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Old March 13th, 2008, 05:03 PM   #1
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National Park filming legislation

First of all, let me preface this post by saying that I discussed starting this thread beforehand with Chris to get his approval. Political discussions do nothing to inform or educate any of us about filmmaking which is what the purpose of this forum is all about. This thread exists ONLY because this bill deals with filmmakers and it is intended for information purposes. Any rants or discussions that stray too far over the line will get this thread shut down in a heartbeat. So please let's not make Chris regret that he allowed this thread to be posted.

This bill would effect all nature and wildlife filmmakers no matter what country you live in.

Anyway, currently small production companies are lumped into the same group as the major motion picture companies. Any filming in National Parks for commercial purposes requires a permit, location fees and other fees may be applicable. One or two filmmakers with minimal equipment such as just a camera and tripod are exempt from location fees but are still required to pay for a permit and additional fees may be applied as well. The current law was never intended to include the small indie film crew but language was never included to exempt the independent.

Still photographers are exempt from this law as they lobbied to have language included in the current law to exempt them from these requirements.

A bill is currently in committee that will allow the small film and video companies of five or less crew members to be exempt from any fees other than a single yearly permit which would cost $200. Currently you would need a permit for each park you wished to shoot on and would likely have to pay additional fees on top of that. Below is a summary of the bill that is currently in committee:

H. R. 5502
To amend Public Law 106-206 to direct the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to require annual permits and assess annual fees for commercial filming activities on Federal land for film crews of 5 persons or fewer.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

February 27, 2008

Mr. BOREN (for himself and Mr. YOUNG of Alaska) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in addition to the Committee on Agriculture, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

A BILL

To amend Public Law 106-206 to direct the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to require annual permits and assess annual fees for commercial filming activities on Federal land for film crews of 5 persons or fewer.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. PURPOSE.

The purpose of this Act is to provide commercial film crews of 5 persons or fewer access to film in areas designated for public use during public hours on Federal lands.
SEC. 2. ANNUAL PERMIT AND FEE FOR FILM CREWS OF 5 PERSONS OR FEWER.

(a) In General- Section (1)(a) of Public Law 106-206 (16 U.S.C. 460l-6d) is amended by--
(1) redesignating paragraphs (1), (2), and (3) as subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C), respectively;
(2) striking `The Secretary of the Interior' and inserting `(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided by paragraph (3), the Secretary of the Interior';
(3) inserting `(2) OTHER CONSIDERATIONS- ' before `The Secretary may include other factors'; and
(4) adding at the end the following new paragraph:
`(3) SPECIAL RULES FOR FILM CREWS OF 5 PERSONS OR FEWER-
`(A) For any film crew of 5 persons or fewer, the Secretary shall require a permit and assess an annual fee of $200 for commercial filming activities or similar projects on Federal lands administered by the Secretary. The permit shall be valid for commercial filming activities or similar projects that occur in areas designated for public use during public hours on all Federal lands administered by the Secretary for a 12-month period beginning on the date of issuance of the permit.
`(B) For persons holding a permit described in this paragraph, the Secretary shall not assess, during the effective period of the permit, any additional fee for commercial filming activities and similar projects that occur in areas designated for public use during public hours on Federal lands administered by the Secretary.
`(C) In this paragraph, the term `film crew' includes all persons present on Federal land under the Secretary's jurisdiction who are associated with the production of a certain film.'.
(b) Recovery of Costs- Section (1)(b) of Public Law 106-206 (16 U.S.C. 460l-6d) is amended by--
(1) striking `collect any costs' and inserting `recover any costs'; and
(2) striking `similar project' and inserting `similar projects'.
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Old March 13th, 2008, 07:08 PM   #2
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Kevin,

Thanks for the post.

Is there anything we can do to get this passed quickly, numbers to call or persons to write. I would think with the number of indi shooters we could send a powerful message and help the community as a whole.
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Old March 13th, 2008, 10:16 PM   #3
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I think getting the word out and talking to the people involved with this bill is a good start.
I've sent it to as many people as I could today.

Like I said, photographers have been exempt from even having to get a permit because they spoke up.

I'm afraid that the current law will keep me from shooting in Yellowstone again because I just can't afford thousands of dollars in fees to do the same thing that photographers can do for nothing.
And it was thousands of dollars.

Over four thousand dollars to have a ranger follow me around. No ranger escort needed for the still photographers I was going to travel with. A million dollar liability policy with the park named as an additional insured. No policy needed for the still photographers. Two hundred dollar permit fee that would just cover Yellowstone. No permit needed for the still photographers.
I'd have to get another permit etc to shoot next door in Grand Teton.

It doesn't matter where you live, if you want to come to any national park and intend to make any money from the footage, this effects you.
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Old March 14th, 2008, 09:58 AM   #4
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I called one of the National Forest districts here yesterday to ask about filming in one of Colorado's wilderness areas. It took me 4 calls to reach the person who issues permits. I told him I was a semi-pro videographer and wanted to be able to film in a wilderness area whenever I hiked there this summer. I told him the footage may or not be used commercially or submitted as stock footage and that I had no specific contract or film project in mind.

It seems I was the first case like this he had dealt with. He struggled to find the appropriate agency guidance. At first he said I would need a permit. As we talked and he continued to look for the appropriate rule guidance, he finally got to the point where he said that I wouldn't need a permit, but there might be issues if I sold the footage down the road. Finally he said no permit would be required and there would be no need to check back if I ever did sell footage. Interestingly, he said commercial filming was not allowed in the wilderness areas of the National Forests unless it promoted the agency's wilderness preservation mission.

I asked him "don't you think that a nature documentary promotes wilderness values either directly or indirectly?" He couldn't answer that, at least not with an official position.

The Park Service, the BLM, and the Forest Service have all tried to develop rules in response to a law that went into effect in 2000 that authorized them to charge fees and issue permits. It seems that none of these agencies really understand the full nature of the film business, and specifically the differences between a small independent or freelance shop and a major production company. None of them have developed clear, consistent rules. Many of their staff do not understand the rules or the film industry. Some national forest districts have links to their own rules and some have no posted rules at all. I think the situation is a bit like the new TSA rules for batteries on planes. Different officers will interpret the rules differently.

It would be good if we could do everything we can to help them understand.

Pat
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Old March 14th, 2008, 10:13 AM   #5
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Colorado has always been very liberal about letting serious amateurs and pros (read: people with big cameras...) shoot in the mountains and open space--I'd be almost hesitant to make these sort of inquiries along the lines of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." My motto: Never put bright ideas in a government official's head!

Other places, I have found this not to be the case. And I think Kevin's experience with getting a Yellowstone permit is certainly illustrative.

We're taxpayers and these are federal lands, and, as long as we do no harm, we should be entitled to the same free and open use of these lands as the photographers.

I just think the governing bodies have not caught up to the DV revolution and the reality that there are a lot of serious hobbyists in the field, just as there are a lot of serious big lens photographers.

And also that big-bucks Hollywood productions are no longer the only ones knocking on the door--they need a tiered permitting structure that changes with the technology and lets the smaller outfits shoot responsibly without having to rob the bank to do it.
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Old March 14th, 2008, 10:21 AM   #6
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Something that really bugs me is the idea that a one or two-person crew has to be escorted around a park to make sure they don't interfere with other visitors, wildlife, etc. Hikers and backpackers, however, who are mandated to observe the same rules (e.g., don't mess up the environment or interfere with other visitors) are trusted to go where they wish, without an escort.

It would seem reasonable, fair and practical for the park staff to issue a permit, tell you the rules, and trust that you will follow them. I contribute money to wilderness preservation organizations, visit parks, and support their existence in part because of the wonderful work of nature videographers over the decades who have brought these places into my home. Often the best footage is that captured by the loan videographer who spends a great deal of time in the same park, knows the environment, and is able to capture footage that others simply can't. That seems to me to be a lifeline for the parks and something they should be promoting rather than discouraging.

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Old March 14th, 2008, 10:38 AM   #7
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A national forest starts literally right along my back yard. A lot of my filming is done there. Since I am just starting to try to make the transition from amateur to pro, I want to make sure that I don't end up getting a fine that sets me back one new camera cycle or find that I can't legally use the footage that I have captured for commercial purposes. My wife has been encouraging me to just not worry about it and shoot, and I can appreciate the "if it ain't broke don't fix it approach", but these rules are new and evolving and I don't want to get tripped up by them.

My day gig is as a scientist for a government regulatory agency, and we are constantly dealing with how to apply regulations appropriately. Our feedback up the organizational chain sometimes helps to get rules changed so that they are fair and they work as originally intended. So sometimes it makes sense to "shake the tree" and see what falls out. :)

Cheers,

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Old March 14th, 2008, 04:43 PM   #8
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The argument can't even be made that we're making money off the footage because the people I was going on the trip with make WAY more money selling their stock photography than I do selling my stock footage. Professional photographers are not even required to obtain a permit unless they are doing something that the general public isn't allowed to do.

The key is getting the law changed. As long as the law allows parks to charge one man crews, they will.

It sounds like Yellowstone is the worst at discouraging filmmakers by charging as much as they can. I know we went all the way up the ladder to Washington and they will not budge.

This bill is the best thing out there right now to allow us to film in our federal lands with out undue financial burden.

On top of Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance to Yellowstone it says something like "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.

Last time I checked, I was a people. :)

"The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world...This Park was created and is now administered for the benefit and enjoyment of the people...it is the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of us all."

President Theodore Roosevelt
April 24, 1903 at Gardiner, Montana
Speech dedicating the North Entrance Arch
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Old March 14th, 2008, 06:42 PM   #9
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Kevin,

I have studied this issue extensively and I can tell you that the federal land management agencies are all over the map on permit policy. About a month ago I spent about an hour discussing permits with the USFS for North Georgia on a project I was working on. The conversation went from "you need a permit" to finally what I perceived as "you shouldn't have even asked." There should be a common sense approach to this but each agency and even park can have its own policy which seem to be based on memory of the times that the "big" productions came to the park and had a significant impact on public use and park personnel. In other words "were a pain in the rear-end".

For my money paying job I work for a federal government land/water management agency fortunately with very liberal permit policies. I routinely give "permission" to videographers/photographers as well as issue permits. The break point between the two for me is the size of crew and intended use. I have never issued a permit to one person but film crews doing commericals have always need a permit.

I think if you stay low key and act like a tourist you are good to go. I would also never hand out a business card to a park official.
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Old March 14th, 2008, 07:16 PM   #10
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I think Yellowstone is trying to do whatever they can to discourage people from filming in the park.

i remember the last time I was filming in the park before I decided to get into stock footage sales, I was set up on the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring.

I was the only one there as it was early in the morning.
I used to do still photography and I had on one of my old business shirts.

I was just hanging out sitting on the bench there at the boardwalk shooting some footage every now and then.

A woman walked past and checked out what I was doing. I'm use to tourists asking questions and what not and didn't think anything of it.

Not long after that a ranger came up and asked what I was doing and if I was a professional. By then the woman who had passed by earlier was back.

I said I was just shooting some stuff to show my friends and family back home.

Well, the woman piped up and asked about my shirt. Enquiring whose business that was etc.

I still to this day believe that that woman called in the ranger to try and bust me.

John Gerlach, a professional wildlife photographer, said it is routine for Yellowstone to go through photography magazines seeing when tours are supposed to be coming into the park.

So, while keeping a low profile may work in a lot of places, I don't think it will fly in Yellowstone.

Besides, if the law says I need a permit then I'll get a permit. But until the law is changed where they won't be charging me $4k+ to have a ranger babysit me, I won't be back.

So, I'm working to try and make that happen.
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Old March 14th, 2008, 07:46 PM   #11
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Kevin,

Just for comparison purposes, our permits start at $50. Anything higher is based upon hourly rate of the ranger, maintenance crew if needed and a bond in the case of HBO that used a park for 7 days with props for the movie "Warm Springs". Bond was refunded afterwards when all damage which was minor was repaired.
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Old March 14th, 2008, 08:01 PM   #12
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Kevin, Meryem, and Mark, nice web pages. There's a lot of talent and dedication that are evident in your presentations. Meryem, do you ever sleep?

Maybe we should film at Mark's lake. We'll know what to expect. :)

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Old March 14th, 2008, 08:31 PM   #13
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Mark, can you get a job at Yellowstone! :)

Do you guys usually require a ranger to tag along?
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Old March 14th, 2008, 09:44 PM   #14
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Ha..Ha... Only have 12 more months to go and I will have my 30 years in. Looking forward being out in the woods filming full-time.
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Old March 15th, 2008, 02:30 AM   #15
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Yet you know there are exceptions. Bob Landis films in Yellowstone over 300 days a year.
There's no way he could be paying to have a ranger follow him around.
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