Film law revisions don’t go far enough

I’m glad the Burbank City Council unanimously approved a first reading for a new film permit ordinance (“Changes to filming ordinance worry some,” today).

It’s a great first step and much better than what we had previously. We can now all shoot legally on most private and public property with a hand-held camera, along with a tripod and on-camera light.

I’m also very happy that at least two council members (Marsha Ramos and David Gordon) expressed support for revisiting and updating our 10-year-old home occupation ordinance to be more flexible and accommodating to media freelancers working from home (studios) in areas such as audio post, video editing, Web/graphic design and animation, as well as other business professions.

This update is long overdue, but, in my opinion, doesn’t go far enough. It’s still illegal to film on private property without a $350 permit, whether that’s your own home or place of business, if you use ancillary/external lighting and/or audio equipment, unless it’s for personal use.

The reason we have restrictions is “to protect the public from the safety hazards and disruption which can be associated with filming activities.” I totally understand this with respect to major film/TV production on public property, which is what the original ordinance was created to address; but to restrict individuals and freelancers from filming on private property that in most cases does not pose a real threat to public safety is unreasonable and overbearing.

Someone setting up a couple of low-wattage photo/video lights to photograph/film a subject, scene or event generally poses no more of a fire threat than someone using a 1,000-watt Lowe’s work light in their home or garage. Christmas lights and smoking in the home pose far greater risks. Moreover, a one- to three-person crew shooting a low-budget indie film, music video, commercial, corporate/industrial video, wedding or news/documentary interview on private property is generally not going to negatively affect the public or create a noise or traffic nuisance.

Therefore, I’m disappointed the council did not grant a permit exception and/or fee waiver for videographers using external lights and audio gear. While the $350 film permit fee could be revised/reduced in May as part of the budget discussions, I’m not sure we can afford to wait that long given the worsening economy and the threat of a catastrophic Screen Actors Guild strike.

We need our leaders to act now! This is not a bailout; it’s a concession that in all likelihood will have very little impact on city revenue. How much would it really cost the city to waive or reduce permit fees for single operators and small two- to three-person crews? Burbank has always been sensitive and generous with respect to providing financial help to those on a low/fixed income and our nonprofit service providers, as well as incentives to attract businesses to our community, but seems unwilling to give indie film/documentary makers and videographers, who are already struggling as companies go out of business and cut back on advertising, a break. (By the way, indie films are mostly a labor of love and not money-making commercial extravaganzas.)

In all honesty, unless we put our money where our mouths are, our so-called “support” for media-related pursuits is mere lip service.

The council had an opportunity to show they care and are willing to compromise, yet no one put a motion on the table for a vote.

The council will have one final opportunity to correct this wrong and reconsider its position on the fee waiver/reduction at the ordinance’s second reading this coming Tuesday night. I hope someone steps up to the plate and at least puts an amendment on the table for a vote. Burbank is, after all, supposed to be the “media capital of the world;” let’s make sure it stays that way.



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