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Locations are oftentimes leading players in films. You should be aware of the laws governing invasion of privacy and that, usually, permission is required to film on private property, and that using a location agreement is highly recommended. The location process also may include getting a permit to film on public property. And you may be required to provide proof of insurance.

In some cases, you will not need permission or a release. For example, there is an exception in the copyright law that applies to buildings that are located in or are ordinarily visible from a public place. The copyright in an architectural work does not include the right to prevent the making, distribution or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs or other pictorial representations. But it is important to note that some distinctive buildings (or their signage) have trademark protection and that public art, such as sculpture and murals, are protected by copyright.

Just because you have been given permission to shoot on location you are not free to film everything within view. If you are making a narrative film (and not a documentary that would allow you to claim fair use), you may need clearance to show props, setting dressing or other materials that are protected by copyright. Examples include items such as paintings, posters, and anything playing on a radio, television or computer. You should also seek permission to use logos, product labels or anything else that is protected by trademark. Otherwise you could run into legal trouble, especially if the use could be considered controversial or damaging to the trademark owner’s reputation. If you cannot obtain clearance, we suggest that you do not use the item in your film. For guidance, see our advice on getting permission.

Finally, in this section, we include some information about permits, safety and working with animals.

Location Agreements

A location agreement clarifies all the details concerning your access to the property and ensures that you have permission to take and use the footage you shoot. It also protects you from any lawsuits for claims such as defamation and invasion of privacy.

Many filmmakers say their biggest headaches involving locations can be traced back to the contact person. Be sure you are negotiating with the owner or her/his authorized representative. And remember to bring all appropriate paperwork, including permits, to the shoot.

Note: If you formed an LLC or some other business entity in order to make the film, then the business needs to be listed as the filmmaker.

Sample Location Agreement

Permits

Permits usually are required for production on federal, state and municipal property, including parks, historical sites, public streets and sidewalks. Also, you may need a permit for “special filming circumstances,” such as excessive noise. The best source of information regarding permits is your local or state film commission:
Missouri Film Commission

Illinois Film Commission
Complete list of Film Commissions

WARNING! If you are going to use firearms (even realistic looking props), be sure to contact your local police department well in advance of the shoot. Be prepared to pay a permit fee and to reimburse the police department for services provided, such as street closures. Likewise, if you will be using open flames or any kind or pyrotechnics, contact your local fire department. Be prepared to pay a permit fee and for a visit from the fire marshall.

Safety

Safety first. Please take a few minutes to read these articles on firearms, pyrotechnics and stunts. For more detailed information, see the CSATF’s safety committee’s bulletins. The bulletins are prepared and regularly updated by an industry-wide labor-management safety committee for the motion picture and television industry. The list includes advice on topics like working with exotic venomous animals and hot air balloons as well as more common areas of concern, such as firearms.

Animals

You’ve no doubt seen the “No Animals Were Harmed®” end credit, and you want to use it because you didn’t harm any animals. It’s not quite that easy. The “No Animals Were Harmed®” end credit cannot be used by everyone. Actually, it is a trademark owned by the American Humane Society, and it is issued only as the Society’s highest rating for a film. Before issuing the rating and allowing its trademark to appear in the end credits of a film, the Humane Society monitors the production of a film to ensure that no animals are, in fact, hurt during production. For more information, visit the Humane Society’s site.

For safety guidance, visit the CSATF site, which is maintained by an industry-wide motion picture and television safety committee.