We hear the same question asked by producers new to the industry all the time:
“Do I need to have a film permit?”
Of course, for each city permitting requirements can differ. For most limited productions you won’t actually need a permit, like if you’re shooting indoors, but anytime you’re shooting outside, we’d always recommend get a permit!
There are so many reasons why you should be getting permission from the city, but instead of preaching to you, we collected stories from the production community to highlight how things can go wrong or right. We asked for funny or horrible stories that happened on set without a proper permit.
The following are from Facebook groups and are their real-true-life stories.
Nonetheless, they are hilarious and entertaining.
Abandoned for a reason.
It was back in film school days. Not my shoot but someone in the upper year that everyone worked on. They decided to shoot in the Don Valley Brickworks in Toronto. Now, this is not the brickworks today, this is before it became a posh wedding venue and social media backdrop. They loaded all the lights, camera everything. No one had any Personal Protective Equipment.Anonymous
They knocked off maybe 2 shots when a security guard shows up. Wearing a ventilation mask. The whole place was full of asbestos and other super dangerous chemicals left over from being a brick foundry. The crew was not warned of any dangers and had assumed they had permission to be there. Everyone got up and walked away. Leaving the producer with the job of removing all the gear from the hazardous environment.
Nobody needs to risk terminal illness and respiratory problems for a student film.
Playing with guns
We were shooting an intense scene with fake guns in my apartment once and one of the lines an actor had to say was “SHOOT ME IN THE F***ING HEAD, I DARE YOU”. Needless to say we had cops show up. They were cool about it see as I had told the people on my floor we were shooting a film. But a cop insisted he stayed in case anything happened. Ended up adding the real cop into the scene.Steven Fares
Faking the location
Back when I first started out and we tried to shoot on train tracks without a permit. Police showed up and fined every single one of us (though we took care of the tickets for the crew) — my DP was discreetly grabbing photos at ground level while the cop was ranting so we could find a place that looked similar enough to shoot the ending scene. This is the clip [below]. When she stands up and it’s the two of them, we’re in a completely different location lol.Cassäundra Sloan
Back in the 90’s I was shooting a rap video on a rooftop over the studio where I was an employee. The guy in the apartment across the lane never spoke or yelled at us, but he cranked his heavy metal music so loud we couldn’t hear our sync track.Glen Forbes
Get off my lawn
Small shoot. We had a permit for a park, but the director wasn’t aware that an alley connecting to the park was private property. In the middle of one of the takes a tall chiselled jaw mean looking guy sporting a white jump suit with multi coloured hand prints and a 12” Mohawk starts yelling at us. He sounded like Ferris Bueller’s friend imitating Sloan’s father over the phone.Emiliano Paternostro
“This is my property and you do not have permission to shoot here.”
We explained that we thought we had a permit and it was a small budget and just a few shots. In the end he allowed us to shoot in exchange for a couple of roast beef sandwiches we had for the catering.
Explosions are loud… and obvious
I was engaged as the special effects person on the project and after a meeting with the producer and director where I talked about the need to get a permit and to notify the police with regard to the activities of the day… I left it with them to manage this.BrentB
Day of the shoot comes and it is in an industrial park area of town. A scene set in a war torn country, the shots surround a group of mercenary soldiers – full uniforms, lots of long guns, even some replica sub-machine guns, etc. We set up a series of simulated mortar explosions along a road and the scene has a stunt person running down the road dodging the explosions.
These explosions are loud – so naturally when we shoot it someone in the neighborhood hears it… it’s daytime and a weekend – but of course they call in a series of explosions in the area.
We’d wrapped that part of the scene – and the armorer is collecting the guns from the talent while I am bringing the SFX gear back to my van – and suddenly there are at least six police cars on scene… I spotted the sergeant and with my hands in clear view approached him and explained that it was just a movie being filmed.
Situation calms down – cops inspect every gun and all my explosives gear – but they certainly wanted to talk with the Producer. This was well before terrorism, etc. was a thing here. So I am sure now would be a completely different response.
My lesson learned is: nothing comes out of my van until I have a police liaison on scene. Last thing I need is someone seeing a bunch of bombs or cases marked ‘explosives’ and making a call…
At the end of the day, the professionalism of a production is based on how prepared a producer is on their shoot. Things can go wrong all the time, and a producers job is the handle those hardships and get out ahead. Overall, we cannot stress enough how important it is to do your research and make sure you have the correct permitting requirements every time you shoot, even if you think you can get away without it.
Of course, there are so many stories out there – tales of production teams who took to the streets with a full crew and reckless abandon.
If you’ve got a story of the time you decided did not need to have a film permit and wound up in an unexpected circumstance, leave it in the comments below!
Let us all learn from our mistakes and experiences.