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Legal Considerations When Shooting in a Public Location

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Filming in an open location can be a legal minefield, so here are a few things to think about so that you can be protected.

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    The Great Outdoors

    When you are outside shooting on location you may feel that you lucked out with all the great scenery and crowds of people. Any digital video filmmaker knows that having all of these elements can definitely work in your favor when trying to create a story space. The problem that arises is that within the legal framework you can often be violating people’s legal rights without even knowing it.

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    Permission

    The first thing you should always try to do, especially if you have not sought out any permits or location permissions, is not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. One of the quickest ways to make someone seek legal council against you is if you are creating a disturbance. The best way to go about this is to let every business and home surrounding your shoot know that you are filming and ask if there is anything you can do to prevent them from feeling violated by your presence.

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    People on the Street

    If you are going to be catching people that are not part of your project in your frame it is best to always let them know that you are filming and make sure they agree to be in the shot. If possible it is usually best to get a photo release, but in most cases verbal consent should be sufficient. If you project is controversial in some way they may regret their agreement, so in this case you need to get it on paper. If you are going to focus in on someone doing some type of activity you absolutely must get clearance, otherwise you leave yourself open for being legally labeled a video stalker.

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    Stay Away From Numbers

    Always avoid getting numerical identifications on screen. This means never get addresses or license plate in your frame while filming. This is an unnecessary kind of information and can definitely make you liable. Likewise you should never allow real phone numbers to be communicated through your film, so watch for that.

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    Know Your Rights

    It essentially is your legal right to be shooting outdoors in public locations, and so it is usually illegal for law enforcement or civilians to interfere with this. This does not mean that the police cannot cite you as being a public nuisance or that your behavior is interfering with normal activity. Be courteous to those who are questioning you, but know that there must be a special legal situation to actually stop you from filming.

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    Be Nice

    The best way to avoid all of these problems is to let everyone know ahead of time, post signs saying that you are filming, and be as efficient as possible. If everyone around knows and respects you and the video crew you are working with then the likelihood that they will take legal recourse is small.

Film Production Forms for Location Filming

Here are articles outlining how to create production and legal forms for location film production.
  1. Putting Together a Location Receipt
  2. Basics of Location Planning
  3. Using a Location Agreement
  4. Constructing a Location Information Sheet
  5. Legal Considerations When Shooting in a Public Location