When a movie is filmed in a location that is different than the location in the script (e.g. a movie set somewhere in the US that is filmed in Canada), and there are automobiles shown with license plates for the scripted location, I assume these aren't the real license plates for that car. Or they may even have vanity plates that correspond to some element of the movie, like the one that says "YAHOO" on Gordy's Mercedes in the movie Frequency.

So technically, these plates are illegal because they aren't registered to the car. In the case of the YAHOO example, the car is just sitting next to the baseball field so it doesn't matter. But what if the car is driven? I can think of four cases:

  1. When the car is sitting still, it has the fake plates. On the road, they switch to real plates and take care not to show the plates.
  2. When on the road, the car is actually being towed (see here for examples).
  3. They drive with the fake plates, and these is a "don't ask, don't tell" agreement with the authorities since you're making a movie, and they keep the real plates with the vehicle if needed to be shown.
  4. They drive with the fake plates, and there is some sort legal exemption that covers this.
  • 1
    The roads are closed and not public traffic at the time of filming.
    – his
    May 25, 2015 at 9:18
  • @his I was think more along the lines of when a car is filmed from a helicopter and shown driving down a highway in regular traffic, where the road would not be closed..
    – tcrosley
    May 26, 2015 at 8:11
  • Either it is a documentation (normal licence is needed) or the road is closed and all the traffic is staged. And today, of course, CGI does a lot. (Or they have a special permit under police surveillance.)
    – his
    May 26, 2015 at 13:02
  • Can one really read a license plate from a helicopter? Just because a car has a special plate in close-up, doesn't mean it has it all the time. Heck, it might not even be the same car in the wide shot. Mar 11, 2016 at 14:35

4 Answers 4


There is an organization, the Location Managers Guild of America, which states on their website that they will be responsible for the following:

  • Meet with those neighbors and merchants directly affected by prep, shoot, or wrap activities.
  • Negotiate the location fees, contracts, and associated paperwork.
  • Coordinate legal issues with company attorneys.
  • Request filming permits with all pertinent authorities, listing filming activities in detail.
  • Call in notification of special effects and extended hours. Notify neighbors and gather signatures as required.
  • Schedule police, fire safety officers and security personnel.
  • Coordinate with company safety department and supervise environmental clearance and studies in an expedited manner.
  • Design and implement traffic plans and street closures.
  • Work closely with Transportation Dept. to ensure that parking arrangements meet both production and neighborhood needs.
  • Prepare directional signage and maps.
  • Act as liaison between the public and the shooting crew.

I'm sure they are one of many such companies who do this, but this list is of note because it covers traffic, as well as the covering of permits (some of which, no doubt, will deal with having unregistered cars on location).

  • 1
    Not to mention that police are usually on site to control traffic/close streets... so the "false license plates" are used under supervision.
    – Catija
    May 25, 2015 at 17:29

To the person who posted about Location Managers - Location managers do not deal with the cars or license plates. They permit the location and if needed, hire the officers for road closures etc. They have nothing to do with the cars or the license plates on the cars.

The cars are obtained by the Transportation Department of the show. Typically they are all registered to drive on open roads including closed sets. If they aren't, like say you need a tank or similar, they have to be transported by a flat bed or tow truck to the location and they cannot drive on set. Insurance still applies on sets as it would anywhere else. The production company carries auto coverage and adds the rental company as additionally insured. In turn, the rental company adds the production company as additionally insured.

The Art Department deals with the plates. The Prop Master makes the plates. CA has specific plate numbers that can be used, much like the old 555 telephone numbers you always here, you'll notice the same plate numbers either on different cars in one show/movie or across different movies/shows. They can also go through a company called licenseplates.tv that creates plates from all of the US and the world that are legal for TV and Film use.

As for the initial question - if it's a closed set it's a fake plate. Open road, if it's the wide aerial shot you're talking about you can't see the plate and they are likely using the registered plate. If it's a close up, there is a police escort involved you just aren't seeing. The car being filmed is being followed by a camera car which in turn would be followed by police. This prevents the car with the fake plate from being mistaken by officers not involved in the filming from and pulling them over and ticketing the driver. The wide, aerial shot may still have the fake plate on - if needed to save time, they'll do their close ups and then have the police escort drop back when the airship comes in for the aerial.

Also, the Location Managers Guild is not a company, it's the Union for Location Managers. Location Managers are freelance and some, not all, are members of the Guild.

  • Also, CGI of a plate can't be that tough. Mar 22, 2017 at 21:21

Many years ago I was an extra in a direct-to-cable movie. Our scenes were shot outside a sports arena in California, but it was supposed to be in Denver. Some parked cars were showing in the background, and the crew just took fake paper Colorado license plates and taped them on, then removed them when shooting was done. (BTW, our scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor.) :(

Also, many major studios maintain fleets of actual registered vehicles, with actual legal license plates, for filming purposes.


Where there's a movie company shooting on the street with a vehicle, there are police working with the company. Yes, the plates are fake, just like the '555' phone numbers. We have to to obey regulations. No one gets confused. Although, on one picture, you'd all recognize, we had 70 extras drive 70 police cars (picture vehicles) to a set. Teamsters OK'd it. I can't remember if the plates were legit or not. One of the 70 decided to take the car and go somewhere else. He got arrested. So it's all legal because it's short, no one's likely to be confused about what's happening, the vehicles are never far from a Teamster or the whole company (but for the small, unique moment just mentioned.)

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