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5 Things You Should Know About Filming On Location


As the old saying goes: “When you ASSUME, it makes an ASS of U and ME.”

The very first lesson I was taught on Day 1 as a Camera Assistant was to never assume anything! EVER! And when it comes to Filming Permits the same rule applies.

As Brits we say “It’s better to be safe than sorry” (with a cynically patronising smile) – You American’s have a more coloUrful and memorable approach with “COVER YOUR ASS!”… but the sentiment is the same.

Filming Permits not only protect onscreen talent/contributors and property owners but the Film Production as well, and without the correct Release Forms a project will not secure distribution.

Verbal contracts are NOT enough. You need it in black and white on the page in an irrevocable Release Form, signed and dated by the individual releasing their image or granting the right to film on their property. Release Forms specify key facts about the production such as:

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“Boilerplate” General Release

  1. WHO / WHAT is being filmed.

  2. That the individual KNOWS they are being filmed.

  3. WHERE they are being filmed.

  4. WHEN they are being filmed.

  5. WHY they are being filmed.

  6. What PAYMENT they received for being filmed.

  7. HOW you intend to use the footage.

  8. What RIGHTS you have to the footage.

  9. HOW LONG you have these footage rights.

  10. In what MEDIA the footage will be used.

  11. And is SIGNED and DATED by the individual being filmed or property/material owner agreeing all of the above.

If you’re filming material for commercial use, then you must have the correct documentation; once signed make copies! DO NOT lose or destroy your releases –  keep them forever!

So let’s take a look at the TOP 5 FILMING PERMITS you need to know about: 


General Appearance Releases are used in Documentary filmmaking and protect non-actors from being misrepresented and their image being misused by the Production.

Once signed, the Production must honour the terms of how that contributor specifically agreed to appear.

For example: You cannot ask a NASA Scientist to sign a general release having been interviewed for a documentary about the triumphs of the Apollo Lunar Landings, and then edit and twist their answers to produce a Moon Hoax Documentary.

Not only is this morally wrong, but it’s breaking the law; by misusing the footage you have not honoured the terms of the legally binding Release Form. You’ll be legally required to remove their image from your production and likely face a lawsuit for your deceptive and fraudulent behaviour. Shame on you!

But General Appearance Releases also protect the Production from having any individual later misclaim that they were filmed without permission or that you now no longer have the right to use their image.

If you have their signature on a correctly written and signed Release Form, you have the legal right to film and use the footage of that person in the agreed project, edit the footage however you wish as long you remain faithful to the agreed project, and are able to exploit that project across the world (sometimes the universe!), across all existing and yet-to-be-invented media, for ALL time.

So, CYA and get it signed.


Talent Releases are used when filming professional actors or models.These can be more complicated as there is generally a Talent Agent involved in the rights and payment negations, but the main principles of the General Release apply.


Minor Releases are used when filming children or teenagers and must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Again, these releases are slightly different for obvious reasons but are as important, if not more important, than the General/Talent Release.


Private Location Releases protect property owners by ensuring that their property appears as agreed and is left in the state it was found (if not better) and that any damage caused to their property by the crew during filming will be compensated.

Shooting in or on privately owned property requires the owner (or person with the authority to grant permission) to sign a Location Release form, and without this permission you cannot legally film on that property. Have you never wondered why the paparazzi can’t chase celebrities as they hide inside buildings?! It’s because they don’t have permission to film or photograph in that privately owned shop/hotel/restaurant.

Confirm the property owner legally granted you permission to film by getting them to sign and date a Location Release Form in ink on the dotted line.

And remember, private properly may not always appear private; some ‘public spaces’ such as parks are not always public property and are generally owned by the council, so don’t be caught out.

Public Location Filming Permits are issued by local governments or councils, acknowledging the presence of your film crew and granting you permission to shoot at a chosen location. These permits are always required for larger productions with full crews, detailing the specifics of the shoot; location, date, time, equipment, personnel, special effects, actions and stunts.

Every city has an office that grants filming permits and you (or your Location Manager) must begin obtaining a permit in pre-production, well in advance of your proposed shoot. If you’re filming a smaller project a filming permit may not be required, but it’s always a good idea to notify the local authorities to let them know what you’re up to.


Materials Release Forms ensure that you have been granted full permission to use photographs, video, film or other media which may be copyrighted or owned by others.

Sometimes you may find yourself filming in an art gallery (having got a Location Release of course!) but you have not got permission to film a piece of art that’s hanging in the background.

Likewise you may be filming a scene in a car with the radio on but have not got the correct permissions to use a) the performance of the radio presenter b) the copyrighted radio show content and c) the copyrighted music they’re playing.

Pay attention to Materials around you and how they may feature in your project; whether they do intentionally or unintentionally – you still need a Materials Release signed by the copyright holder.


Firearms & Weapons Permits are vital if you intended to film with such items. You must ALWAYS inform the local authorities about your intentions (especially if in a public space!) and get their permission and assistance. Or even better, work with a qualified and certified Film & TV Armourer who will support and advise you on the best course of action. 

If you start roaming the mean streets with a Samurai Sword in one hand and shotgun in the other, it’ll be literally minutes before you’re surrounded by a SWAT team and thrown in the slammer! And don’t for one minute think “But I was making a movie” will let you off the hook!

So don’t be an idiot and get a PERMIT!




So there you have it; a rundown of what you need to know about Filming Permits and Releases.

In the video below, Elliot tells you about what you need to film abroad. When filming in another country, it’s incredibly important to make sure you have the correct paperwork before you record anything… as you’ll see… 

DISCLAIMER: Please always seek professional legal advice when using Release Forms.

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