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Step Away From the Camera

The ASMP Bulletin’s Year End 2009 issue featured Steve Whittaker’s article STEP AWAY FROM THE CAMERA! The How, When, Where and Why of Film Permits and Certificates of Insurance, a detailed discussion about the importance of obtaining proper documentation before embarking on a photography shoot.


The related online content featured here includes a selection of Whittaker’s images and stories about selected assignments that involved securing permits and dealing with certificates of insurance as well as offering direct links to the local film commissions mentioned in the article.


This San Francisco office tower assignment required the entire building to be illuminated at dusk. The City of San Francisco did not require a film permit since our lights and equipment were not on the streets. As an alternative, we used two adjacent buildings for the camera and lighting platforms. We needed a certificate of insurance for the property owner and property management teams for the building we were photographing, and for the adjacent buildings we used for our lights and cameras.


In this case, we were required to have a film permit for the city of San Jose. We used multiple police officers to close Santa Clara Street and redirect traffic. Multiple certificates of insurance were required to protect the city of San Jose and the other affected groups connected to the assignment.


For this assignment we needed a film permit from the City of Portland and an “OK” from the Film Commissioner, a Noise Abatement Officer, the Fire Marshal and the neighboring homeowner associations. We were going to use the roof tops of three of the adjacent buildings but, at the last moment, two of the home owners associations decided they wanted money, $500.00 per building and did not want us on their roof tops with a concern of roof damage.


The associations tried to block the assignment citing noise and public nuisance at the last minute. The City of Portland’s Film Commissioner came to our rescue acting as a go-between, working with the property managers. Three hours before dusk we received the “green light” from the city and pulled off the lighting of this fifteen-story building and the entire block.


This project required three camera positions with the building illuminated at dusk. The camera positions were on an overpass and at an off ramp to Highway 101. Since we were using Cal Trans property, we were required to make arrangements with the California Film Commission to gain a highway encroachment and a film permit. In addition, the City of Burlingame demanded a film permit. The California Film Commission, The City of Burlingame and the auto dealership required certificates of insurance.


Since we were not requiring a road closure, we were not required to have a California Highway Patrol officer or a Burlingame police officer to direct traffic.



In this case, we needed permission to gain access to multiple rooftops for the best possible view of this building. After multiple contacts, we decided to go with this view and supplied the property management teams of the buildings we needed access to with certificates of insurance along with an assignment schedule to alert their security teams. They in turn gave us a letter of authorization and we gained a client through stock sales of the final images of the building that we covered for that assignment.


Here, we thought we had the permission from facilities until we discovered at the last minute that the client had failed to alert facilities and security team that we were scheduled for the assignment and should have cleared us. We wasted an hour explaining that yes, we were cleared to be there and we came close to losing the dusk shot. We needed access to the buildings for our lighting and three of our contacts that promised us that they would make all of the arrangements never did. This project is one of the reasons that I now deal with clearance, permits, letters of authorization, visitor and camera passes personally to avoid future adventures.


Film Commission State-by-State List

Many of the existing film commissions can help you through the process and in most cases will act as a clearinghouse. Here are links to some of the more prominent film commissions from coast to coast, provided courtesy of Studio1 Productions. Specific counties and cities may have their own requirements and fee structures, so online searching or a direct phone call to inquire about specifics is highly encouraged.


Buffalo, NY
New York City
Washington, DC
New Orleans
Texas: Houston
    Dallas/Fort Worth
Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri
North Carolina
South Carolina
Portland, Oregon
Seattle, Washington


California Film Commission
    7080 Hollywood Blvd
    Suite 900
    Hollywood, CA 90028
    323-860-2960 or 800-858-4749
    323-860-2972 (Fax)


Film Liaisons in California:
California State Parks
National Park Information
BART Bay Area Rapid Transit District
Los Angeles
Marin County
San Francisco Film Commission
Santa Clara
San Jose
San Mateo County
Sonoma-Napa County
Ventura County