Suppose you’re in film school in Los Angeles (as some of you surely are). You’re handed an assignment for a film project, and are told you’ll need to apply for a permit. Trouble is, you have no idea what to do next.
No worries! Call FilmL.A. — the not-for-profit official film office of the City and County of Los Angeles — and request a student permit consultation.
FilmL.A. has invested significant staff resources to assist students and other first-time filmmakers with permit-related challenges. Students who work with FilmL.A. are assigned a full time Student Production Coordinator, whose main objective is to help students navigate the local film permitting process. Students working on senior theses and other more involved projects can also receive free help from FilmL.A.’s Production Planning Department.
In Los Angeles the basics for student filming are very simple. In order to be eligible for a student permit, applicants must be enrolled in a film production class at an accredited college-level institution. Student filmmakers must furnish student ID’s and a letter from an authorized class instructor on school letterhead declaring that the project is for educational, non-commercial purposes. The student’s film project then becomes a school property eligible for coverage under the school’s insurance program. Once this step is out of the way, the rest of the application process can proceed.
A student permit from FilmL.A. costs either $26 or $98 (as little as 1/20th the cost of a standard FilmL.A. permit), and typically takes three business days to process. During this time Student Production Coordinators will cover the basics, such as:
- Location selection, including pre-production scouting
- Obtaining permission from the property owner to film at the location
- Limitations or special requirements for filming in the area
- Type of equipment to be used
- Specific number of cast and crew on location
- Contact information for key production personnel
There are two ways to apply for a student film permit–one paper-based and one using FilmL.A.’s Online Permit System (OPS). First time applicants must use the paper application, while the online option is reserved for students enrolled in “upper-level” production classes (second year students or higher). Registering for an OPS account is simple and straightforward at www.filmla.com.
Student Permit Misconceptions
Here are some of the student permit misconceptions we encounter from time to time:
- PRIVATE PROPERTY: In L.A., the law does not distinguish between filming done indoors or outdoors, or on private vs. public property. Outside of a certified soundstage or studio back lot, all filming requires a film permit. Technically, students even need a permit to film on campus.
- LOCATION PERMISSION: Excepting the public right-of-way, permits coordinated by FilmL.A. do not confer the right to use specific properties for filming. Filming on any property (and even in city parks and buildings) also requires permission from the property owner, who will usually request a fee before giving his or her approval.
- PERMIT EXEMPTIONS: Sometimes, students ask FilmL.A. for permit waivers because of their project size. While FilmL.A. evaluates exemption requests on a case-by-case basis, exemptions are difficult to obtain for all but the lowest-impact student projects. Most of the time a student film permit is required. Permit exemptions are sometimes referred to — incorrectly and misleadingly — as “Rule of Three” exemptions.
- COMMERCIAL USE: It is illegal for a non-student filmmaker to attempt to obtain a FilmL.A. permit at student rates by offering a current film student any kind of inducement (such as a paid or unpaid project role). Students are cautioned to avoid such schemes; those caught submitting fraudulent permit applications have been subject to school sanction, including expulsion.
Student projects can be very elaborate, sometimes rivaling regular productions in their potential neighborhood impact. One student project filmed with insensitivity toward the community can mess things up for those who follow. If you film in L.A. as a student, please adhere to the filming guidelines outlined in your permit. It will reflect well on you and your school, and a film-friendly L.A. is in everyone’s best interest.