The actual rules around where you can film without permission and where you need to have it can seem confusing, with plenty of conflicting advice knocking around. They are actually pretty simple but it’s worth looking at.

At its most basic this area is about mitigating risk. Filming people or locations without appropriate permission can open you up to, at the easiest, claims on your finances and, at the worst, litigation for trespass or defamation.

Getting permission should be contractual in some form, stating the nature of the permission and limiting your liability, both financially and legally. In exchange you should offer, at the very least, some sort of assurance that you will cover any damage and put things back the way you find it. The best way of doing this is just being good and providing assurances that you have appropriate liability insurance. If you are hoping to make money from the feature, you might be expected to pay some sort of fee.

Just to get the most obvious rule out of the way, always seek permission when filming on private property. Theoretically you can film on private land unless expressly prohibited by the landlord, or where permission is required and not been sought but just ask. In our experience to date people are very happy to allow filming. If you look like a big production, inevitably some people will ask for some financial compensation but that’s up to you to haggle. Your producer will probably relish doing this.

Filming the exterior of private property -whilst standing on public land- is completely allowed. You should however bear in mind that property -and its identifying marks or logos- has, in effect, the same standing as an individual when it comes to defamation, so you should not film a property in such a way as to bring it into disrepute, for example filming drug deals taking place outside a MacDonalds. Equally, your filming shouldn’t suggest any specific endorsement through the use of such footage.

As you can infer from the previous paragraph, there is no law that prevents people or the media from filming on public streets.

Those then are the rules in a nutshell. You need permission on private property and none on public streets.

Okay, it’s not as simple as that. A lot of what we think of as public property is actually owned by some governmental body, such as the local council. Whilst public streets are totally legal to film in, a lot of areas such as parks, commons, schools, housing estates, shopping centres and so on will count as private property owned by the council. Social housing, potentially, is also owned by the council or housing association, not the resident.

In London -which you can imagine is fairly on top of all this- certain public places have specific byelaws that mean you need to seek permission. These are places of specific significance and standing such as Trafalgar Square, which is fair enough.

In London every council has a Film Unit which can be consulted for permission to film in/on its property. This may not be the case in other areas of the country. This may be positive as permission may not come at a financial cost of a licence. Equally though, you may find that you get turned down more easily as they won’t understand the area enough to readily grant permission. In either instance you should be prepared to demonstrate -by way of your insurance and a contract- that you can fully indemnify the council against any damages, actions, proceedings, claims, costs and expenses that should any arise as a consequence of use of their land.Check the relevant council’s website for information on permission to film. If you can’t find a page with specific information on filming or photography, try the media team or press office as a first port of call.

Filming from a moving vehicle, either as a tracking shot or from a low-loader into a towed vehicle will most likely require a permit from the local police.

Finally, seeking permission isn’t just about being allowed. What you are filming, and how, can have an impact on others and on safety.

It is always worth making other people aware of what you are doing, especially if it is something that can be misinterpreted and result in the Police being called. Advise the police at a minimum if you’re doing anything that could include the following:

  • There are likely to be public safety issues.
  • Crime enactments are viewable from a public place .
  • The film shoot involves pseudo-liveried emergency vehicles or actors in police or contemporary military uniform.
  • Nudity or perceived nudity is viewable from a public place .
  • Weapons, whether real or props, are used and viewable/audible from a public place.
  • Low-loader or tracking shots are taking place on a public road.
Whilst most metropolitan police forces will have regulations set up for dealing with permits and licenses for filming, in most cases a courtesy call to the local station, to prevent accidental call-outs as a result of your filming, will suffice.
Rules and laws change so do your own homework before you start and get yourself covered.
Obviously this sort of legal and compliant activity is great for a large production but with a permit from a council costing upwards of £250 a half-day the independent or guerrilla filmmaker is not going to be in a position to do this, especially for just basic, non-intrusive, walking around scenes. Without appearing to endorse this approach, here are our recommendations:
  • Try and film somewhere private where you can get quick, easy permission
  • If filming somewhere public, try somewhere quiet, use your own extras
  • Don’t be obvious. DSLRs and wireless mics help a lot here
  • Get in and out quickly
  • Don’t do anything dangerous
  • Don’t use any fake weapons without telling the police. Seriously.

More information can be found here:


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