Permits, Waivers and Insurance

Production Insurance is extremely important and every city or town, parish, county, should require that their jurisdiction be given a ‘Certificate of Insurance’, covering the municipality during the production’s time on municipal property. Some cities/towns will even ask for their city/town to be an ‘Additionally Insured Party’. Whether the production is just parking their base camp in a municipal lot, or they are blowing up a car on Main Street, it is always a good idea to have your municipality insured. It is customary that the Certificate of Insurance be an umbrella policy and in an amount per incident no less than $1,000,000 (One Million USD). If a major stunt or aircraft are involved, that amount should be higher. Student productions are often not required to have a permit, but should always have insurance supplied by their college or university.

An important question that cities and towns often have is whether or not they need to have a film permit process in place. In the past, there were many situations where filming took place with a handshake between the production and the municipality. But we live in more complicated times, and it is advisable to have some sort of formal agreement that at least outlines what a production is being given permission to do and when this is to take place.

Productions will always be looking for maximum flexibility to change the times and even dates of the filming, and the exact details of where and what will be filmed. Here are some examples:

1. The production shot very late the day before and with ‘turnarounds’, the next day of filming needs to start 2 hours later than planned. This requires changes to filming times. (A turnaround is the amount of time off between filming days set by the unions and guilds to allow crew and actors a proper amount of rest)
2. The scene to be shot is outdoors and a major rainstorm forces the production to change their shooting day to an interior ‘cover set’. This requires a date change.
3. The company arrives on location and is set to park their trucks on the east side of the street and film on the west side of the street. When the director arrives, however, he or she changes his or her mind, and wants to reverse this.
4. The company is setting up for a shot with a camera crane occupying the parking lane of a downtown street, but quickly realizes that the way in which the crane is set, the handling of the crane by crew is too close to the driving lane to be safe for both the crew and the public.

Examples 1 and 2 are so commonplace that they should be included when permitting is being done, at least hypothetically. Asking ‘what if’ at the time of permitting will relieve stress when the inevitable happens. As for alternate dates, this may not be possible to gauge due to complex scheduling, but often the next day or another day of the same week can be considered. On the part of the municipality, if there are dates that are out of the question (i.e. there is a parade, a special event, utilities or street maintenance to be done) this should be made known to the company from the start.

Example 3 involves a creative change and one could argue that it could have or should have been planned. While this may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a problem needing to be solved. In this example, both sides of the street were going to be occupied anyway, and it may not be impossible to make this change. Unless a change affects the traffic flow, requires a detour or change to a detour, this sort of change can often be accommodated.

Example 4 involves poor planning, but again, that does not change the fact that there is a problem to be solved. A seasoned location manager may have anticipated this and arranged for the company to take over both the parking lane and one lane of traffic and permitted accordingly. But creative and operational changes cannot always be anticipated. In this scenario, there are only two choices: either the crane is not used or the camera moves are done differently, or the city or town says “yes” to the changes as long as the police detail on site agrees that they can do this safely and without major disruption to traffic. A compromise might be that the company is granted two hours to get this done, but those two hours must be after morning rush hour and before evening rush hour.

The most important thing to note here is that the examples given here happen every day on a film set. The more a municipality is knowledgeable of typical changes, the less stressful the inevitable changes will be and the more creative the solutions. Saying “no” should not be the very first solution. Talking through the various solutions with the production should be the rule of thumb. There will be times when “no” is absolutely necessary. Just know that the imperative for the company is to keep shooting and if even an hour is lost of the shoot day, this can have a devastating effect on a production and can literally mean tens of thousands of dollars lost.

As a film liaison, it is advised to look very carefully within your existing laws or ordinances for things that could discourage or even deter film activity in your municipality. Some things are more obvious than others. Here are some examples:

o No nighttime activity
o No activity prior to 7AM or after 10PM
o Noise ordinances – an ordinance that would prevent a production from doing blank gun shots.
o Building restrictions as in height, type, or the requirement to build to code.
o Trucks and/or equipment not allowed on streets
o Parking restrictions
o Electrical restrictions
o Catering
o Tents
o Removal of signage
o Detours

If any or all of these restrictions exist, you may eventually create a Film Ordinance in your jurisdiction that exempts these laws – or, very common, is to have a waiver system in place – so that films, being one-time and temporary activities, can be legally exempted from the general ordinances.