I know it's been covered before about permissions and clearance for field recording -- and the general rule of thumb is to ask forgiveness not permission; be courteous and upfront if approached by people of authority; and leave if and when they ask you to -- but what about areas that there's absolutely no way to simply walk into. Hospitals, military bases, ect.

How do you go about getting permission to record in those areas? Do you have a usual shpeal you tell to their HR / PR / Risk Management departments? Do you have to worry about HIPAA and levels of military clearance?

Any tips or guidance on this would be awesome, as it's something I'll probably be dealing with in the next few months (for work, for a sound-related study in medical simulation, which I'm pretty excited about).

  • I have no idea about military bases, but every hospital will have an upper level administrator, might be a good place to start. Maybe get in touch with a production company that's done some shooting in a hospital. Having a legit project behind you should make it a fair bit easier too.
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 16:38
  • Alternatively, sometimes being a "student" or "hobbyist" will be the way in. Sometimes if you're a "professional", they will potentially see it as a money making opportunity. Which, depending on the situation I agree with or not... typically depending on their involvement/contribution on any of many potential levels. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 16:57
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    I'm not sure where you are, but in the US it is very difficult to get access to a military base. There is someone on the base (media relations or something) that you would first contact. They will need a lot of details about your project (script, etc). The military will have to make sure that your project portrays them in a good light. I believe the approval process will go all the way to the Department of Defense. Once they approve your project, they'll have to clear the actual people that will visit the base, and you'll have to work around their schedule. Expect this to take months. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 18:32
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    In my experience with projects getting access to a base, there was always a 3rd party involved that had connections to the base (military advisor etc). I would not expect a hospital to ever give you access. Patient privacy is a huge concern. Best to find a Dr. Office or small clinic that you can get friendly with someone there and get after-hours access. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 18:33
  • I may jinx myself for saying this, but the hospital is the least of my long-term concerns; I work for a college of nursing that's right next to, and has really good relations with, a hospital. Not only that, but since both are within the same research-driven university, they're usually pretty open to data collection for studies. The military base was more of just wondering. I don't have any projects lined up that need me to have access to the base, though I do live within walking distance from Hill Air Force Base. Fly-bys, on the other hand, I can get from the public street just off base. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 18:42

5 Answers 5


What I do is whenever I shoot on a location that might be useful (military base, animal rehabilitation center, etc.) I get a contact detail and introduce myself as a sound effects recordist, then sweetly tell them that I would LOVE to go back without cameras and just record sounds. This has been my way in many times.

Apart from that, it's really about who you know. For example, last year, I met the head engineer for the Gautrain, and explained what I do and said that it would be amazing to record during their tests. He managed to get me in (although the dates never worked out because I was booked on another job). But generally, people with clout in the organization/enterprise will be able to get you in.

How to do it officially, well I have no idea!

ps: this is in South Africa... probably not as hectic as in other countries.

  • Good advice! I often find that people assume im part of a film crew and they are lot more comfortable when I tell them I am just recording sound. Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 19:10

If you wear hi viz clothing, a hard hat, & a lanyard with an ID card, people may just assume you are meant to be there.

I have done that a couple of times, but never anywhere really risky like inside a military base! ;)

  • I've done that a lot! Well more precisely, when there is media around I just whip my mic out and I look like media :-) Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 19:22

Many cities have a "Film Office" - an ombudsman of sorts, designed to help filmmakers get this sort of clearance. If you have one in your city, that's an excellent place to start, as they often have the contacts you need to get in "officially" to these sorts of locations.

  • The local film office here in Wellington are super helpful, eg suggesting locations for fireworks recording, assisting with fire permits, providing a letter for advising locals people etc etc...
    – user49
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 17:53

When recording in a public place such as a mall, I don't usually have a problem because I am not recording images. If the security approach me and ask what I am doing, I always tell them that I am recording a general ambiance for myself and nothing too specific such as eavesdropping on a conversation and such. But if I suspect a problem, then I will arrange with security and human resources to get clearance. In the case of hospitals, schools, police stations etc, I always set up a session well in advance with the right people so that everyone knows who I am and what areas I will be recording in.I went recording in some Zulu villages, and I was advised to meet with the local chief first, present him with a gift (usually alcohol) and then explain to his majesty why I was there and what I was doing. Very exciting really. I find that planning in advance will prevent problems and present those in area of authority a sense of respect from your part.

Have fun


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