Considerations to make when filming in a city
OK, so producing any video which requires shooting on location can be challenging. However if that location shooting needs to happen in London (or any other major city) then the challenges can be multiplied.
Yes, some large cities will be used to seeing film crews both large and small on their streets every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your filming is going to be easy.
So here’s a few tips and pointers based on our experiences of producing corporate video in London that may be applicable in whichever large city you happen to be shooting.
Permit Based Shoot or Guerrilla Style
Strictly speaking, for any external video shoot that you need to do in London you should apply to the Mayor’s office for a permit. There’s probably never a day that goes by when there isn’t a shoot happening somewhere in London, so the process of applying for a filming permit is fairly smooth and the Mayor’s office are very much geared up for this. You’ll need to pay a fee and be able to provide details of public liability insurance cover but obtaining a permit in this way does make life on the shoot a lot easier.
However, for every shoot that happens each day in London with a secured filming permit there will probably be several more happening guerrilla style – that is to say, without any official permit. It’s a fact that within the corporate video industry budgets and time scales may sometimes make it tricky to obtain a filming permit. If your crew is small (e.g. 2-3 people and you’re not shooting a large scale project then you may be tempted to go down the “guerrilla route”.) If you are questioned by the authorities they have the right to move you on and most likely will, so be prepared to leave your locations quickly. You may want to scout some backup options in advance.
Over the years we’ve produced projects using both of these approaches so we know the merits and drawbacks of each.
Whatever the size of your shoot you’ll need some kit. It may be only a camera and mic or you may need multiple cameras, lights, sound and grip – whatever your needs are, you need to plan for the challenges video production in London presents for a simple task… like unloading everything! Many people don’t consider this but you can’t just stop an equipment van in most central areas (these are red routes) and car parking for vans and other vehicles can really take a chunk out of your budget. Our usual approach is to do our unloading at the first light of day so that we can quickly park/unload without any trouble, and then find a budget-friendly parking location away from the centre of town. Alternatively using couriers for your kit is useful as they can quickly pull up while your crew can just grab and go with any and all equipment.
In addition to the logistics of getting kit to your location you also need to consider how your crew are going to get there. As mentioned, parking in central London is either extortionate or seriously limited so most crew for London video shoots tend to arrive by tube or other public transport. So factor this into your call sheets: tubes and buses can run late, so asking the crew to arrive earlier than required buys you some wiggle room if one or more of them are delayed.
A challenge of producing corporate video in London that can sometimes be surprising is light! London is a pretty built-up place, and if you’re shooting in an area that comprises of mostly high-rise buildings then lack of light where you are can be an issue. Many streets in London will only get direct sunlight at certain points of the day (and this will change over the year) due to the skyscraper style buildings blocking the light, sometimes on all sides! So a good recce done at the intended shooting time of day is really useful. You may need to pack in some extra reflectors to help counteract the lack of light by boosting what you already have.
Finally, noise. Yes, London is a very noisy place, and when you are shooting slick corporate video this can be a real pain. Even if you are in the confines of an office you’ll be amazed at the general hum and buzz that the city creates. Its something that we don’t really notice as it’s part of the day-to-day city environment, but when you come to the edit this background buzz really jumps out and can be distracting. So again, a good recce can go a long way here: check to see if there is any building work planned on your shoot day – barely a day goes by in large cities without some kind of construction work – and if your location is underneath Heathrow’s main flight path you’re going to have to time your sound recording carefully!
So there you have it, just a few tips and tricks to help you produce hassle-free video in London or any other large city.