Filming in public?

edited October 2011 in Filmmaking
I have read many places that taking pictures in public, of people in public, without permission is legal. For the most part if the person has no "reasonable" expectation of privacy, you can take their picture (in the U.S.A). I have heard that film is a little more complicated, so I wanted to get an opinion on this from people who may have experience in this area.
If you are going to film a scene inside a restaurant for instance, and you have the permission of the owner to do so, could you also film your subjects entering the restaurant from the street without getting permission from other businesses around it and the people who may be walking on the street? This would be a non-profit project for publication on the web.
Would it be necessary to get a permit for this type of filming? Or would it be legal since they don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy?


  • There was a lengthy discussion I started on this topic 5 years ago at,124613,124613#msg-124613
    Hope this helps
  • If you avoid people's faces you should be fine. Most of the time privacy is the big reason. A method I use and constantly tell myself is. EVERYONE is in the witness protection program, just best to avoid their faces if their not in your film.
  • edited October 2011
    Hey guys thanks for the replies!
    Darren, at your link I read about something called "Right Of Publicity" so I looked up what my state, (Pennsylvania), has to say about it. According to the website, if your "likeness" has commercial value you can sue but otherwise you can't. I'm not exactly sure that is what it's saying, so I'll probably consult an attorney, (since I know one that will talk to me for free).
    Oh and thanks for the tip FC!
  • If you see them walking into the restaurant, then you would see the front of the restaurant. You would need permission from the restaurant owner to use the image of the shop exterior. You would also need to message your local council for permission to film outside in the street.
    My location manager knows all this, its a nightmare tbh.
    Guerrilla film making All the way.
  • edited October 2011
    Could I then, get around all this legal issues by taking a still picture of the outside of the restaurant when no one is walking in front of it, and use it as an "establishing shot" maybe do some sort of artificial pan/zoom later, then just film inside the restaurant with the permission of the owner?
    The reason I wanted a video in the first place was for the atmosphere. People walking around, cars driving by, etc. That kind of thing, as well as use it for an establishing shot to tell the audience where the characters were meeting. I thought it would bring the scene a stronger sense of realism.
  • Ok, well ..... if you want that atmosphere, then just ask your council if you can film there. Odds are they will say yes.
  • If you have the owner's permission to shoot the restaurant, why not use an establishing shot shooting upwards off-angle showing the name of the restaurant?
    Unless this restaurant's front is extremely busy, can't you get 5 seconds where no one is walking by?
  • I'll definitely check with the council, Daniel and Darren, no the aren't that busy, I could do that. I don't know. I have a lot of options I never considered. Thanks for the help everyone.
  • edited October 2011
    I'm going to echo "guerilla filmmaking". For the exterior shot, just have the camera somewhere inconspicuous (ie. not on the sidewalk on a tripod) and take the shot. It doesn't have to be a big production the get an establishing shot.
    I used to shoot in public all the time, and only got called out on it once. We were shooting in a laundromat in the middle of the night. No one was around, and the place was open all night so we just went for it. After a couple of hours, a cop showed up and was like "what are you doing?" We said we were shooting a short film. He asked if it was for school, and we said it was just for fun, he said "okay" and left. Granted, no one was around for that, but I've done plenty of establishing shots of buildings, parks, etc. without asking anyone permission, or being hassled at all.
    If your shot is going to be complex, and require lights and equipment, go ask permission and get permits and such. If it's simple, just get the shot. You'll save yourself time and you'll have more fun.
  • Thanks Aculag. It won't require any set up at all so I may just do that.
  • If you've seen the third Bourne film where they film in a huge train type station (it's really famous but can't think of it now). They just shot and got allot of people in the movie who were just walking around. Granted this is like in London or something. Been a while since I watched it.
    I've filmed in a Library before where my main character was on the computer and another guy we didn't know was next to him. We just asked the librarian for permission to film and asked the guy if it was o.k. if he got int he shot. I even approached a stranger once and asked if he would be kind enough to be in the movie and he was more than happy to be in it. I would say usually people are gracious, and at the thought of being in a movie get big stars in their eyes. :)
  • edited November 2011
    "You would need permission from the restaurant owner to use the image of the shop exterior. You would also need to message your local council for permission to film outside in the street"
    I don't know about the USA, but that's certainly not true in the UK. There are no laws to prevent anyone from filming or taking photographs in a public place. Even if you're photographing people or buildings, that's still fine (for the most part, there are a few exceptions - but in general, you don't need permission from the police, the council, or anyone else as long as you're not causing an obstruction or any other safety issues; it's your right to film and photograph in public).
    In fact, the Home Office have just released new guidelines clearing this point up - you can read an article about the guidelines for filming in public places in the UK here, and read the full guidelines here.
    There's also a very interesting short film produced for the London Street Photography festival, "Stand Your Ground" which is worth a watch. Shows you how people (mainly security guards and building owners) don't actually know the law in the UK.
    And Phillip Bloom wrote an interesting piece about filming in public a couple of years ago. It's also worth a read, and it comes with a really handy 'cut-out-and-keep' card from the Bureau of Freelance Photographers which explains the legal situation to any busybodies who might come and try to stop you filming in public.
    Of course, use a modicum of common sense when you're out filming; if someone asks you not to film them, then the polite thing to do is not to film them. But make sure you're aware of your rights!

  • Arktic's post above.

    This is a great post with some very useful links.

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