The San Francisco Travel Association has a video library that includes scenic shots, cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, etc. This is free for use for all media-related projects with the exception of advertisements. This has better angles and weather than most crews will be able to obtain on their own.
No permits are required to shoot on private property so it is often helpful to look for a private location to shoot "public" areas. For example, Pier 39, which is private property, provides very good footage of both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the bay, Alcatraz, sea lions, boats, etc. They are also very receptive to working with film crews.
(This is an UNOFFICIAL guideline) If a crew is small (2–3 people) and does not need any special arrangements (they won't be parking a large vehicle, stopping traffic or blocking pedestrians, etc.), they can most likely film without the need for permits. Because San Francisco has so many visitors shooting their own videos, it’s often difficult to identify the professionals from the amateur. As long as the person filming could be mistaken for a visitor, they will most likely not need a permit. However, if the crew has tripods, reflectors, boom mikes, etc., they are obviously a tv crew and will be expected to have permits.
All film permits must be obtained by the tv crew themselves working directly with the San Francisco Film Commission. The only tv crews that do not require film permits are news crews covering actual news (such as a press conference, breaking news like a fire, natural disaster, etc.). The Film Commission is sympathetic to the promotional value of other tv crews but has definite guidelines by which they must work. The standard fee is $300 per day for unlimited locations, plus the crew must show proof of insurance (this is fairly standard procedure).There may be extra fees depending on what/where/when they want to shot. If they plan carefully, many crews can shoot all they need in one day. The San Francisco Film Commission handles permits for within the city only, not Sausalito, Marin, Berkeley, Napa, Tahoe, etc.
The Golden Gate Bridge and the National Park Service (Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Alcatraz and Muir Woods) each have their own separate permitting processes. They are required to have someone accompany tv crews and there are associated costs. The Golden Gate Bridge is especially restrictive on filming for security and traffic reasons.
Filming at Yerba Buena Gardens requires a seperate permit as well.
To receive a filming permit, or for additional questions about permits, contact:
San Francisco Film Commission