming network?  Or are you filming a television commercial, working under contract with an ad agency or in-house on behalf of a major brand? In those cases, yes, you do need a film permit and FilmLA can help you obtain one.

From there, things get trickier. Are you producing short form content for a streaming platform? Are the photos you are taking meant for publication? Will the result of your work be used to promote a product, a service, or a business? Will the footage be uploaded to social media where it has the potential to garner ad revenue? Will the finished product be entered in a contest or film festival? If you have the intent or potential to make money from your film footage or original photography, it is commercial activity by definition and legally requires a film permit.

The other consideration authorities take into account is the impact on the surrounding area. So, consider your filming plans. Could your activity impede the general flow of vehicle or foot traffic in public areas? Will your cast/crew be taking up a significant amount of public parking? Do you have large lights, equipment, and trucks to unload that could cause disturbance to neighbors? If your activity could disrupt someone else’s day, you’ll likely need a film permit.

The very worst outcome of all is to film without a permit, get shut down, risk criminal charges, and lose the time and money you invested to prepare for your shoot.

Here are some additional categories of permitted film activity that FilmLA regularly coordinates permits for:

  • Independent Film
  • Short Film
  • Student Film
  • Television Pilot
  • Commercial Photography
  • Public Service Announcement (PSA)
  • Political Campaign Ad
  • In-Depth Feature Interview
  • Planned News Segment
  • Documentary
With few exceptions, you DO NOT need a permit if your footage is strictly for personal use (just to be shared with friends and family) AND your activity will create little to no public impact.

Here are some categories of activity that often do NOT require a permit:

  • Wedding Photography/Videography (exceptions apply based on location used)
  • Breaking News
  • Family Photos (exceptions apply based on location used)
  • Camera Test
  • Headshot Photography
  • Real Estate Photography
  • Filming/Photography of Special Events, Including:
    - Separately Permitted Entertainment Events (concerts, awards shows, etc.)
    - Indoor and Outdoor Sports Events
    - Marches, Protests, and Protected First Amendment Activity

Given the number of jurisdictions served by FilmLA, there are bound to be some exceptions.  For example, filming for commercial purposes that takes place entirely on property at a Certified Studio does not require a permit. Filming activity which takes place entirely on private property in the City of Santa Monica does not require a permit. Wedding photography and portraiture requires a permit in some LA County parks. And finally, the City of Newport Beach requires a permit for all filming/photography performed by paid professionals, whether for commercial or personal use.

If there’s any question as to whether you might need a permit for your project, please reach out to FilmLA’s Production Planning Team at 213.9677.8600 or for guidance.

We look forward to helping you have a wonderful day on location, confident in your legal right to film and take photographs without interruption.

Contact FilmLA's Production Planning Team

Buck Zachary

About the Author: Buck Zachary

Buck Zachary has worked with FilmLA in various roles since 2012, currently as a Production Planning Coordinator, part of the Solution Services Team. Buck grew up in Central Illinois and received a BS in Acting from Illinois State University. He loves going to movies, attending live theatre, and building LEGO with his two daughters. Buck’s favorite movie is, and always will be, Ghostbusters.

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