Do you need a permit to shoot in L.A.?

Appropriately (I say “appropriately ,” to draw an unflattering comparison between the idea of a permit to film and a bloodsucking vampire), my first experience in LA with these strange little pieces of paper called, “film permits,” was in a graveyard near the UCLA campus.

A friend of mine from school was taking a photography class and wanted to shoot some black and white stills in the graveyard like most film students do once they find out there’s a national cemetery within walking distance of campus. She wanted it to shoot “sort of a period narrative about a man hanging out with lost friends… or something” and I was the only one she knew with a bowler hat and a bowtie. Needless to say, I got the job.

LA Film permitsOf course, we had no money, no crew, and no gear other than her 35mm still camera. I mention this to stress our overall inconspicuousness and harmless look about us as I stood by or gently leaned on old tombstones while she took quiet pictures with no flash. We were nearly alone out there and the day was perfectly cloudy – natural light, better than any bounce board or diffuser box.

After we had taken about ten shots in this lovely morbid landscape (also stressing here that we were in walking distance from a very large school just bursting with students with photography assignments) we noticed a golf cart appearing over the horizon, making a b-line for the area we had been haunting. The cart held an overweight security guard complete with mustache and bad frizzy hair, straight out of Central Casting for one of the “Police Academy” movies. He slammed on his electric brakes in an underwhelming manner that didn’t even make us look up and whined, “EXCUSE ME.”

This emotionally fulfilled guard of the cemetery started asking us if we had a film permit. My friend and I looked at each other like he was speaking a different language. We had to honestly ask him why we needed a permit to take some pictures in a public cemetery with no posted signs telling us otherwise. He proudly stated that we could get in a lot of trouble if we didn’t pay the city for the privilege of capturing images within its municipal limits. When we asked how much one of those permit things cost (hoping he would charge us five bucks and leave us alone), he let us know that they were, “more than you two can afford, especially the fine for not having one.”

Needless to say we immediately took off, completely confused and sure that this guy was just looking for a pay off. The next day my friend met me again to shoot, but this time in the privacy of her apartment. She said that she had told her photography instructor about what had happened and that he had told her in a matter of fact manner , “oh yeah. You need those damn things in L.A., especially students with no money and no crew. That’s just how it’s done.”

For more information on LA Film Permits check out << LA FILM PERMITS >>
For more information on Photography Permit Fees check out << LA PHOTO FEES >>

Vlad Peters: DIY Filmmaker

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