By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Over the past several years, taking pictures and filming video in public places has not only become harder to achieve, but in some areas can actually get you fined or even thrown in jail. And the authorities are in no mood to let guerrilla filmmaking happen.
I remember when I visited Washington D.C. with my wife in 1999. This was before the terrible events of 9/11; I had pulled out my camera tripod because I wanted to set up a two shot with my wife and I in front of the Capitol building. As I’m doing it, a Capitol police officer casually strolled up and informed me that tripods were banned on government property and I had to take it down. I asked if I could quickly get the shot and then put it away and he politely insisted that I could not, but if I did, he’d be happy to write me a ticket. So I complied and took it down.
“A lot of photographers and I have shot there before, and it wasn’t enforced. I think local residents complained about the popularity of that place with photographers. My contract also states that my client is responsible for permit fees.” – Thien Dinh, discussing the need for a permit on a beach in California
In the past, authorities would sometimes let a photo or video shoot on public grounds pass without a permit. However, many have started writing tickets and issuing fines, and in some cases, arresting a photographer or videographer. And not only on municipal grounds like government buildings, but public places like the beach, as well.
Photographer Then Dihn recently relayed a story of a friend trying to do a photo shoot at a beach in Laguna Beach, California. With the models and camera equipment in hand, the photographer and assistant, armed with expensive cameras, were clearly doing a professional photo shoot, but ended up getting ticketed by the beach police for taking pictures without a permit.
According to the city’s website, photographers of both commercial and non-commercial photo shoots must pay from $100 for two hours, and $50 for each hour after if shooting both commercially and non-commercially, to nearly $600 to shoot on a public place. And that doesn’t include the “application fee.”
The permit covers any property managed by the city, including parks, beaches, streets, sidewalks, and buildings. In addition, the applicant must provide a certificate of liability insurance of at least $1 million for general liability, with an aggregate amount of $2 million. And of course, all fees must be paid in advance.
According to the Commercial Photo/Film Shoot permit procedures and policies, the applications may be denied if deemed contrary to public convenience or welfare, or if the photo shoot conflicts with other activities or public use. Failure to secure a permit will get you a court appearance and a nice, hefty fine.
What is not really explained though, is what incorporates a “non-commercial” shoot. Does that mean taking pictures of your kids during a day at the beach? Probably not, but it does include taking pictures of your dog, because that’s considered a “pet photo shoot.” No kidding. It also likely means that if you’re shooting for your YouTube video, or maybe even vlogging doing your vacation video you could get pinched for not securing your permit. One red flag could be the use of a tripod and/or a professional camera, even if it’s a fun shoot with family on vacation. And don’t get me started on if you want to use a drone.
In San Francisco it’s even worse, as park rangers will demand a permit if you have high-end professional gear, whether it’s a commercial shoot or not. So if you’re taking a family Christmas card, and you have a tripod, lights, and reflectors, you can expect a park ranger to walk up and ask you to put away any “off camera flash or lighting.”
But that’s a far cry from what happened in Detroit, where a rap group was filming a music video that called for a carjacking scene. Failing to inform the authorities and get a permit, the Detroit police assumed the scene was an actual car jacking and took action, firing on the group, which had small arms props as part of their scene. To make matters worse, the actors of the scene must have thought the cops were part of the video and turned and pointed their prop guns at the cops!
“People do robberies with similar firearms on a regular basis,” said former Detroit Police Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt. “It’s incredible no one died.” Three of the crew and group were taken into custody and charged with disturbing the peace, which carries a 90-day jail sentence.
This is why if you’re planning on shooting a scene in a public area, it’s important to let people around the area know that you will be filming, and if fire arm props and effects are being used, to let them know ahead of time. And for heavens sake, get a permit and insurance! Build it into the budget. Because the days of shooting on the fly, running and gunning, are over.