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10 Tips for Shooting Video in San Francisco

Posted by Rebekah Toth Burns on February 23, 2015

Rudyard Kipling put it best when he said “San Francisco has only one drawback tis’ hard to leave.” This American city has an illustrious history of embracing all and fostering innovation, creation, and renewal. Established corporations like Bank of the West, Del Monte Foods, Charles Schwab, and McKesson are headquartered in San Francisco. The Bay area is also home to lifestyle brands like The Gap, Method, Levi Strauss, Pottery Barn, PC World, and Wired magazine. Tech software organizations like Ustream, Salesforce, Dropbox, as well as, social media giants such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are all based in “The City”. So many companies are headquartered in SF, that corporate Video Producers will most likely manage video productions in a variety of industries during their careers. We have gathered some tips to make preproduction and production in the Bay Area a breeze.

TEN: Unions are ultimate. There are a handful of cities in the US that are heavily unionized and San Francisco is one of them. Crews Control represented DP Niels Melo says “Everything inside the Moscone Center, most performing arts theaters, and several hotels, such as the Marriott Marquis, Hilton Union Square, and Embarcadero Hyatt has IATSE union requirements. Make arrangements with IATSE Local 16.”

NINE: Permits equal permission. If the video production requires filming outside of the Bay Area, CA.gov provides great resources and clear guidelines for filming permits in the state of California. Otherwise, “A permit is required to do any shooting on San Francisco streets. Permits can be applied for at the San Francisco Film Commission” says DP Randy Love. If you want to capture some beauty shots of the bridge Melo says “Golden Gate National Recreation Area manages properties along the Marina, the Marin Headlands, and on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge. Permits are essential for anything longer than a one or two person “grab a shot and run” scenario. US Park Police are ever present and the Golden Gate Bridge is monitored by dozens of cameras. GGNRA permits (415) 561-4301.”

EIGHT:  Equipment rentals are equal. If you plan to use a certain jib, camera slider, or lens and need to rent it locally you will not be disappointed. “These are several excellent LA quality rental houses that should be able to provide any type of gear that your shoot may require.  Discuss your shoot in detail with your D.P. so that any gear he/she may not own can be rented before the shoot” shares Randy.

SEVEN: Tangled in traffic.  DP Mike Sullivan says “There is usually always heavy traffic in SF but from 6:30 to 9:30AM and 3:30 to 6:30PM the traffic is unusually heavy; so, if you are going to more than one film location allow for plenty of commute time.” Love continues “San Francisco and Bay Area Traffic can be “world class” due to the geography of the Bay Area.  This is a major population area connected by bridges through which virtually all traffic flows.  Discuss the plan for your shoot day with your DP, this may help minimize the impact of traffic on your shoot schedule.”


SIX: Perils of parking. Love says “The downtown area of San Francisco is only about four square miles, but it is packed with buildings and short on parking.  If your location is a downtown high-rise office building, make plans with your client to offload in the loading dock of the building. Ask your client to secure parking in the same building if possible.  It’s a good idea to plan for at least 45 minutes to offload and park when shooting downtown.   Street parking longer than ½ hour is not available, so parking must be in a parking garage.  These lots can fill up, so a parking reservation would be suggested.” Niels adds “Most indoor lots will not accept full size vans or Suburban sized SUVs. Commercial license plates are worth the extra cost.”

FIVE: Insurance is important. Crews Control represented DP and Contributing Blogger Kevin Braband expresses that property management companies are currently increasing the minimum amount of insurance needed to enter buildings located in downtown San Francisco. This means that an additional insurance rider is often needed to enter the location. Production Coordinators who are located in these building can be unaware of such needs until the crew arrives. Sullivan adds “It is best to know that ahead of time so that the video crew can get insurance additions approved.  There have been many times when we get to a location and take lots of extra time waiting for an insurance binder.”

FOUR: Logical logistics. All of the video crews that we spoke with said that knowing how to enter a building in advance is extremely important. Video crews have carts full of gear and are often stopped at the front door. A freight elevator can be tricky to find and adds time to the set-up of the video production. The buildings management company will tell you in advance how the crew and video equipment needs to enter the building.

THREE: Floor plans are formidable. “When asking for a big room to shoot in, make sure the room doesn’t have an equally large conference table. A 20×30 room with a 10 x 20 conference table gives the DP 5 feet to try to light an interview. I’ve found the best rooms are training rooms that usually have movable tables or an executive business center which can have nice backgrounds and plenty of room.   Steer clear of rooms next to an elevator, heavy entrance door, or cafeteria can be extremely noisy” warns Mike.

TWO: Interiors are intelligent. Sullivan says “There is lots of noise in SF and the sound travels up the buildings.  It is best to ask for an interior room preferably without a window.  If you want to shoot out of a window with the city as a background keep in mind the fog rolls in and out quickly so a decent shot may turn bad quickly.”

ONE: Weather is Wacky. “The Bay Area has microclimates which can have up to a 50 degree temperature variation within a 25 mile radius from San Francisco. Always wear layers of clothing. Expect strong winds and rapidly changing conditions due to fog on all outdoor shoots near the ocean or bay” says Melo.

Weather, parking, unions, and permits are the four themes that came up over and over when we interviewed local video crews, so plan accordingly. No need to hurry home after your video production has wrapped, get some clam chowder at Hog Island Oyster Co. or a coffee at Four Barrel Coffee and you may meet the next Jack Dorsey.

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