To permit? or not to permit?
I often get asked by producers, film-makers or V-loggers if they require filming permits throughout SE Asia. And i do realize that many of them want me to say ‘no’! But it’s not that easy getting around many countries in Asia, as part of a film crew (or even one-man band) without having the correct and official paperwork in place.
Each country in the Asia region has their own set of rules and guidelines, with all countries having some form of permission process, through a designated government ministry or department. Many governments would now deem ‘anyone’ with a D-SLR to be a potential ‘professional’ and thus, come under the requirements for filming permit acquisition. However, as many of us in the industry know, it’s not always that ‘clear cut’.
As technology improves, so does the way we shoot content. Whether for a commissioned television shoot, cinematic documentary, television commercial or the latest phenomenon – V-logging, smaller equipment and higher quality capture allows smaller crews to produce a reasonable output and quality, comparable to what use to take a larger group of personnel. Therefore many productions can shoot an entire TV doco, or like, with only one or two individuals. If the kit is set-up right, and the ‘single’ crew member knows how to manage his equipment, high quality content can be captured. So in this instance, is a filming permit required?
Guerrilla style shooting has been in existence for decades, and often the term aligned itself with those productions who wanted to ‘fly under the radar’, and categorized with small, skeleton, low-budget crews. Lack of budgets resulted in producers and directors making decisions not to acquire the required permits and location permissions, with the knowledge of running the risk of being sued or fined. But is this not the ‘new age’ of filming making that we are in? V-loggers all over the world do this on a daily basis – so how could authorities track all the content being made? The answer is they can’t – only when a local neighbour, business or government employee physically sees the production taking place and reports the activity to the local authorities.
Which brings be to the SE Asian context and environment. There are many cultural differences between western ‘developed’ countries and those in the ‘east’ – and I won’t labor on many of them, except that, Asian cultures and governments have very highly developed inter-personal networks, that a foreigner filming in any location, WILL be SEEN, and WILL be REPORTED. The 3 pillars of most Asian societies is ‘Family, Family and Family’ – Direct family, extended family, and then the family of community. This bond and/or set of ‘rules’, dates back centuries, and there is no way for a foreigner to understand.
Take the bond of community and family, and put it in a communist/socialist political framework, and most locals are obliged to report activity which is not the ‘norm’. So seeing a foreign film crew, with the obvious physical differences, in a country who’s political system is regimented and socially managed, a local has an obligation to make sure that the activity is ‘legal’. In countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, embedded in the social structure are ‘party’ members who’s job it is to keep an ‘eye’ on their communities.
So my advice is this – If you plan to shoot in the following SE-Asian countries, you will need to get a filming permit and location permissions, apart for the reason stated above, do it because it is the local law: Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, DPR Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Travelling with a crew of more than 2, and professional equipment, especially sound equipment, will eventually bring notice to your activities. And getting your expensive equipment confiscated could be the least of your worries, especially in these times of security threats and heightened alerts.
If you need assistance, suggest contacting an experienced production support business. Asia Film Fixers www.asiafilmfixers.com has over 10 years experience managing the needs of productions across SE Asia. Asia Film Fixers can walk you through the process, provide advice and sponsor applications to the relevant authorities.
Safe filming – Terry Gordon 2015
Terry Gordon is the Film Fixer, and the founder of Asia Film Fixers. Terry has been based in SE Asia for over ten years, and currently provides advice and support in Turkey, Afghanistan, UAE, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, DPR Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Terry is currently the Director of Operations for Heritage Line, a boutique cruise company operating 5 star cruises in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.