Shooting a gun scene in a city


I’m making a short pilot for a superhero web series with our filmmaking club at my university. We’re pretty early in preproduction, just about to lock the script. We have a few scenes where a mugger tries to rob people at gunpoint. Unfortunately, we can’t change it to a knife or something because it’s important to the plot that it’s a gun.

I helped shoot a gunfight in a forest preserve once, and we got the patrol called on us, so I can only assume that in urban Cleveland we’ll get busted before we can film what we need.

I was thinking the solution could be to let the police know beforehand that a prop gun is going to be out, and also maybe have a couple people hold up signs when the gun is out saying “WE ARE FILMING A MUGGING SCENE. THE GUN IS A PROP” or something like that.

I don’t know how much filmmaking permits would be, but I’m assuming it would be prohibitively expensive.

Does anyone have any suggestions?


Your best bet is a safe environment IE one that you and/or one of your people control. You’re in school, so pick a place on campus that looks like an alley (anywhere with a brick wall and a dumpster), and start shooting. There’s some vague chance campus security will care, but they’re used to goofy school projects.

Alternatively, anywhere that’s fenced-in will work well enough. My old apartment in Chicago had a walkway with a gate at the back that would have served well enough…my stepmother’s condo had a fenced in parking lot. Plenty of restaurants have locked back-alleys; if any of you are working at one, there’s an angle.

Basically, you want to be in a place where people will trust you because of who you are and carry on with their day. Filming permits are a pain…trust me, it’s way easier to go rogue as long as you’re a small operation.


Since you guys are early in preproduction, focus on getting the permits right, on time, and have copies, a lot of them.
Talk to the local police, let them know. “Hey, we’re gonna shot a scene for a short film on this date, it involves using a prop gun, someone will shoot it.” Also, try to have them on set, so they are aware of the situation and there’s no issued.

I know getting the permits can be a pain in the ass, but trust me, its better to have them, to everybody knowing what’s going on. That to get busted and having no backing for what you’re doing.


Don’t permits cost money?

I like the idea of shooting on-campus as well.


The on-campus idea is great; that might negate the potential permitting costs while still allowing you to do it properly (i.e., letting the authorities know what you’re up to). I’d figure out who to speak with at the school and work with them to let campus security and the police know. Also, rather than having people hold signs, it’s typical to simply post clearly-written notices around the area - though of course, having PA’s around to explain the situation is a plus.

If you get stopped by any authority, don’t argue or get confrontational while attempting explain what you’re doing - follow their directions as if the prop gun is real. There’s always time to sort it out later. Last thing you want is someone getting injured or killed due to miscommunication!