Can Tom Cruise Rent Tokyo?

Sure, if he fills out the right forms.

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Tom Cruise told a group of reporters in Japan on Tuesday that, for his next movie, “I’d like to shoot in Tokyo, if I could have downtown for a week. … People might not be very happy with the traffic and let us have it for a week, [but] we’d have a sequence you’d forever remember.” How would he get permission for something like that?

By filling out the right paperwork. Foreigners who want to shoot in Tokyo can enlist the help of a support office known as the “Tokyo Location Box.” The Web site of the Location Box tells producers they’ll need to submit an application—in Japanese—for permission to use public locations. They also have to negotiate the cost of shutting down traffic, if necessary.

In America, basic filming permits tend to come very cheap. Most cities want to make themselves as attractive as possible to the big moviemakers, since a single production might shell out millions of dollars for local actors, artisans, caterers, and materials. Some cities—like New York—hand out the permits for free. Chicago sells permits for just $25 per day, and San Francisco gets $300. In 2000, Charleston, S.C., asked the makers of The Patriot for $200 a day, plus $2,500 for the upkeep of their new statue of George Washington. Milwaukee charges for barricades and other equipment, and requires a $500 deposit for trees, grass, and plantings.

Local governments collect more money when they have to lend out city personnel—like police officers, firemen, and traffic agents. You’ll need police on hand if you want actors to use fake weapons or dress up like cops; fire officials may be on call if the shoot involves pyrotechnics. If you want to shut down city streets, you’ll be on the hook for any costs associated with rerouting traffic. (Production companies also have to buy insurance for the shoot; most places require at least $1 million in coverage.)

The film office in New York City provides police officers from the NYPD’s Movie/TV Unit at no charge, but the traffic costs can mount up for ambitious projects. To shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, a production company might need to hire several dozen traffic agents at $30 an hour each.

Producers also need to work out arrangements with the residents and storekeepers who might be affected by the shoot. (Some cities require signed permission from a majority of the people involved.) In many cases, a movie will pay out daily rates to cover the inconvenience of lost parking spaces or lost revenues. These rates could be $500 a day for residents, or significantly more for restaurants and stores.

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Explainer thanks Kara Alaimo of the New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting, Alex Cohn of Charged, producer Dia Sokol, and Kayla Thames-Berge of the Location Managers Guild of America.