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Ashland halts new filmmaking regulations

ASHLAND — The City Council has postponed adoption of new regulations on filmmakers while the city searches for ways to reduce impacts on students, nonprofit groups, private citizens and small businesses that shoot film.

The city is updating its 20-year-old film regulations. Proposed revisions call for filmmakers to obtain permits at least 10 days before shooting and buy $2 million worth of liability insurance.

Current regulations require filmmakers to get permits at least five days in advance and have $500,000 worth of liability insurance.

The city is grappling with the issue in the midst of a video-shooting boom.

Mobile phones that shoot video, less expensive cameras and Internet sites such as YouTube have enabled everyday people to shoot and post video to a wide audience.

Southern Oregon University is incorporating filming into a broad array of classes, and more professional filmmakers are shooting in Ashland.

"We're in an odd situation where we're trying to regulate technology," said Councilor Mike Morris, noting that anyone can be a filmmaker these days.

People shooting family videos for personal use, the news media and people filming in studios would not have to get permits.

People shooting for commercial purposes, nonprofit groups, classes and people filming on private property would have to get permits at least 10 days in advance and have the $2 million in liability insurance.

The proposed Ashland film regulations don't have provisions for taking into account the wildly varying sizes of film crews and filming budgets — which range from one person with a camera to major feature film productions.

Ashland filmmaker Anne Lundgren served as the liaison between the city and the production company for "Wild," a movie starring Reese Witherspoon that filmed scenes in town in 2013.

That size of a production can secure a permit at least 10 days in advance and has liability insurance, she said.

But Lundgren said some of her small clients come to her with only two days to a week of notice.

"A lot of times, I can't meet the 10-day requirement," she said.

Lundgren said the Ashland Independent Film Festival encourages children to shoot and submit films.

If those children didn't get permits and liability insurance, they would be breaking the law, she said.

SOU Assistant Professor Erik Palmer said the university is aggressively striving to integrate video into different areas of learning. The university has dozens of student film producers, he said.

Through Rogue Valley Community Television, the university also supports filmmaking for public television channels.

Palmer said the proposed requirements put an onerous burden on small productions. He recommended that nonprofit, academic and public access channel filmmaking be exempt from the permit requirements.

Gary Kout, executive director of Southern Oregon Film and Television, said filmmaking can bring economic activity to Ashland.

He said the proposed city regulations would place heavy burdens on students and small businesses. He's heard from an SOU student who secured funding for a film but now thinks he can't shoot in Ashland.

"Suddenly we're going to pull the rug out from under the up-and-comers," he said.

Kout said $2 million worth of liability insurance can cost about $500. Many small businesses budget $500 for the entire cost of shooting a commercial, he said.

City councilors had many concerns about the impacts of the proposed regulations as well. They reviewed the issue during a Tuesday night meeting.

Councilor Pam Marsh said the Ashland Food Project, which collects food for those in need, shot a video promoting its efforts. It would be required to get a permit and liability insurance.

She questioned whether every student in an SOU film class would be required to secure a permit to carry out a class assignment.

"It's important that what we do focuses on the big folks," Marsh said.

Councilors will send their thoughts and concerns to city staff, who will continue working on draft changes to Ashland's filmmaking regulations.

The issue will come back to the council at a future meeting.

City Attorney David Lohman said that $2 million of liability insurance has become the standard for protecting cities in Oregon.

Lowering the liability insurance requirement or waiving it for some filmmakers puts the city at risk, he said.

"Whenever we allow flexibility, we're taking a risk on behalf of the taxpayers," Lohman said.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.