THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FILM AND VIDEO PRODUCTION IN NYC
If you’re thinking about shooting your next film or video production in NYC, then you have stopped at the right place. This guide will attempt to provide you with all the information and links to resources that will help you pull off your next NYC video production flawlessly.
One of the most consistent requests we get from our clients is for information about all the paperwork and business side of filming in New York City. This post is about that ever-important piece of paper that few businesses or filmmakers obtain–or even know how to obtain location and shoot permits in New York City.
THE LEGAL SIDE OF SHOOTING VIDEOS OR FILMS IN NYC
One of the most overlooked parts of making your shoot “legit” in terms of being within the law and being “professional” is obtaining a filming permit. A location shooting permit or filming permit, is a document that gives you permission (usually from local, city, or federal governments) to be shooting in public places. I know that the process can seem a little intimidating if you have never applied for a permit before, but once you know the basics, the process is rather easy, and is actually quite similar from agency to agency. In this post, I’ll cover when you need a permit, who to contact, and when to apply for one.
WHEN DO YOU NEED A PERMIT?
A film permit is required when the project has any commercial value. If you are just walking around with your camera and shooting casually, you generally don’t need a permit. You will, however, need a permit if you are filming on public property OR if your shoot will impact others and/or the environment. The threshold varies from location to location.
The Mayors Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting issues permits to productions filming on location in the City of New York and provides free police assistance, free parking privileges and access to most exterior locations free of charge. Not all filming activity requires a permit.
The following productions do not need a permit in the city of New York. Productions using hand-held cameras, cameras on tripod, hand-held props and/or hand-held equipment, not asserting exclusive use of City property, not using prop weapons, prop vehicles, stunts, actors in police uniform and not requesting parking privileges for production vehicles do NOT need a permit. Standing on a City sidewalk, walkway of a City bridge or within a City park while using a hand-held camera and not otherwise asserting exclusive use of City property is NOT an activity that requires a permit.
If your project is meant to be distributed and sold, you need a permit—probably even a few. Something you’re making for your own enjoyment and for that of your friends and family? No permit required. However! For all of the YouTubers out there, since the videos you’re creating are considered commercial, you’re going to need a permit too.
APPLY FOR THE PERMIT
Start by making contact. Call them. Let the agency know that you’ve found the forms online and that you plan to get a permit. Make certain that your location is covered under their jurisdiction. Ask questions. Let them know when and where you hope to shoot and find out if there are any conflicts during your proposed time. Also, ask if there is anything that you’ve overlooked about the process so that you can ensure you get the application correct the first time.
Allow yourself enough time. Some permits can be processed quickly, within a few days, while others require up to 10 days or even more. Read the fine print… carefully. There can be hidden information. This is an official government form and each agency can be very specific about what they need and how they need it. Don’t be intimidated, just be thorough.
PAY YOUR FEES AND/OR DAMAGE DEPOSIT
Get your certificate of insurance. This is a document from your insurance agent that proves that you have liability insurance (protects you if someone gets hurt, damaged, etc). This is necessary for most permits; However, If you don’t have this insurance for your company, you CAN get short term insurance for just the shoot. Call your agent.
Fulfill any additional requirements of the permit. These requirements may include: police assistance, parking passes, community notification, rules of the area, etc. The agency, their website, or the forms will help direct you to these resources.
Make sure you receive the final signed permit. You MUST have the final permit with you at all times. THIS IS ESSENTIAL! Rangers, city officials, security guards, and police really will stop you and ask to see your permit. The bigger and more intrusive your shoot, the more likely you’ll be asked.
If you don’t hear back, don’t assume the worst. Be proactive and follow up politely. Don’t underestimate the power of the phone call. These folks are BUSY. Remember that the city sees shoots as an economic benefit and they want your business.
Some cities have roving permits, which allow you to cover a much more broad area with your permit (instead of designating a specific street or streets). This may be available if you have a very small crew, aren’t disrupting traffic or pedestrians and don’t have much equipment.
Some locations will have different permits for different size crews. If you can keep your crew small, you can keep the permit much cheaper and simpler.
MAKE SURE YOUR LOCATIONS HAVE BATHROOMS
Remember that being on location is like a guest in someone’s house. Treat everyone and the location in a way that would make them want to invite you back.
FILMING ON PRIVATE PROPERTY
Shooting on private property? This is different. If the location is not public, just contact the owner directly for permission. You may still pay a location fee, but you will likely have a rental agreement in lieu of a permit. Don’t forget your location release!
FILMING LIABILITY INSURANCE
Liability insurance is needed for those who obtain a required permit. If an applicant can demonstrate that obtaining the required insurance would impose an unreasonable hardship, OFTB may waive the need for liability insurance.
In addition, student filmmakers can meet their liability insurance obligations through coverage under their school’s insurance program. Learn more about liability insurance.
FILMING IN CITY PARKS
Filming in city parks, interiors within city buildings, bridges, subways or tunnels require additional permissions from the controlling entities. Here we will highlight just a few of our favorite locations to film in New York City.
COMMERCIAL FILMING IN CENTRAL PARK
Photography and filming in Central park is generally welcome, if you follow some guidelines. You can read more about this on the Central Park website. Film companies are responsible for any and all damage to Park property.
All areas should be left in the condition in which they were found. Any damage must be reported to the Conservancy and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment immediately. In order to film or photograph in Central Park, please submit this request form.
Once you receive approval from the Conservancy, apply for an official permit with the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. All materials brought in by a production company, including trash, must be removed from the Park. Film companies are responsible for any and all damage to Park property.
All areas should be left in the condition in which they were found. Any damage must be reported to the Conservancy and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment immediately.
All vehicles on Center Road must be pre-approved by the Conservancy’s Film and Special Events staff. Center Road is heavily used and cannot be exclusively utilized for production parking. All vehicles must be parked on one side in a single file row. Vehicles or production equipment cannot block walkways. Exposed cables must be covered with cable ramps.
FILMING AT GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
Anyone is free to take pictures or video inside Grand Central Terminal. However, if you will be using professional equipment, or you will be using your content for commercial purposes, you will need to get a permit through Metro-North’s Corporate & Public Affairs Department.
FILMING ON THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY
Please stand clear of the closing doors. Huh? Yes, you heard right. That’s the type of direction you can expect to hear in the New York City subway system, where filmmakers and television producers have come for decades to add depth, texture and realism to any story that takes place in New York City.
The Subway is one of the coolest film sets you can work on. It’s a metropolitan petri dish teeming with life and activity. Generally, as long as you have nothing on the ground (i.e. a tripod) you can’t get in trouble. However, if you want your film or video shoot to run without a hitch. We recommend making sure you have all your ducks in a row.
The responsibility of overseeing special events at the MTA falls to the Film and Special Events Unit of Strategy & Customer Experience. NYC Transit offers an invaluable resource to filmmakers.Several types of productions are handled through the office, including commercials, television shows, music videos and major motion pictures.
FILMING AT PENN STATION NY
Generally speaking, small video productions that do not require a lot of equipment are permitted. If you follow the PENN station filming and media guidelines.
Tripods are allowed in public areas but must be attended at all times and may not disrupt passenger flow or station operations. Tripods and ancillary lights are not allowed on station platforms due to safety concerns. Live shots inside Penn Station must use “wireless” equipment..
Amtrak Corporate Guidelines on Photography and Video Recording states: The taking of photographs and/or videos is permitted within public access areas on Amtrak property and as otherwise stated in Section III. In emergency and/or special circumstances.
For example, a declared elevation of Homeland Security Advisory System to High or Severe – orange and red – and where actions are deemed suspicious or inconsistent with this policy by observing/reporting persons, photographers and videographers may be approached and questioned to determine if further investigation or action is necessary.
Photography and video recording within restricted areas are prohibited. Individuals found in a restricted area will be subject to investigation and possible arrest and seizure of photography and/or video recording equipment may occur pursuant to the arrest.
This policy applies in all circumstances, including where Amtrak may be promoting a photography contest or event. Commercial and Special Photography. Prior arrangements must be made with Amtrak’s Real Estate Department at (215) 349-1956 for approval.
The above guidelines apply to Amtrak-managed, public areas of the station. For access to Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)/NJ TRANSIT public areas, media are encouraged to reach out to the appropriate media/public affairs office(s) for the respective railroad.
FILMING IN TIME SQUARE
Outdoor events in the city of New York require a city permit. The Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management’s Street Activity Permit Office (CECM / SAPO) issues permits for street fairs, festivals, block parties, farmers’ markets, commercial/promotional and other events on New York City’s streets and sidewalks.
Contact Damian Santucci, Director of Production with the Times Square Alliance: (212) 452-5239; DSantucci@TimesSquareNYC.org.
WHERE TO RENT GEAR & EQUIPMENT
New York City is the epicenter of TV and film productions. If you’re planning a production, chances are you’ll need some kind of additional gear to get the job done. Here is a comprehensive list of reliable vendors for camera equipment rentals in New York City.
Beginners tip: plan your shoot a week or two in advance if possible and call around. Most rental houses encourage their customers to get insurance, so you’re not on the hook for completely replacing damaged or lost gear. With an abundance of time, you can find good deals on insurance without worry.
1. Adorama Rental Company
Manhattan: 50 W.17th St. New York, NY 10011
Brooklyn: 370 19th St. Brooklyn, NY 11215
If you’ve rented gear in the New York area before, you may or may not be aware that Adorama has moved into a vastly expanded space in Manhattan and also opened up an 18,000-square-foot shop in Brooklyn. ARC rents a full range of still and motion cameras, lighting, and grip equipment. They’re a one-stop-destination for all sorts of shoots. Rentals are generally due back by 9:30 a.m. One of their specials, however, is that if you rent on Thursday after 4:30 p.m. (or on Friday) and return by noon on Sunday, they’ll only charge you for one day. Please note that they close at 2 p.m. on Friday, and they’re closed on Saturdays.
2. Scheimpflug Rentals
Manhattan: 546 West 48th St. New York, NY 10036
Queens: 43-10 21st St. Long Island City, NY 11101
Like Adorama, Scheimpflug has a second location outside of Manhattan in Queens. “Flug,” as they’re known in the industry, is probably the biggest rental shop in New York and tends to get out in front of technology, so they may give you ideas for doing things on your shoot that you hadn’t thought of. In addition to cameras and lighting gear, they rent trucks, vans, pop-up tents, heaters, and generators. They have everything for still camera shoots as well as film and video productions. For convenience, they’re open seven days a week.
3. CSI Rentals
Manhattan: 133 West 19 St. New York NY 10011
Brooklyn: 154 Bogart St. Brooklyn NY 11206
CSI’s second location is in Brooklyn, in case going in and out of Manhattan will slow you down. They have tons of gear, including computers, iPads, specialized gear for shooting on the beach, and more. Their rental discounts go beyond the standard, lower weekend rate. You can get 25% off the day-rate if you rent for less than four hours and you can get single-day rate if you pick-up after 3:30 p.m. and return by 9:30 a.m. two days later. Like many rental shops, CSI sells their used gear, so if you get attached to what you’re working with, be sure to ask how much they’d charge to keep it! Beware that they close at 1 p.m. on Fridays, and they’re closed on Saturdays. Their Manhattan location is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
43 West 22nd St. New York, NY 10010
FotoCare is a smaller shop, with more of a focus on still photography, where you’re less likely to be dwarfed by the full-scale film and TV production rentals going on around you. They’ve been around for 50 years though, so you can be sure they know what they’re doing. The service is outstanding — always willing to answer questions — and they have hundreds of different cameras to ask about. They offer a number of rental options including daily, weekly, and weekend rates. On weekends, if you check out on Friday after 3 p.m. and return by 10 a.m. on Monday, they just charge you for a one-day rental.
5. K & M Rentals
Tribeca: 368 Broadway New York, NY 10013
Brooklyn: 325 38th St. Brooklyn, NY 11232
K&M is packed tight with gear, both for sale and rent. Like FotoCare, they’ve been open for decades, and their staff has character. Regular customers get attached to them. Pros into analog cameras come in to talk shop. What people are learning about them is that they just opened a large rental warehouse in Brooklyn. Their weekend special is one billing day for Friday after 3 p.m. through Monday 10 a.m. If you rent for a month, they’ll just charge you for nine days.
6. Hello World Communications
118 West 22nd St, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10011
If you’re an indie video production looking for some camaraderie, you might want to try Hello World Communications. In addition to renting gear, they’re an active production and post-production house, producing local TV spots, commercials, event videos, and more. And while they don’t have as much gear as other vendors, you’ll find they’re more affordable than the larger rental houses. They’re also open seven days a week, and you can get a weekend rental for a single-day rate if you return by Monday at noon.
7. Focus Gear
225 West 39th St, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10018
Similar to Hello World, Focus Gear specializes in customer service and lower prices for smaller, independent video productions. They have about 25 different kinds of cameras, ranging from GoPros to Arri Alexas, and a wide variety of grip and lighting equipment. As with most rental shops, they have a cut off time for returns of at least 30 minutes before close.
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