Felipe Martínez

Filming in California

Quick guide
for filming in Los Ángeles
and Santa Mónica State Beach.


Write by: Diego Londoño

By being an independent Filmmaker living in L.A. I have had the opportunity of shooting in amazing places and very different from one another because LA and its surroundings offers you visual diversity: Less tan 20 minutes of a freeway drive and you can go from an ‘art-Deco’ city to a beach paradise. These are some of the locations that are accesible for any independent filmmaker: like myself.

(All costs are updated as of March 2015. All prices are in US dollars)

This guide includes tips for filming in Downtown L.A., Santa Mónica and Sets. For every place I have grouped the advice of two types of shooting: Guerrilla/DIY and Controlled/Regulated.

1. Shooting in Downtown L.A. California.

Downtown is home of main banks, colorful cafés and tall building. It is a place of narrow alleys and vibrant streets: full of vibrant, ‘chic’ and some times solitary and wandering lives.


  • Parking is critical in DTLA. That’s why is best to shoot during the weekends, when is less busy. 
    An ‘All day’ parking can range from $ 6.00 USD - $ 8.00 USD per car/per day.
  • Keep your team (cast and crew) to the bear minimum. 5 people crew are the right choice for this type of productions. DTLA is a crowded place; even during the weekends, a film production tends to slow down and interrupt the daily life of a city. With a large crew the chances of being ‘shut down’ by a Police Officer is larger.
  • Is imperative to shoot on ‘DSLR’. Hand-held is the best choice here. Tripods, dollies and cranes are somewhat bulky; again, you risk yourself to being shut down by a cop.

  • Recommendation: Grab a bite (for lunch) at the ‘Grand Central Market’ (308 S HILL STREET, LOS ANGELES, CA 90013), the food variety ranges from original Thai food to Kebabs and Tacos. Prices are student film friendly. $ 5.00 USD a $ 8.00 USD a meal.


  • If your shoot comes with a bigger crew (5+ people) with 10+ cars you might want to strike a ‘whole-day deal’ with a local parking spot. Do it way in advance from your shooting dates.
  • Get a film permit from Film L.A. (www.filmla.com), private organization that coordinates and processes permits for on-location motion picture, television and commercial production in the Los Angeles area. Permit costs as of March 2015: Student $ 45.00 USD, Regular $ 625.00 USD.
  • If you are filming on a sidewalk, or plan to close a street, a police officer will be assigned to your production.
    Cost of hiring a production cop: $ 38 USD / hour.
  • Strike a deal with a local parking structure about using their premises as basecamp for equipment, food and talent.
    Cost: $ 100.00 USD - $ 200.00 USD.

2. The Beach - Santa Monica State Beach.

Shooting at the beach is always a fun experience: LA’s sunsets and aquamarine sea color are jaw dropping and delightful for any cinematographer. FIlming by the sea gives you the possibility to achieve amazing shots with low/no lighting equipment. 

LA is famous for having available sunlight 365 days a year.


  • The pier and the beaches are tourist places and get crowded during the weekends. Therefore, plan your shoots for them to be during the week.
    Is also important to bring lighter equipment (A DSLR camera with a reduced choices in lenses and light tripod is your safest bet).
  • Bring a small crew; 10 people is too many people. Beaches are monitored by government agencies and is very easy for them to shut down your production.
  • Bring a plastic bag for your trash. Be conscious about the ecosystem.
  • Your camera team (1st AC) have to be very careful with the sand. It tends to stuck onto your equipment.
    Clean your gear at the end of every shooting day.
  • Film relatively simple scenes: brief dialogue (although, recording sound could be painful because of the wind) or montage/transition scenes.
    In general, you want to shoot scenes that doesn’t require for your crew or cast to get into the water.


  • A 10+ crew, with substantial equipment, requires you to have a Film L.A. permit (www.filmla.com). 
    The permit costs as of March 2015 is: Student $ 45.00 USD, Regular $ 625.00 USD. Be specific about equipment and activities description.
  • Strike a deal with a local parking structure about using their premises as basecamp for equipment, food and talent. Cost: $ 100.00 USD a $200.00 USD. Get a tent to set your equipment and place your talent between breaks; sun, wind and sand can become unpleasant very quickly when you have no protection.
  • If anyone (crew or cast) is getting into the water you’ll be required to have a million dollar liability insurance (approx. price: $300.00/week). It might be also necessary to get a U.S coast guard to come to set.

3. Sets of L.A.

It can be very regulated and complex to shoot in LA. Therefore sets and warehouses are a very popular option.  Some of this places provide you with the necessary equipment and amenities so that your complex shoot becomes a stroll down the park. Also, parking spots for your crew/cast/truck (equipment). My thesis short film was shot almost entirely at a warehouse located in Glendale, CA. See Medley pictures.


  • Good and affordable studios range around $ 400 USD per day with a basic set.
  • It’s important to plan your days accordingly, so that you don’t work after hours. Sets charge a fortune for extra-time.
  • It’s vital to ask about additional costs. For instance, most CYC's green screens  need to be painted after being used.
  • When having construction performed on set or height work (lights on a grid or stunts) is advised to have worker’s comp and general liability insurance (approx. price: $300.00 USD/week).
  • If any special effects or stunt work is being performed. Is vital to meet your collaborators before hand, scout and plan the shots very well
    (A green screen don’t magically solve every single video issue).
Each story requires different logistics. Los Angeles is a multicultural city that time to explore and discover. In my opinión, independent production is very posible in the so-called ‘cinema mecca’, but it involves lots of planning and decisión making. Nevertheless, when planning is done, the city opens itself to amazing production possibilities and a world that more than glamourous is ‘cinematographic’ by nature.
— Diego Londoño

Licencia de Creative Commons
Filming in California / Filmar en California by Diego Londoño is licensed under a
Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial 4.0 Internacional License.
Creado a partir de la obra en http://www.felipemartinez.me/shooting-california.