Production Tips: Dealing with Locations



Location Contracts protect both the owner of the location as well as the filmmaker/production company. Your upcoming shoot depends on the location to be ready and open so you can film. It also depends on all the details you spoke to the property owner about. Let’s say you talked about being able to use the pool for your shoot, and you get there and the pool is drained… what are you going to do if your scene is about a child learning to swim in the same pool his great grandfather learned to swim in? What if you were also promised that you could park 20 cars in the driveway but when you get there the homeowner is yelling at your crew to park somewhere else? You have a problem.

A location contract is typically a signed contract between a property owner and a Production Company, or whomever is responsible (most times the one who provides the insurance). Having a contract in place may not stop a property owner from going back on their word, but it will at least put in writing what is expected of the property, what the production needs and what the property owner expects of the Production Company. An added bonus to having one is that you will look professional and respectful to the owner if you have a contract you would like signed. Bringing a crew to somebody’s home or office can be very stressful for an owner. Having a contract can help ease the fear a bit of allowing 20 people to take over a space for 12+ hours.

I recently produced a film in a small town in another state. Handshakes were known to be as good as contracts. I was not thrilled with this idea, but I did not want to rock the boat. Well… this way of working did not work at one of our locations. We were shooting in a bar with a big grassy area behind it that we discussed using for catering/background holding. It was summer in the South, so a large pop up tent for shade was the least we could do for people. We hired a company to set up and strike a large canopy, with tables and chairs for us. Well, on the day of the shoot, the canopy was there at call, filming was going well and then all of a sudden, about 3-4 hours into the day, I noticed a gentleman starting to take away the tables, chairs, and the stakes holding the canopy. Apparently the bar owner was good friends with the owner of the canopy business. The bar owner had called the canopy company and asked him to take it down because they were hosting an outdoor movie night that evening and he wanted to make sure we were not in the way of the event.

Small towns…everyone knows everyone else. Instead of calling myself or another producer to let us know there was a problem, the bar owner decided to take matters in his own hands (same with the canopy owner). Because, we did not have anything in writing, my film had no grounds to argue with the bar owner. The other producer and I were able to good cop-bad cop our way thru a nasty argument with the bar owner, allowing the canopy to stay until we had crew meal. We compromised and got through the day. This was not a great way to solve the problem, but we were going up against a business owner and his concern for making money. His anger quickly escalated and he was no longer civil. The way this problem was solved was very messy and could potentially have been avoided.

Looking back, I should not have allowed a handshake to take the place of a signed contract. As an experienced producer, I know to trust my instincts and I did not follow it that time.


Location Permits go hand in hand with Location Contracts. A location permit is basically an agreement between the filmmakers/production company and the city or county you will be shooting.   Depending on where you film, you have to reach out to the city/county or state film Commission to make them aware that you would like to shoot. You will need to give them a lot of info about the shoot and they will hopefully approve it. Depending on what the rules are where you will be filming, you might have to pay fees.

Generally the fees paid for filming go towards keeping the film commission running, but there could also be fees for police officers, shooting after hours and having to let the neighbors know a head of time and sometimes things like street closures. Fees associated with location permits vary greatly from place to place. If you are planning a shoot, it is a great idea to call the local film commission and ask them questions about locations and what kinds of fees to expect. .

In Los Angeles, shooting without a film permit is a very big deal. You can get shut down for not having one, which can be quite costly. A friend of mine was recently producing a shoot in North Hollywood at a small stage. Two police officers stopped by on a routine check up, and asked my friend to see his permit. Well he did not have one because he thought the stage had one. The stage did not have one as it was the production company’s responsibility to pull one. My friend was smart and had production contact the film commission to pay fees to pull a late permit. The police officers only briefly stopped the shoot until they realized that the company was paying for the permit. Once this process started, they handed my friend a misdemeanor and continued on their day. My friend now has to go to court to find out what the fees are. If someone at the production company would have asked about permits and not just assumed, then my friend would not be a criminal…just kidding, that is a bit dramatic…but still, he was given a misdemeanor because of an oversight in permit needs. So now the production company paid the permit fees, late processing fees and the cost of the misdemeanor.

Moral of these two stories… know what paperwork you need and get it.