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Old May 19th, 2005, 10:19 PM   #1
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A Canadian filming a documentary in New York City - anything special required?

I'm a Canadian documentary filmmaker which is thinking of driving down to NYC for a few days to do some interviews. I'd also like to interview some new yorkers on the streets and get their input.

My guess is this is a fairly common occurence on the streets of NYC - random XL1's and DVX100A's found at ever streetcorner. I was just wondering if any sort of permit or anything is required by NYC to do documentary work in the city? (Two person crew: Cameraman/interviewer and Boom operator)

Also, when crossing the border, I assume there's nothing wrong with being a documentary film maker going across for three days to interview people (Who knows what crazy border laws exist these days)

Thanks -
Ari
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Old May 19th, 2005, 11:42 PM   #2
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You're supposed to have a permit for shooting almost anywhere in New York City, but the message I'm getting from the people at the mayor's office and police officers I've spoken with, is that, if you're just a small crew and you're being discreet and using common sense, they won't bother you about it.

They are mostly concerned with the BIG productions that can block a street or intersection. One policer officer explained it this way, it's when you start gathering crowds, stopping pedestrian or motor traffic, wheeling in trailer trucks, and/or large light systems, that they'll approach you very quickly to find out what the heck is going on - and if you have a permit to be there.

Getting a permit makes you official, and it's free!, so it's best if you can get one. But since the insurance can be expensive if you're working out of your own pocket, your second option is to be polite, cooperative, and unobtrusive.

You can find out more details here: (click here) NYC.gov - Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, & Broadcasting
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Old May 20th, 2005, 01:18 AM   #3
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FYI: subways, trains, and stations are all off limits to video cameras
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Old May 22nd, 2005, 03:51 PM   #4
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I've done some run and gun style documentary shooting on the streets of Manhattan and have never gotten permits nor have I been hassled. The people I've worked with said that permits are only required if you are using a tripod.

Like Michael says, if you're a small crew and smart about it, you shouldn't have any problems. If you have a larger crew, lights, power and multiple cameras on tripods, it could be an issue depending on where you are. The permits are free and easy to get albeit with some administrative hassles; the primary requirement is insurance.

As a Canadian living in the USA/NYC myself, I would absolutely not mention the word "work" at all when entering the US. Regardless whether you are "working" for yourself, "working" on a project, or whatever, the Immigration situation at the borders is at a ridiculous level. It sounds like you won't have much equipment, so I'd recommend saying you are just going for a visit; make sure you have answers for things like "where will you be staying" and "how long".

- Stevan
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Old May 28th, 2005, 10:37 PM   #5
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I'll second what Stevan said...the criteria for a permit is the use of a tripod on the street or sidewalk. Discreetly shooting handheld is pretty common and accepted.

Of course, be aware that you will get hasseled by the police if you are causing a disturbance or interferring with the flow of pedestrian or street traffic.

Also be aware of the buildings you are shooting near as there are many security concerns in the city.

So just use common sense and have fun.
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