On Day 1 of production on I Ship It | Film Permits, LOL
We started our first day at The Iliad Book Shop in North Hollywood, a super charming used book shop that has endless stacks of vintage books and houses the occasional friendly shop cat/kitten. My favorite part of first days of production is when I get to call action on the very first shot of the day.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m generally a very wary producer of my own work, and while my director side is often wildly optimistic about what we can accomplish, my producer side maintains a healthy level of skepticism that this project will ever actually come to fruition, unless she does everything within her power to will it into existence. The first shot of the day is kind of an ‘Aha! There it is! This movie is happening now!’ moment for my inner producer and director to share. My inner writer just kinda hangs awkwardly back and hopes the other two are cool with her just chillin’ in the corner.
Today we had the always lovely Mary Kate Wiles, our leading lady, on set, along with Mitchell Davis, YouTuber/all around pretty cool dude. Our first setup of the day went pretty swimmingly and we wrapped out of the location exactly on time
(okay, 3 minutes over with tail lights… shhhh.) At one point I held an orange kitten named Apollo while his brother Zeus played with a C-stand at my feet. It was great. IT COULDN’T HAVE GONE BETTER.
Then we moved onto our second location of the day, and things went terribly awry. Kinda.
Not really. I mean it could have gone better. But it’s cool, that’s what the built-in safety/pickup day was for.
Fun filming-in-LA-logistics-backstory time:
To film in any official capacity within Los Angeles county/LA-county-operated state parks, you need to first apply for a film permit with FilmLA. Permit applications go for $625/application, and under certain circumstances (i.e., filming in a public park) there are additional hourly fees for having a supervising officer on set if they approve your application.
In my 2+ years of filmmaking in Los Angeles, I have never applied for a film permit. I’ve been able to avoid it mostly by shooting outside the 30 mile radius of LA and in interiors or private backyards / properties within gated communities, all thanks to the kindness of friends/parents of friends. With larger productions, it becomes a cost-benefit issue with the drive time to get to free/cheaper locations as gas expenses and the chances of traffic-related production delays increase with every mile.
Since I Ship It is on the larger scale side of productions I’ve taken on (though our crew is still relatively tiny compared to most professional productions), I tried to find locations central to LA County. But with a tight budget, I decided to budget 1 day for filming in a public park without a permit (that was dumb, past Yulin), and a 2nd day for filming pickups in the park in the event that our first day was cut short due to filming without a permit (that was smart, past Yulin!)
Our production was shut down within 1 hour of arriving at the park (before we managed to roll on a single shot), for permitless filming. Siiiiiggghhhh.
In the days prior to this adventure, I spent a lot of time trying to google “filming without a permit” and “Los Angeles public park” and “risk factor” and “can I get away with it” and “should I do it” and “what should I do” and well you get the picture. In case you are just such a filmmaker who has found this post by googling the same things, let my mistakes be your answer. DON’T DO IT. GET A PERMIT. OR GIVE YOURSELF MORE THAN FIVE WEEKS TO HUNT DOWN A CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES. FILM PERMITLESS IN LA AT YOUR OWN PERIL.
TL;DR - learn from my cautionary tale. Filming without a permit with a crew larger than 3 people in a public space in Los Angeles is never a good idea. We didn’t get fined or ticketed (just reprimanded and given an order to scram) but that’s a very real possibility depending on the mood of the officer who finds you. Always have a backup plan.
I feel I should also add that it’s important not to let setbacks like this get to you or, more importantly, stop you from doing your thing. Filmmaking is hard - anything that requires so many different wheels and cogs to click together in just the right way at just the right time is hard - and after a while, you learn to take it as a given that something will go awry over the course of production. Filmmaking/producing/directing is an exercise in resilience and mastering the art of grace under pressure. I’m definitely still learning and there was definitely a solid 15 minutes where all I wanted to do was just sob into a pile of kittens for a few days. But I know I’m getting better at this because just a couple projects ago, it would have rendered me totally useless for the rest of the day.
I think with experience comes comfort in the knowledge that you’ve managed to pull off all this and more before - I like my own track record, and despite a rocky start to Day 1, I’m feeling pretty good about Days 2-5. The most important thing is that this is all still incredibly, unbelievably fun. Talking with my actors about their thoughts on character intentions/playing with heightened acting styles after our production had been shut down was a highlight of my day. Testing out different color-profiles on the day’s production stills with my DP/colorist was another highlight. It wasn’t a bad day at all, and there is literally nothing else I would have rather done today.
Day 2 on Wednesday!
writer | director | filmmaker