Film School Guide to Shooting in London

December 21, 2012 9:47 pm

London is a great place to shoot your film school feature, but you already knew that. With the likes of the post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later, James Bond’s Skyfall, and the political/royal landscape at bay for films like The King’s Speech, it seems everyone is keen to shoot in the city that seemingly has it all.

There are, however, a number of practical considerations that any budding director must bear in mind when shooting in the English capital. Whether you’re Steven Spielberg, or producing your a first feature for one of the many London Film Schools, there’s a handful of things you should know.

Film School


Plan, plan, plan. You need to plan where you want to shoot, which actors you need on the day, and whether they’ll be any external factors that might prevent you shooting. This could include permissions to film on private or public land, whether you have alternate shoot locations if it rains, whether you’ll have enough persons in a background shot and so on.

Depending on your shoot, you’ll also need to get consent from the guardian’s of minors who can be identified, or take care over shooting car license plates, and other personal details.

Importantly, you should have a good awareness of London itself; the tube system and areas which might not be best to walk around with a lot of expensive equipment. Knowing where the nearest sandwich shop, or pub, for your breaks, is a bonus too.

Filming permissions
You must ascertain who has ownership of the land you wish to film on and inform that person accordingly. This could mean contacting any one of London’s borough councils, or a land/property owner directly. The Film London Directory is a great online resource for finding out who, and where, you can go for some popular locations. Bear in mind that Public Liability Insurance might be needed for some locations.

The local police should be aware of your activities for all exterior shoots, simply so there is no worry of criminal intent, nor any other suspicious activity. This point is particularly important for any shoots that involve guns, explosions and similar uses of weapons or weapon-like actions. The police treat incidents like this very seriously and will not think twice before sending in armed teams on film students who are just misinformed.

Small film crews (of five and less) don’t have to submit applications to the Highways service provided filming or photography does not cause an obstruction. This means you’re free to shoot on London’s everyday streets. Set-ups that involve putting up scaffolding or other intricate obstructions on the public highway will therefore need permission.

Notable exceptions

Once again, check who really does own the public areas. Although you might assume the Royal Parks, or Trafalgar Square belong to the council and highways teams, they don’t. These are owned by other agencies who normally charge a fee to film there. The same goes for Parliament Square, the South Bank and London Underground.

London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Millennium Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge are also owned by the City of London Corporation and can only be filmed on for free for up to 30 minutes.

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