March 23, 2021

Essential Guide: San Francisco Film Permits

Phillip Paquette
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From The Ten Commandments to Mrs. Doubtfire, San Francisco has been a production destination for decades. 

If you’re going to film in San Francisco, this guide dives into what you need to know as a producer. This includes the most pressing questions most filmmakers have including how to get a San Francisco film permit, how much permits costs, and how long it takes to get one. 

Without further ado, let’s dive in. 

What exactly are San Francisco film permits?

A San Francisco film permit is a certificate issued by Film SF providing permission to complete filmmaking activities in the Golden City. Film permits are a necessary item so municipalities such as the city of San Francisco can maintain the delicate balance between letting productions work and ensuring the community maintains its rights. 

By obtaining an SF film permit, you have access to city resources including filming on city-owned property, the Scene in San Francisco Rebate program, and vendor discounts.

A San Francisco film permit does not give you the A-OK to shoot at city parks, beaches, and private properties. Check out their Agency Contact page to find the right point person for these locations and other landmarks. 

What is Film SF?

Film SF is the (Golden Gate) bridge to filming in public in the city of San Francisco. Film SF is the city’s film office and part of the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development. Beyond issuing San Francisco film permits, the city tasks Film SF to attract and support productions in San Francisco.

They also coordinate access to filming on cable cars and other public transportation, along with street or lane closures. 

Do you need a permit to film in San Francisco?

Not every situation requires a film permit in San Fran, but there are plenty of instances where you’d likely need to apply for one.

A San Francisco permit is required if you’re:

  • Shooting on city property for commercial or non-commercial purpose (except for personal use or a breaking news story).
  • Filming exterior shots around private property.

How can you get a San Francisco film permit?

Getting a permit here is a little less complicated than say, acquiring film permits in New York, but there are some basic requirements. Gain a film permit in San Francisco by finishing these three steps:

1. Secure production insurance

Insurance must be sent to Film SF by the insurance company. Your insurance provider can submit the Certificate of Insurance (COI) after applying for a permit. However, you will not receive the permit until you submit your insurance. 

2. Complete the application 

Fill out the Use Agreement for City Property for Film Production and Related Activities. If you are filming at more than three locations, submit the Additional Locations page with your application. Email your application to at least four full business days before your first shoot date. 

3. Give notice to the community

You must distribute film notices 72 hours before the shoot date/time. 

Film SFs requests you:

  • Hand out the film notice during the day between 8 am-8 pm and by 6 pm for businesses.  
  • Distribute to residents/ businesses on both sides of the street and 300 feet (half block) past the first/last parking space you are posting and where you are filming.
  • Leave a film notice near the call button using blue painter’s tape only for apartment buildings.
  • Go inside the business and leave the film notice with the on-site manager for businesses.
  • Roll up the film notice and leave it on the door handle, under the doormat, or tape with blue painter’s tape near the mailbox (if the mailbox is near the front door) for homes.
  • Distribute both English and the other language film notice if you are distributing a translated film notice; you can use double-sided notices to lessen the amount of paper distributed.
  • Do not place film notices into the mailboxes of residences or businesses.
  • Do not tape or staple film notices onto poles along the sidewalks within the neighborhood.
  • Remove film notices from buildings after filming if they are still posted.

How long does a San Fran film permit cover?

Film SF charges on a per-day basis based on the locations you list and shoot dates in your film permit application. Keep in mind depending on where you plan to specifically shoot, you may need to pay extra fees. 

Do you need additional film permits for each location? 

Film SF doesn't issue blanket permits that allow filming the entire city. However, you can submit a permit application with specific neighborhood locations within a grid to shoot.  Filming within any grid is subject to the locations Film SF can permit (mainly city streets and sidewalks). See the grid example they provide on their website.  

You can also shoot at the pre-selected b-roll location and simply add the date into each location you would like to shoot at. 

These pre-selected locations allow productions to film on the city sidewalks and capture views of San Francisco landmarks including:

  • Jefferson Street at Taylor Street (for a view of Fisherman’s Wharf).
  • Haight at Ashbury Street (for a view of the Haight).
  • Embarcadero between Harrison and Folsom Streets (for a view of the Bay Bridge).
  • Lombard between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets (for a view of the crooked “Lombard” Street).
  • Market at Embarcadero (for a view of the Ferry Building).
  • Castro Street between 18th and Market Streets (for a view of the Castro neighborhood and rainbow crosswalk).
  • Bush Street at Grant Avenue (for a view of the Dragon’s Gate at the Chinatown entrance).
  • Hyde Street between North Point and Francisco Streets (for a view of the Russian Hill neighborhood).
Submit your San Francisco film permit application with specific neighborhood locations

These b-roll locations are for crews of 5 people or under. Film SF considers larger crew on a case-by-case review.

What are the insurance requirements in San Francisco?

Any production requesting a film permit must have valid proof of insurance coverage.

Film SF requires at a minimum:

  • A general liability policy with $1,000,000 for each occurrence and $2,000,000 aggregate naming The City & County of San Francisco, the Port of San Francisco, and each of their officers, directors, agents, and employees as additional insured.
  • Auto liability plan with $1,000,000 combined single limit; this also needs to name The City & County of San Francisco, the Port of San Francisco and each of their officers, directors, agents, and employees as additional insured. Auto liability waivers may be granted only if no automobiles will be used.
  • Worker’s compensation containing employer's liability no less than $1,000,000 for each accident, injury, or illness.

The Certificate Holder for all issued certificates must state the following:

The City and County of San Francisco

San Francisco Film Commission,

City Hall Room 473, San Francisco, CA 94102

The certificate must be signed by an authorized representative.

Get to know San Fran's requirements for a seamless shoot

If you have any questions about obtaining insurance or finding the right policy for your project, contact us

How long will it take to get a film permit in San Francisco?

Film SF requires you to submit your application at least 4 full business days before you plan to begin filming. In other words, if you submit an application at 9 am Monday morning, they will get you permitted and ready for filming by 9 am Friday.

This gives them time to process your permit including the application, insurance verification, notification creation, parking approval, and other supplemental permitting requirements.  For permit applications requiring special filming, such as a street or lane closure or SFMTA-operated vehicle charter rental, permit processing can take anywhere from five to 10 additional business days. 

If you think your production will need any of these types of special filming needs, contact Film SF as early as possible to discuss deadlines.

How much do San Francisco film permits cost?

The short answer is it depends on the type of project and where you want to film. While there is no application fee, Film SF charges a daily fee for each day you film or park. The permit fee covers production vehicle parking.

For still photography:

The permit cost is $100 per day.  

Commercial, corporate media, web, and music video projects: 

Film SF charges $200 a day. 

TV series (each episode), movie, pilot, web series (each episode), documentary and short subject, depend on the project’s budget:

  • For a production with a budget of less than $100,000: $50 a day.
  • For a production with a budget of $100,000 to less than $500,000: $100 a day.
  • For a production with a budget of $500,000 or greater: $300 a day.

To qualify for the reduced rates, a copy of the total budget estimate is required, otherwise, the fee will be $300 per day.

Film permits from Film SF are free for student projects, but there may be fees associated with other permitting bodies within the city. Film SF defines a student project as a class assignment under providable insurance coverage by a university. If your university isn’t able to provide your project with the required general liability insurance coverage, you will need to follow the standard permitting process.

Wrapping up

Work with SF Film to ensure you have the right permits in place on production days in the Bay Area. Give yourself a cushion to prepare your application and stay on schedule.

If you’re squaring away your film permit application in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York, chat with our team to help you get the right insurance policy for your project.

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L.A. Film Permits: The Filmmaker’s Handbook

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Last Updated 
March 23, 2021


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Phillip Paquette

Phillip Paquette is an Austin, TX-based storyteller and content strategist that's worked both on behalf of agencies and directly with brands. Catch his business musings on Medium.

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