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Home » The dos and don’ts of filming in public spaces

The dos and don’ts of filming in public spaces

More and more small businesses coming round to the power of using video to establish their brand presence and promote their products or services.

With the technology to make professional looking brand film, becoming increasingly affordable, a little bit of production knowledge and know-how can go a long way.

Of course, it’s not just a case of grabbing a camera and shooting. A proper video strategy is essential but so too is an understanding of the logistical, technical and legal hurdles you’ll need to overcome, especially if you’re going to be filming outside a studio.

Public places provide a more lively and authentic backdrop to videos. Unlike studio shoots, you get to film life as it goes on with little to no directorial intervention needed.

It does, however, come with its own set of challenges.

While a guerilla approach is possible, you may run into legal issues when you’re in private areas. Logistics will also come into play, especially if you’re choosing a location with high vehicle or foot traffic.

And with GDPR regulations now in effect, members of the public may not take too kindly to being unwitting stars in your video.

To make sure that you don’t miss any details and derail your schedule, here’s a guide for small business owners that you can follow:

1. Planning is key

As a small business it’s likely you won’t have a ton of specialist equipment or in-house video production knowledge.

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You may also not have the budget to commission a production company to produce every piece of marketing video you make (although for your big all-singing, all-dancing brand film, I’d recommend working with professionals).

If you only have limited gear such as a small camcorder or DSLR, then it is tempting to opt for a guerrilla-style approach to shooting in public spaces.

Whilst it’s very unlikely you’re going to get in trouble filming in a public space using equipment like this (although some spaces present more risk than others), it’s an entirely different matter if you turn up with professional cameras, lights and boom mics as this will attract plenty of attention. If you’re filming without a permit, then this could land you with a pretty hefty fine.

Regardless of the filming gear your small business has access to, it’s best that you plan out every step of the way:

Apply for permits

Whether you pick a public (streets, parks) or private place (restaurants, residences), you need permits to freely set up your gear and start shooting.

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If you’re filming in London for example, you will need to find out which one of its 32 boroughs cover the location/s you picked and apply to that council for the correct permits. If you’re filming on private property, you will need permission from the land owner.

Minimise impact on the locals

To avoid being an inconvenience to the general public, pick a time that will not disrupt their daily tasks.

Local shops, bars and cafes rely on a steady footfall, so coordinate with local businesses, days ahead of schedule, and inform them of your plans, so they will know how their services will be affected and adjust accordingly.

Think about travel

If you’re going to be shooting in a big city like London or Bristol, then travel arrangements is a bit part of your logistical planning.

Getting a crew to and from the shoot might seem easy but if you’re going to do it in rush hour, you could end up losing a lot of time stuck in traffic (and don’t even think about getting all that gear onto a tube, train or bus in rush hour).

Assess the roads

If your location is along any stretch of road or street, it’s best that you add more staff to man the side roads and driveways. This way, they can divert any incoming traffic away from your location.

2. Zero in on the right location

Although this still falls under the pre-planning phase, it deserves a separate discussion. The location can make or break the video, as it can affect the logistics of shooting and the impact of storytelling:

Keep your goals and story in mind

Although it’s tempting to choose familiar landmarks, it’s best to stick to areas that would contribute to your video’s goals and story, not distract from it.

Calculate the risks

Whether you’re considering busy airports or the top of a skyscraper, consider your gear, the crew needed, the permits, and the budget needed to carry it all out.

Consider working with a location manager

This would take a lot of the work out of your hands (e.g. negotiating fees and schedule, finding ideal locations, etc.), so you can focus on building your story. It might hike the cost a bit but the payback is more often than not, well worth the investment.

3. Make sure the day of filming runs smoothly

Unless you are causing any obstruction, you won’t run into issues on the day of your location shoot. However, expect that passers-by would get curious and linger around your area. The local authorities may even approach you for questions.

On the day of shoot itself, manage your location by:

  • Coordinating with local authorities for traffic control, permits, and preventing accidents.
  • Printing all the permits you gained and carrying them with you, so you can easily show them to any security or police that would ask for it.
  • Putting up signs around the place to divert traffic, be it people walking past or vehicles driving by.
  • Using long-range radios (e.g. ten-watt or police radios) to better communicate with traffic manager.
  • Installing proper lighting, especially when you’re filming in the night.

4. Follow GDPR guidelines

Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rolled out on May 25th 2018, filming in EU countries entails awareness of the law to not breach the privacy of the public. Take note of the following:

  • Create a contract and release form to be signed by your film crew and artists. Make sure it clearly states that they know and agree to being filmed, as well as for what purpose.
  • Ask for permission (preferably in written form) from any member of the public that will show up in your videos.
  • If the area is too public and too big to get a written consent from each individual, you can instead opt for placing huge and clear signs around the area. Do this ahead of time. When people see it, they’ll know that filming is ongoing and can elect to walk somewhere else.
  • Always ask for written consent from parents of underage children. If not possible, then blur out their faces during post production.
  • Opt for close-up shots, when it’s in a largely public place, so those in the background will not be identifiable.
  • Remove or blur out anyone who requests to not be seen on video.

Although GDPR is strict when it comes to privacy, Section 32 of the Data Protection Act gives the media and art/academia creative freedom to film in public. There are, however, limitations especially when it comes to length and not filming anyone in a private activity.

5. Respect the locals

Regardless of government permits and consent forms, chances are, you’ll be disrupting the locals’ routine. It wouldn’t hurt to be kind and respectful, especially to those whose lives you will affect.

When they ask for questions, answer them. Explain the purpose of your filming and make sure you establish a good rapport with business/residential owners. If you’re bound by an NDA, let them know the context of your video (e.g. a shampoo commercial) instead of the specifics.

For small businesses, videos can help boost branding. You can explain your product or service in a more engaging way and entice them to purchase from you.

When done right, your videos will stick in their minds and increase brand recall.

This article has been written for ByteStart by Evelyn Timson. Evelyn is the Managing Director of Bristol and London video production company, Aspect Film & Video.