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Old September 23rd, 2009, 08:58 PM   #1
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Location legalities for films and short films?

Few questions if you will: :)

1. I know that if you're shooting a film, you need a sign-off to shoot on private property. What about a short film though? Can you still get sued for it even if it's just a short film that's not made to make money? Obviously it'd be a joke lawsuit because they wouldn't sue you, but your corporation that presumably has no assets, but for argument's sake it'd be good to know. :)
2. For feature length films, are you pretty much ok to shoot on city property as long as the cops leave you alone? And will they, as long as you're not blocking streets, blowing stuff up, etc?
3. How about shooting features inside, say condo buildings? Sure the suites are private property, but the lobby / hallways, etc would be the condo corp.'s property, right? Would a condo corp sue a movie producer for filming in their building without paying them? Because I've never heard of them suing anyone at all - they're just building managers here.
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Old September 24th, 2009, 11:51 AM   #2
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(I'm not a lawyer, and my thoughts should not be construed as legal advice - hopefully Paul Tauger will chime in with more authoritative views...)
1. Aside from the issues of getting caught by the owner/police for tresspass, if you publicly exhibited a film, for example on youtube, that you;d taken without permission on someone's property you can be sued, regardless of the whether it's long, short, commercial, etc. Whether they choose to sue you depends on whether they might want to make an example of you, or even if they thought that it might be profitable to do so.
2. I'm not sure that City property (e.g. town hall, etc.) is the same as public property, but from a practical perspective, unless you indicate in the film that you've done something dumb/illegal on public property (like hanging from the city clocktower), no one is likely to bother to retro-actively go after you or check for permits. I remember asking the same question of the SD film commission chief.
3. Correct, you would likely not have a right to film in shared areas of a condo without authorization. Whether anyone would sue you depends on if they saw or were notified of the breach, and whether it was in their interests.

My guess is that being at the end of a law suit is unpleasant, stressful, timewasting and potentially costly, whether the suit has merit or not. Try to find ways to film where you have permission or are creative about alternatives. The reason filmmakers usually get comprehensive/iron clad location waivers and personal releases is that they don't even want to get to the stage where they could reasonably be sued.

Just my 0.02c worth
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Old September 24th, 2009, 11:54 AM   #3
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1: The length of the film doesn't enter into it ... long, short, even one single still photograph, if you're going to show it publically, even if no money is involved, you better get a release. While you can shoot private property visible FROM a public location without prior permission, shooting ON the property, even just setting foot on it, requires you to get permission.

Suing your "corporation" ... ARE you formally incorporated with all the paperwork in place? If you're not, any lawsuit would be against you personally. And no lawsuit is a joke.

2: Depends on where you're at. While you might be able to shoot in West Podunk with permission if you don't get in the way, try it on the streets of New York or LA and they'll shut you down in a hurry. Some jurisdictions require permits for ALL filming, even inside of private property like inside a home. Check with your local permit authority or film board to find out what is required where you want to shoot.

3: The condo lobby might be a public space but the "public" referred to is the condo residents and their guests under their supervision. It still is private property and you're only allowed to be there with permission. When a resident invites you in, that's permission to be transit the area or hang out there as their guest (ie, if they invite you to hang out at the pool with them, that's okay). But it's not a public space where you can just enter uninvited and do what you wish. If you were to just show up and try to film, a lawsuit would probably be the least of your worries - more likely you'd be facing arrest and charges of criminal tresspass.
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Old September 24th, 2009, 12:28 PM   #4
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So if you successfully (i.e. without getting chased off by the cops) shoot on public/city property and get away with it, then put the footage into a feature film, will you not having the permits be an issue for a studio buying the film? I understand that they'll 100% need releases for private property, but would I be in the clear if I didn't have them for public/city shoots?
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Old September 24th, 2009, 02:47 PM   #5
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As far as my understanding goes of this from a practical perspective (and again, please don't construe this as legal advise - see a lawyer for real clarification), the answer is no - shooting in public without permits wouldn't matter a bit as far as the studio is concerned. My understanding is that Ed Burns shot much (all?) of the public shots (including on the NY subway) in Brothers McMullen guerrilla style, with no permits and looking around in case they got collared. That film got picked up with no problem.
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Old September 25th, 2009, 01:53 AM   #6
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I remember trying to film on the Boston subway system and getting told that I needed a permit. Turned out the permit was primarily about holding them blameless if I did something stupid (like back up for a better shot and fall onto the track).
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Old September 25th, 2009, 09:54 PM   #7
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I AM an entertainment lawyer, but the following does not constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. If you need a lawyer, hire one. Don't rely on forums, etc for legal advice.

1. Film length doesn't matter. Purpose (commercial or non-) doesn't matter. Lawsuits aren't always about the money. Sometimes they're about restraining orders, court orders, seizure of the equipment used to violate the law, etc.

Private property is PRIVATE, owners have a right to say "No" and to stop you from shooting (and using footage shot on the premises without permission). Rights of Privacy, trespass, etc., can be involved. Think about this. You get sued for trespass by the owner of the property where you shot without permission. The key evidence against you: YOUR FILM! Case closed... You lose! It's so easy, they don't need a lawyer to do it.


2. You generally need a permit from a city, but shooting in public doesn't require signed releases from people who just "happen" to be in the public place. Beware, though, that not all places that are "open" to the public are considered "Public". There IS a first-amendment right to film public events, etc., provided you're not creating a hazard or inciting trouble. Government CAN impose some restrictions on the Time, Place & Manner of your shoot, hence the permit process. Note, however that the more "newsworthy" the events you're filming, (as in a documentary) the less restriction they can impose. With a feature, broader restrictions may apply.

3. Condo Associations CAN bring suit for trespass on behalf of the owners of the building (true, it doesn't happen often, but do you want to be the big test-case?) The important thing is that if a condo owner doesn't like what you're doing, he/she can simply call the police and have you arrested for trespass. Again, your footage is the smoking gun in the case against you.

The bottom line... get permits, permission and releases. It really does cost less (even with the inclusion of lawyers' fees) than cleaning up after you get into hot water about not having them. Sure, you might 'get away with it', but with your film, equipment, and reputation on the line, is it worth the risk?
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Old September 26th, 2009, 07:25 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackie Morton View Post
Few questions if you will: :)

1. I know that if you're shooting a film, you need a sign-off to shoot on private property. What about a short film though? Can you still get sued for it even if it's just a short film that's not made to make money? Obviously it'd be a joke lawsuit because they wouldn't sue you, but your corporation that presumably has no assets, but for argument's sake it'd be good to know. :)
Access to private property is by license only. If you violate the license you're liable for trespass -- criminal trespass. As for suing your corp, what makes you think you're not personally liable?

Quote:
2. For feature length films, are you pretty much ok to shoot on city property as long as the cops leave you alone? And will they, as long as you're not blocking streets, blowing stuff up, etc?
Most cities require a license. If you don't get one, you can be instantly shut down -- if you're all spread out and blocking city streets or sidewalks, you can be arrested.

Quote:
3. How about shooting features inside, say condo buildings? Sure the suites are private property, but the lobby / hallways, etc would be the condo corp.'s property, right?
Right.

Quote:
Would a condo corp sue a movie producer for filming in their building without paying them? Because I've never heard of them suing anyone at all - they're just building managers here.
Cond corporations are not building managers -- they are the corporate owners of the condo, including the common area. You must certainly can be sued by a condo corporation, and, as with access to any private property, you can be arrested for trespass if you violate your license for being there.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 08:12 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Gordon P. Firemark View Post
The bottom line... get permits, permission and releases. It really does cost less (even with the inclusion of lawyers' fees) than cleaning up after you get into hot water about not having them. Sure, you might 'get away with it', but with your film, equipment, and reputation on the line, is it worth the risk?
Gordon, no one would argue with the sentiment; as a filmmaker, I can tell you that in practical terms, it's simply not viable except for well-funded shoots to pay the several thousand dollars a day for any required off-duty police officers and police car rental that's required in many cities, including my own (San Diego) when filming on public property. The cost of the permit is often a drop in the ocean...
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 09:38 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackie Morton View Post
Few questions if you will: :)

1. I know that if you're shooting a film, you need a sign-off to shoot on private property. What about a short film though? Can you still get sued for it even if it's just a short film that's not made to make money? Obviously it'd be a joke lawsuit because they wouldn't sue you, but your corporation that presumably has no assets, but for argument's sake it'd be good to know. :)
2. For feature length films, are you pretty much ok to shoot on city property as long as the cops leave you alone? And will they, as long as you're not blocking streets, blowing stuff up, etc?
3. How about shooting features inside, say condo buildings? Sure the suites are private property, but the lobby / hallways, etc would be the condo corp.'s property, right? Would a condo corp sue a movie producer for filming in their building without paying them? Because I've never heard of them suing anyone at all - they're just building managers here.
Time now for Dave's Double Feature!
"Two for the Price of One"
2 Exciting Stories in 1 Easy Post!

Alright enough rubbish, on the the double feature.....


Hit & Run-N-Gun


So you decided to go ahead and push your luck because hey, everyone does it and you won't get caught right. So you setup at this great location for your short, a condo building that has all of the right stuff for each scene you want to shoot, except for that drug dealer in front of a store scene, but you can pick that shot up later in front of the 7-11.
This opening scene is going to be great, because your buddy borrowed his dad's starter pistol which shoots blanks but looks like a real gun. You have to be quick about this, so you run through once and then start to shoot the scene. Your lead actor backs down the staircase from a condo and runs toward his getaway car in the parking lot, all the while firing his pistol at the other 2 thugs chasing him. You are watching this scene unfold with delight... which is why you didn't realize that elderly woman backing out of her parking place, who's heart is now racing in terror, because she now believes that gunmen are at her condo and you are a TV crew covering the story. She steps on the gas in an effort to get away safely, and as she does her tires squeal loudly. Your buddy holding the reflector to light your actors face turns to see what is going on, and in doing so, reflects light right into the elderly woman's eyes, blinding her from seeing the the young child standing behind her mother's car... that she is about to hit.

...........................................................................
Intermission!

try one of our many tasty treats from the lobby
enjoy great tasting popcorn and a cool refreshing beverage

...........................................................................

Shot Down In Flames


This horror flick you are working on is going to be the bomb!
You hooked up with this gal from school that is doing all the makeup work,
and you found clothes at the resale store that you have weathered, cut, and bloodied up perfectly. And the creme da la crem, not only did you score two 1200w HMIs for your shoot, but you also found this secluded old run down barn type building while you were location scouting last week. It has a pole outside with a power-line running in, and when you go inside and flip the light switch, the light comes on, so you know the power works.
Everyone is excited when they all show up for the shoot, because the inside of this building is perfect for this slash N splash horror thriller! You position the HMI lights to where you think they might look good for the first scene, as your buddy finishes splicing his little adapter and plugs everything in, and Pow! You are knocked to the ground while tightly holding the HMI stand, you can't let go! You are being electrocuted, by the lights protection circuit being melted by your buddy unknowingly trying to mate the 110 volt lights to the 220 volt circuit in the old barn, which was hot wired to the pole some years back, and now there is no fuse or breaker to trip. You are no longer screaming, as your hand and the light burst into flames, your friends are unable to touch you as the power is still live, and now as the flames start to spread and engulf the building they realize that you are blocking the only exit... It's only after 8 months that they find your remains, when the adult children of the man that had owned the property, came by to visit what they had inherited from their father, who had passed away the year before.

..............................................................

We hope you have enjoyed our double feature!
Tune-In Next Week for MOREeeeee EXCITINGgggg DRAMAaaaa!
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Old October 5th, 2009, 09:53 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Gordon P. Firemark View Post
... but shooting in public doesn't require signed releases from people who just "happen" to be in the public place.
This depends upon the use; for news reporting, the first amendment rights are fairly well established, and a news crew isn't going to bother to get releases from people in the street or those passing behind their news reporter during his "to camera" segment. For documentary and fictional narrative pieces (i.e. entertainment), you almost certainly should get releases and/or blur out the faces of those who could be reasonably identified. Studios have quietly settled claims for years from people who have found themselves in feature films because they happened to walk in shot in a location shoot.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 10:02 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by David W. Jones View Post
Time now for Dave's Double Feature!
"Two for the Price of One"
2 Exciting Stories in 1 Easy Post!
(clip wild scenarios of "what could happen if you don't get a permit")

You forgot: stepping on a nuclear bomb that was accidentally left there; being observed by aliens on their way to Orion-Disney who think your film is reality and misguidedly eradicate the human race following an intergalactic war; and accidentally replicating on the floor with gaffer tape the symbol that summons forth the Great Old One Cthulu, thus bringing about a thousand years of darkness and abject terror upon humanity.

I hate it when that happens. But none of that concerns the author's original question.


J.
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Old October 6th, 2009, 10:06 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Jackie Morton View Post
2. For feature length films, are you pretty much ok to shoot on city property as long as the cops leave you alone? And will they, as long as you're not blocking streets, blowing stuff up, etc?
It doesn't hurt to call city hall and ask anyway. I shot twice on public property here in Montreal: the first time I was told that I didn't need a permit as long as we were a small crew not blocking anything (and this was in an extremely posh part of town!), and the second time I obtained a permit for free.


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Old October 6th, 2009, 10:20 AM   #14
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I think Dave's creative responses were addressing the OP's initial point about whether you could get sued or not, and pointing out a lot of reasons why you cold indeed be sued.

However, I think Dave's reasons to be sued would still be valid even if you did have permission so maybe the point is that you need permission AND insurance!
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Old October 6th, 2009, 02:28 PM   #15
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Jim gets free popcorn at the next double feature!
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