How to shoot your movie on Oxford Street (or other ridiculously public location)

Recently I was involved in a short that was shot in London.  I thought I would share some things I learned about shooting in very public places. In this instance, right in the heart of the London hustle and bustle, Oxford Street! And to be clear, we did have full permission to shoot there, and it didn’t cost a penny.

Of course all situations and locations are different, but here are a few pointers for you projects.

1. Keeping your cast and crew under five means you are treated like a news crew, which is much more acceptable to the powers-that-be who control the public walkways.

2. As soon as you put a tripod on the pavement, you are more likely to get into trouble as you are blocking the public right of way. So shoot hand held, again like a news crew.

3. Contact the council and ask for permission to shoot with a crew of under five and hand held. We did this via the Film London website. It was quite easy actually.

4. Set up a unit base in a close by restaurant, pub or café – we commandeered a Pret coffee shop. They were happy as we bought all our coffee and sandwiches there.

5. Keep a crew member or two on hand, but away from the main unit. They can dash in and help should there be a problem, before retreating in order to keep your main unit cast and crew to five.

6. Be careful of what and who features in your shots. You may need to get release forms from ‘featured’ passers by. Ensure you don’t allow any unexpected logos to appear in shot too.

7. Not all pathways and building exteriors come under the control of the council, many will be privately owned and therefore you will need to contact the owners (or just move on).

8. Don’t be a nuisance, and generally you will be left alone.

9. Get in and out as fast as you can. Even though you have permission, it is still a hostile environment in which to shoot.

10. Shooting DSLR will make things easier too as it looks more like a stills camera.

11. You will need to shoot cinéma vérité (pseudo documentary style) as you cannot really use lighting or orchestrate extras etc.

A cast and crew of five is NOT much – camera operator, sound recordist, director and two actors… (with a production crew loitering some way away). It’s not ideal, but if you can tailor your story to this setup, you could shoot legally in some amazing locations for free – think ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ as good examples.

Looking forward to launching the new movie project and it’s GREAT to be back on set, even though it was FREEZING! Check back in soon!

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

10 Responses to How to shoot your movie on Oxford Street (or other ridiculously public location)

  1. Johan Bergqvist February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Good advice Chris, as always! I have been using Guerrilla filmmakers blueprint as a bible for a few years now – shot my first feature with the help of it last summer (now in editing) 🙂

    • Chris February 2, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      Wow that’s awesome! Yep the Blueprint really is the most useful of all the books I have written. I just ordered 50 copies for the Guerilla Masterclass in a couple weeks. Love to see your promo for your feature?

      • Dom D February 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

        I know the invite to post a link to a promo was to Johan but I just posted mine up on youtube and I’m excited enough that I want to share it with wherever I can so here it is: It’s a 1940s detective noir feature being shot for a four figure sum on a Canon 5d and edited in Edius.

        Keeping on topic, In the past I’ve always gotten council permits and whatnot but I found they don’t really do you much good. If someone wants to park a moving van in the middle of the street you booked with the council you are never going to be able to get them to move it. So these days we just wing it. We keep the numbers low so we don’t need permits and are more mobile so that if we need to jump across town because the location becomes unusable we can.

        The rules are the same here that if you’re under 5 people you don’t need permission. Those five people might be blocking the road with three vintage cars and be standing in the middle of the road holding torches for lighting but as long as you’re under the magic number it’s all good. It gets a bit crazy sometimes but we manage to keep it all safe.

      • Johan Bergqvist February 4, 2012 at 8:23 am #

        This is a very early teaser, I am currently doing my last year at Bournemouth film school and have no time until march to edit the trailer which is planed for early April.
        (The film is in Swedish)


        There are some Production stills in my blogg as well.

  2. Pete Darby February 2, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    About seven years ago I appeared in a corporate filmed on Oxford Street, in long shot holding a placard saying “I need a hug.”

    (Oddly, several people gave me a hug, mostly tourists)

    It was made even easier to shoot by not needing sound recording… so, four of us all told. Very quick and easy.

  3. Sylvie Bolioli February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Great post! What I also found out regarding not using a tripod but wanting some kind of stable shot is using a monopod. Apparently because it’s not a TRIpod, it falls under the same rules as handheld!

  4. Tommi February 2, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi Chris, hope you’re well

    I’m a Leeds based filmmaker, but I have a small photography studio in Camberwell, and would be happy for other film makers to use it for free as an audition space from late afternoon onwards, when I’m in town. My payoff if simply the networking.

    I just wondered what you thought might be the best way to spread the good word about?

    Many regards and all the best,

    Tommi Murshed-Parish

  5. Andrew Elias February 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Another great post! I was once employed by a rather well-known production company as ‘crowd control’ on a feature film they were shooting in Whiteleys. It was a daytime shoot and Whiteleys was open to the public. My job was to intercept shoppers who might’ve been heading into shot, and ask them the time or ask for directions etc, thus ensuring that the background action was not filled with ‘gawpers’.

  6. Andrew Elias February 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    PS The above picture is not from said movie, I thought it’d appear as my profile pic. My bad!

  7. John June 2, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    I had an interesting experience locally … I needed to shoot a scene in a playground. There are 2 towns side by side. I asked one about getting permission… It was a long involved process … having to go before city council posting an insurance bond, paying for a permit making sure that my application was placed by the 2nd of the month prior to the proposed shoot date AND if anyone wanted to use the park too bad.
    The second town … ok if you don’t leave any mess go ahead (and a local employee came by asked if he could move the garbage cans so that they wouldn’t interfere and made sure there was no garbage around before we shot and moved some tables under a shelter so the MUAs had a place to set up…

    True in BOTH cases very small crew – Guess which one I used?

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