Busy, atmospheric and architecturally diverse, London has played a starring role in countless blockbuster films and popular TV shows.
From urban cityscapes and iconic buildings, to riverside views and idyllic parks, the UK’s capital city offers any filmmaker a veritable cornucopia of locations and settings in which to film. But it’s not quite as simple as just grabbing a film crew and turning up.
London is a busy place that is comprised of 32 boroughs (not including the City of London which is its own authority). It’s therefore important before you even start thinking about planning your shoot, to know what permissions and requirements are for filming where you want to film.
How To Make Sure Your London Filming Is A Success
Before you start your great London based brand film shoot, here are a few pointers you would do well to keep in mind:
Know Your Costs
Filming in London’s public streets, in general, does not cost anything. There are, however, some cases where the Borough Film Service will charge fees (e.g. for waste disposal, admin services, road closures, traffic management, etc). Quite often this will be as simple as gaining a Notice of No Objection from the borough in question, which can be free or cost anything up to £100.
Borough Councils aren’t likely to charge you a lot for filming in public but, depending on the size, length and complexity of your shoot may charge you for:
- Parking suspensions
- Waste disposal
- Film Officer inspections
- Fees for filming in or around council owned buildings (schools, housing estates, town halls, etc)
Private businesses and properties, on the other hand, will likely charge you a fee or ask for compensation, especially if you’re going to potentially disrupt their business in any way.
Plan your Travel Time
London is by far the most populous city in the UK, so don’t underestimate its size and how quickly it gets congested. If you’re shooting at multiple locations, check your map to see how far each area is apart and if possible always avoid travelling in the dreaded London ‘rush hour’ (which despite its name suggests lasts longer than an hour – usually between 07:30 and 09:30 and 17:00 and 19:00).
You wouldn’t want to miss the best times of day because you’re stuck in traffic and travelling by road may be inevitable if you’re transporting a lot of heavy gear. If you can avoid it though, then London’s public transport system (underground and overground) is by far the quickest way to travel around the capital.
Unless you’re willing to take the risk, almost every popular location in London needs a permit in order to film. If you’re using a small film crew without lighting, you may well get away with it, but taking the risk and getting caught may land you with a fine. It will certainly disrupt your filming schedule though and this could work out more costly in the end.
First, make sure that what you’re doing is legal. Some government offices may prohibit filming on streets in front of them and all embassies will have a heavy police presence and will object to you filming outside them. If your video focuses on people in the background, ask for their permission first. If you are capturing the public front and centre in a shot, make sure you have a release form and capture their permission there and then, it can be a painful exercise later.
If you’re an international crew, you will have a different set of rules that you need to comply with compared to UK based crews.
You also need to have your public liability insurance certificate on hand. If you don’t have insurance yet, then this is an absolute must. This should always be accomplished before you even think of starting to film. It’s really not worth taking the risk.
Lastly, every borough has their own legal limitations for filming. We’ll discuss these in more detail in the latter part of this article.
Find your Perfect London Location
The most crucial part is finding the best location that will fit your video’s story. London has an abundance of fantastic locations of every description. Whether you want busy streets, distinct and instantly recognisable landmarks, obscure places that are off the beaten track or simply want to capture that distinctive city skyline in your brand film, London has it all.
When sourcing a location, do keep in mind that you may well have to consider:
- Negotiating fees on private properties, when possible
- Sourcing backup locations, in case of delays or any unforeseen circumstances
- Required licenses and permits
Working with a Location Manager
If you’re not familiar with London, then it pays to work with a location manager, who will have a comprehensive understanding of the logistics and paperwork involved with London filming. Location managers will have relationships with local authorities and will be far more likely to negotiate with the individuals involved in signing off permits to film.
Know the Law on Filming in Public Spaces
Before you begin filming in London, you should have a firm understanding of the law surrounding filming in public spaces. Some of these laws may be specific to parts of London and some may be UK wide. There is a Code of Practice (PDF) and a set of statutory requirements that all video production companies and film crews must abide to. If you’re not familiar with these, then your production team should be.
There are specific laws surrounding the filming of buildings in London. This may be for reasons surrounding the representation of trademarks and logos, defamation and passing off. There are security issues connected to filming outside or around certain buildings in London as well, like the Houses of Parliament and Embassies.
Finally, there are laws concerning privacy that may affect you filming people going about their business in a public space. If possible you should get written consent from everyone you are filming. If this is impractical then you should try to put up signs indicating that you are filming in this area, at all entry points. For more on this, Film London has loads more advice.
Make sure you have Media Insurance
Another legal requirement for filming in London is media insurance. This should contain public liability insurance that covers the entire course of the shoot, including all the preparation and travel time, to and from. Media insurance may well become invalidated if you do not follow statutory health and safety practice, so it’s important to know the law surrounding this.
The amount of insurance you will require will depend on the size and scope of your shoot but a minimum should be 2 million. Non-UK based film crews cannot be insured by a UK insurance company so you will either need to think about working with a London based production company, or using an insurance broker in your own country. If you opt for the latter, then you will still need to check that your insurance policy is accepted by the location owner or Borough Film Service beforehand.
Filming in London has many challenges, but the rewards are also significant. Not only does London offer some of the most iconic backdrops and buildings in the world, it is also a huge space filled with lucious parks, woodland spaces, gritty streets, urban vistas, railway stations, tunnels, riverside views and historic architecture.
In terms of finding that perfect location, you can’t really beat London in our view.
For more information on filming and how we can help you, get in touch with our Soho Office.