Taking photographs on movie sets. Can they stop you?

Posted: August 2, 2011 in AWOL

There are several comments today about the somewhat heavy-handed way in which individuals were told to stop taking photographs on the set of AWOL on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. On Friday night in downtown Ypsilanti, I witnessed a member of the production crew approach a woman who had taken pictures of the riot scenes setting up. He asked her to delete the pictures from her memory card and she began to comply. I approached and as politely as I could, advised her that she did not have to do that, and that he should not ask her to do so. I then took some pictures myself and was told that I was breaking the law, and that my pictures were the property of the production company.

In fact the law is very simple. If you can see it, you can pretty much photograph it (that’s not the precise legal terminology!).  The law is very much on the side of the photographer, and, particularly in the situation of movie sets on public property, no one has the right to tell you to stop taking photographs. In fact, if they harass you, tell you they will call the police, ask you to hand over your camera, take your camera or delete the photographs, THEY are the ones in violation of the law. Now, security guards will tell you to stop. They are paid to do that, and they succeed because men in uniform look official and some can be intimidating. And because most people do not know the law.

So I politely advised the member of the crew that I understood that he was doing his job, but that he was incorrect and that could (and would) photograph the set. He then set off to find the police to reinforce his message. I don’t know what the police would have said, because I moved on to another part of the set and continued to take photographs!

On to today. I’d no sooner begun to take a snap or two when the same crew member approaches. He leaves after I smile and shake my head at him, but he brings back  a campus police officer who also tells me I should not be taking photographs because the film company ‘doesn’t want it.’ Well, they may not want it to be 95 degrees either, but this is Michigan. I slowly, clearly and calmly explain that I am on public property, taking a picture of something on public property and that I wasn’t doing anything wrong by taking photographs. She asked for my name and contact details, which I gave and immediately regretted, because… why? I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and she clearly didn’t know the law either.  I pointed out the OTHER people around taking photographs and asked why they weren’t being stopped and she told me that it was because I’d been seen on the set before! Aha, so my crime wasn’t taking pictures today, it was taking pictures more than once.

Finally she suggested that I speak to the University liaison, who eventually arrived. I  spoke to her for a few minutes  and explained the situation and she said that the University had leased the area we were standing on to the movie company. Then she pointed to an area 20 feet away that wasn’t rented to the movie company. Apparently I could do anything I wanted there, and she advised me to that if anyone else hassled me, to send them to her.  She rocks.

Even so, I was hassled again by both security and by crew. It’s crazy. #1. Learn the law and stop harassing people with cameras who are not getting in your way.  I am at a distance. I am courteous. I am not causing anyone a problem. #2. Really? This is an Indie film. George Clooney was totally happy with people taking pictures of the Ides of March filming. But this crew is keeping everything under wraps? Seriously? Absurd. #3. Around 30 people read this blog on a good day when I manage to get a celebrity. Enjoy the free publicity.

There’s plenty on the web about the rights of photographers. There’s even a current legal battle in Florida because a film company thought they could BAN photography from the streets around the set. Uh no. Other great articles like this: Photography and the Law — Know Your Rights.  I’m not a lawyer, don’t quote me. Always be polite. Don’t get argumentative. You may have the law on your side, but if the security guard is having a bad day, you may still get hurt!

I have nothing against the crew guy who seems to have made it his mission to stop me taking pictures of the AWOL set. He wasn’t rude or abusive, just ill-informed and frustrated with my refusal to stop. A week of filming left and I’m not sure I have the energy to fight it. But tomorrow is another day, and I do love all those 70s outfits. We’ll see.

  1. Reina says:

    Love your blog! Wish I could go to these movie sets like you do 🙂


  2. Christy says:

    Yesterday, during my walk, I ran into the “Dexter” set. They were filming on the beach. Now, this wasn’t my first time running into these guys since they film around Long Beach all the time. (The guards and crew just think of everyone as stalkers and papparazzi) Many families and tourists were on the beach and were made to move to another location next to the set. Once the public found out that this was Dexter, they started taking pictures. Well, all hell broke lose at this time. Security Guards were all over the beach yelling at people to stop taking pictures. I told a few of the tourists not to be scared and to take pictures because they were on public land. One of the Policemen heard me, walked up to us and said, “She’s right….you can take pictures but it make the crew really uncomfortable.” I told the Cop, “The crew can get over it and stop treating the tourists and citizen’s so crappy.” I’m really tired of the “Dexter” crew in my neighborhood..sometimes, they are fun to watch but the yelling gets tiresome. Oh, and some people were asked why they were there. One lady wasn’t allowed to park in her parking spot. I told her to go up to the Guard and ask him if she could speak to someone in charge. I told her that she needed to say, “What’s is worth to you for me not parking in my spot?” They ended up paying her. She said she had no clue. These guys are all about intimidating people.


  3. […] you’d like to shoot the set, it’s not illegal if you don’t go past the caution tape, but they’ll probably shoo you away from the […]


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