Let's make something clear. You should always shoot with permits and with all the right paperwork. Safety and confort are two of the most important things you should focus on when making a movie. NOW... what if you want to shoot at that really cool place but you know there is no way they are going to let you? DON'T LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SHOOTING.
Steven and myself had this idea of shooting at some of the most iconic locations of every city we would travel to. Even if it was for a single second of footage or for a big scene. Today, we are going to explain how we pulled that off.
As a small resume, we have shot narrative scenes in places like the ROYAL PALACE OF MADRID, or the surroundings EIFFEL TOWER. As you can imagine, there is no way a small indie crew would ever get a permit to shoot in there. This is what we did:
1) Make sure your gear doesn't look like film gear.
This is extremely important, you camera equipment can look very suspicious, so you will most likely need to compromise that super expensive lens, or that awesome camera that your buddy just bought for something more modest. In our case, we shot with an A7S, a Shogun recorder (which already looked a little "too much"), and old Russian and German photography lenses.
2) Don't act like a film director (sorry for your ego).
We all love to point out to the sky and pretend we are discovering the newest and truest meaning of life but if you are shooting outside the norm, you will have to blend in, remember, your ultimate goal is to look as if you were taking a picture, not a staged video. No yelling cut or action if there is too many people around, a single look to the actors can be enough.
3) Have everything well rehearsed and plan.
Make sure you go to the location at least the day after without any gear and you block and rehearse everything to make sure you don't spend too much time giving directions on the day of the shoot. Another very important aspect is that you won't be able to do a lot of coverage (if any), so work out a plan to shoot everything in a really well blocked shot.
4) SOUND, SOUND, SOUND, SOUND.
Talk to your sound mixer and plot out the best positions for the mics. There is a extremely high possibility that you won't be able to use your boom so maje sure you bring lavs and hide them anywhere you can. Your sound won't be as great as with a boom so check with your mixer at all times, to make sure you got it. For "Dulcinea" a lot of our "stolen shots" happen with the actors looking at monuments and not facing the camera, so the mics could be easily placed.
If you are shooting on the streets of famous locations, there is a high chance that there will be street performers with loud amps. We gave tips to everybody we saw, so that they would time their performances with the times we weren't rolling. Surprisingly, it worked great and everybody was extremely respectful.
5) Don't be a fool.
This is perhaps the most important aspect. You have to be smart and know when to give up. If there is too much security or your actors are uncomfortable don't push them into doing anything they don't want. Remember, you should be respectful as you are not paying to be there, so what you get is what you get, and you SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT IT. I can't stress enough how important it is for everything to be safe and harmless so if you see any signs of your gear or your actors disturbing the nature of the actual location, rethink your strategy.
BONUS: IF YOU ARE BOLD ENOUGH, GO ASK THE COPS IF YOU CAN SHOOT
Okay, this is a risky one but it worked several times for us. When you are shooting in a city where they are not used to film shoots, it could be quite easy to go and ask the security people during exterior shoots if they would be okay for you to shoot some shots for your student film or indie film without disturbing anybody. We did that specially in Madrid and they were cool for the most part. We got to fly a Ronin and good sound at some great locations because of this.
So, as a reminder, be safe, be smart, and plan everything as much as you can to get that priceless shot in your movie. We did, and it worked!