The Student Film Permit Process: An Overview

FilmLAFor Filmmakers12 Comments

Suppose you’re in film school in Los Angeles (as some of you surely are).  You’re handed an assignment for a film project, and are told you’ll need to apply for a permit.  Trouble is, you have no idea what to do next.

No worries! Call FilmLA — the not-for-profit official film office of the City and County of Los Angeles — and request a student permit consultation.

FilmLA has invested significant staff resources to assist students and other first-time filmmakers with permit-related challenges. Students who work with FilmLA are assigned a full time Student Production Coordinator, whose main objective is to help students navigate the local film permitting process. Students working on senior theses and other more involved projects can also receive free help from FilmLA’s Production Planning Department.

In Los Angeles the basics for student filming are very simple. In order to be eligible for a student permit, applicants must be enrolled in a film production class at an accredited college-level institution. Student filmmakers must furnish student ID’s and a letter from an authorized class instructor on school letterhead declaring that the project is for educational, non-commercial purposes. The student’s film project then becomes a school property eligible for coverage under the school’s insurance program. Once this step is out of the way, the rest of the application process can proceed.

A student permit from FilmLA costs either $26 or $100 (as little as 1/20th the cost of a standard FilmLA permit), and typically takes three business days to process. During this time Student Production Coordinators will cover the basics, such as:

  • Location selection, including pre-production scouting
  • Obtaining permission from the property owner to film at the location
  • Limitations or special requirements for filming in the area
  • Type of equipment to be used
  • Specific number of cast and crew on location
  • Contact information for key production personnel

There are two ways to apply for a student film permit–one paper-based and one using FilmLA’s Online Permit System (OPS).  First time applicants must use the paper application, while the online option is reserved for students enrolled in “upper-level” production classes (second year students or higher).  Registering for an OPS account is simple and straightforward at

Student Permit Misconceptions

Here are some of the student permit misconceptions we encounter from time to time:

  • PRIVATE PROPERTY: In L.A., the law does not distinguish between filming done indoors or outdoors, or on private vs. public property.  Outside of a certified soundstage or studio back lot, all filming requires a film permit.  Technically, students even need a permit to film on campus.
  • LOCATION PERMISSION:  Excepting the public right-of-way, permits coordinated by FilmLA do not confer the right to use specific properties for filming. Filming on any property (and even in city parks and buildings) also requires permission from the property owner, who will usually request a fee before giving his or her approval.
  • PERMIT EXEMPTIONS:  Sometimes, students ask FilmLA for permit waivers because of their project size. While FilmLA evaluates exemption requests on a case-by-case basis, exemptions are difficult to obtain for all but the lowest-impact student projects. Most of the time a student film permit is required. Permit exemptions are sometimes referred to  — incorrectly and misleadingly — as “Rule of Three” exemptions.
  • COMMERCIAL USE: It is illegal for a non-student filmmaker to attempt to obtain a FilmLA permit at student rates by offering a current film student any kind of inducement (such as a paid or unpaid project role). Students are cautioned to avoid such schemes; those caught submitting fraudulent permit applications have been subject to school sanction, including expulsion.

Final Guidance

Student projects can be very elaborate, sometimes rivaling regular productions in their potential neighborhood impact. One student project filmed with insensitivity toward the community can mess things up for those who follow. If you film in L.A. as a student, please adhere to the filming guidelines outlined in your permit. It will reflect well on you and your school, and a film-friendly L.A. is in everyone’s best interest.

12 Comments on “The Student Film Permit Process: An Overview”

  1. Dear Film LA,

    I am a currently a High School student working on a film. I am wondering if I am able to attain a film permit through the method of Student to Student Film LA collaboration.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Julian, thanks for reaching out.
      Student film permits are distributed to students currently enrolled at accredited colleges / universities, so unfortunately, we do not issue film permits for high school student productions.

      Furthermore, due to COVID-19, at the current moment, 5/4/2020, we are not issuing film permits to any of our jurisdictions, until new city / county guidelines are established, as soon as it is safe to do so.

  2. Hey FilmLA,

    For Non-Commercial independent projects done by students, is the process the same as for commercial projects?


    1. Hi Adam. There are some key differences, especially if you intend this project to be non-commercial and / or part of your school curriculum. A student film production requires verification, an official school letter, proof that you are a student, etc.

      We’d recommend that you give us a call and ask to speak with our Production Planning team or request a student permit consultation to determine any exemptions from our standard procedures.

  3. Hi ,

    I am a photo student, and currently working on my portfolio. Do I need a permit for photoshoot in Malibu beach? I only use my camera, no other heavy equipments.

    thanks in advance


    1. Hi Anna, the answer is generally “Yes”, you would need to apply for a still photo permit through FilmLA, especially since that is a County Beach within our jurisdiction. Being that this is for your school curriculum, we’d advice that you give our Production Planning team a call to discuss the set of requirements for student still photo permits.

  4. Greetings FilmLA,

    I would like to apply for a film permit to shoot my student short film for my Production 2 class on March 24th and 25th.

    The shoot would be at Woodbury University in Burbank, California, but I am unable to apply in person as I am out of town for this week.

    Could I possibly apply online or send faxed paper documents digitally although I am a first time applicant?


    Pierce Wong

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