Film Permits vs. Event Permits: Clearing Up the Confusion

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Film or Event Permit for a concert

FilmLA previously published guidance for filmmakers on when film permits are required in Greater Los Angeles.

Even though FilmLA does not process special event permit applications, a question is sometimes asked by event planners, community organizers, and concert promoters. The question is, “Do I need a special event permit?”

You might! Determining what kind of permit(s) you need requires a look at your primary purpose, and the specific rules applicable to the jurisdiction you’re in.

Let’s get specific.

First, you need to know that FilmLA does not coordinate special event permits. As there is often confusion between special event permits and film permits, we’re happy to offer some perspective.

Second, you need to know that rules regarding special event permits and film permits vary by jurisdiction. The guidance in this article applies in the City of Los Angeles and Unincorporated Los Angeles County only. What is true of one city in LA County may not be true of the next, so our Solution Services team is here to assist when necessary.

If after reviewing this guide you are still unsure if you require a film permit or a special events permit, email your event details to and our Solution Services team will assist you.

Special Events – A Working Definition

(Not Offered as Legal Counsel)

A special event is a planned public or private activity where attendees gather for a common purpose. Attendees are invited guests, or possibly paying ticket holders, and they are in multiple ways the legal responsibility of the event organizer.

Event organizers typically bear the responsibility for site selection and scheduling, hiring talent and security, circulating invitations, purchasing insurance, and obtaining special event permits. The organizer may even hire a camera crew to document the event proceedings.

The mere presence of a camera crew at the event does NOT make the special event a film production. It also does not matter if the film crew is volunteering or being paid.

Film permits do not cover the safety, zoning, equipment, or crowd coverage liabilities that come with the presence of invited or ticket paying guests.

For a bona fide special event (one with a valid special event permit) that also has a filming component, having a separate filming permit in most cases is NOT required.  But there are exceptions (see “Special Circumstances,” below).

Examples of Special Events

Here is a partial, non-exhaustive list of gatherings that qualify as special events in the City and County of Los Angeles, and other jurisdictions:

  • Concerts (indoor or outdoor)
  • Pop-Up Stores
  • Crowd Participation Showcases
  • Product Marketing Activations
  • Grand Openings
  • Drone Shows
  • Car Exhibitions
  • First Amendment Activity

About Concerts...

Concerts are special events and permits for them are not available from FilmLA.

Concerts require special event permits and organizer coordination with the hosting venue’s jurisdiction.  Local regulations determine who is responsible for guest safety and ensuring legal rules and regulations are followed.

Concerts where documentary style footage is gathered by the event organizer are special events. The footage gathered might later be used in the production of album art or a music video, but a film permit is not a substitute for a required event permit in this case.

“Simulated Concerts” staged as a part of a scene within a movie, TV show, or other commercial filming project, (typically involving paid actors and/or background performers) are not special events and require a film permit.

Special Circumstances

When trying to determine if something requires a special event permit or a film permit, it can be helpful to ask the following questions:
Will the event take place regardless of whether it is filmed?

If so, then a special event permit rather than a film permit must be obtained. FilmLA cannot assist with this (see Where to Obtain a Special Event Permit” below).

Is filming a planned part of the event, but not the event’s only purpose?

If so, then it is an “event with filming” and for this a special event permit rather than a film permit must be obtained.

Is the event “staged” or taking place solely for the purpose of filming it?

For instance, are the attendees neither invited guests nor ticketholders but background performers compensated for their participation? If so, this is a film shoot, not a special event, and a film permit must be obtained. The set will be closed to the public.

Is the event “real” and produced with a valid special event permit, but an unrelated third party wants to film something at the event?

For instance, do the producers of a TV reality show want their celebrity cast to attend a real concert, and film their concert experience?  If so, the concert organizer needs a special event permit AND the production company needs a film permit. The production company will also need approval from the concert organizer to be there.

Where to Obtain a Special Event Permit

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