Commercial filmmakers, videographers, and photographers usually need to pay a fee if they want to shoot on every federal land. Right now, however, the fees aren’t consistent across these lands. Therefore, federal land management agencies are currently in the process of standardizing them and making them mandatory and consistent everywhere.
The major federal land management agencies include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the U.S. Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are now working together to finally achieve consistency over permits and fees for commercial shoots.
Under the law P.L. 106-206, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture “must require permits and establish reasonable fees for commercial filming on federal lands.” There are four aspects that these fees must take into account:
- the number of days of filming,
- the size of the film crew,
- the amount and type of equipment,
- other factors that the Secretaries deem appropriate.
The fees also must provide a “fair return” to the nation for the activity, although this is undefined in the law. Note that there are cases in which you will not get a permit for shooting:
- if activities would damage resources,
- unreasonably disrupt public use and enjoyment of a site,
- if activities pose health and safety risks.
- Congressional Research Service points out that many iconic movies and series used federal lands as their locations, including Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, and The Hunger Games. Shoots like this, but even much smaller commercial shoots will need a permit – which will also include paying a fee.
The good news is not every type of commercial photography or filming requires a permit nor a fee. For example, if you take landscape photos or videos/timelapse and sell stock images, videos, or prints, you can just go ahead and shoot. But if you need to shoot in an area that is not normally open to the public, if there will be additional administrative costs, or if you bring models or props – then you’ll be required to apply for a permit and pay the fee.
Here is the table of proposed fees. Note that fees for still photography would apply only in cases where your photography requires a permit.
Getting a permit for commercial shoots is not really a new thing, although some places and events even require one even for the non-commercial ones. To my knowledge, paying a fee is also customary, although the issue was that the prices weren’t consistent. So, the price will now increase for some places and decrease for others, you’ll know what to expect and how to plan your shooting budget. If you’d like to read a full report, you can do it here.