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Ashland City Council reconsiders ordinance on film making

After months of drafting an updated version of Ashland's Film and Television Production ordinance, the City Council may decide to do away with it all together.

The filming of "Wild" in October lead to the city's realization that its existing film ordinance has not been updated since 1984. The city decided it was time to present an updated version to reflect new processes and technologies in film making.

"The existing ordinance isn't clear and applies broadly to any type of production," says city Administrator Dave Kanner. "We don't want an ordinance that was drafted before the existence of personal handheld devices."

The updated ordinance would differ from the original by creating general rules that all film productions must adhere to and creating a permitting process for productions that are more complex and likely to create safety, liability and disruption problems.

During the ordinance's first reading at the Sept. 16 meeting, council members heard input from members of the local film community and Southern Oregon University film production faculty. While they were generally in support of the new ordinance, there was some clarification desired about the definition of low-impact film making.

"The way the ordinance is currently written significantly impacts everyday media making," said Erik Palmer, assistant professor of Convergent Media and academic coordinator of the Digital Media Center at SOU. "There are some cases where regulation would be appropriate, but a large number of projects don't need the oversight."

"I want to look at this functionally for all users," added Brandon Givens, production coordinator at SOU's Digital Media Center. "It should be something that even a really intense hobbyist could work in."

While language was introduced that would define "low-impact filming" as productions using hand-held devices, no vehicles and no exclusive use of city property, some councilors had problems with the definition.

"It seems like we're focusing on the equipment to define 'low impact' rather than the behavior of the film maker," said Councilor Greg Lemhouse. "Couldn't a person with their iPhone have an impact?"

Councilor Dennis Slattery pointed out that the council might be getting away from the intent of the updated ordinance.

"We're spending a lot of time figuring out who is exempt rather than talking about who requires a permit," he said.

"This document will confuse people with the direction we're taking," added Councilor Mike Morris.

Kanner made the suggestion to repeal the old ordinance but not replace it with the updated version.

"Film makers can look at what existing permits they might need based on their filming intent," he said.

Film makers would apply for existing permits, such as special event permits or street closure permits, depending on their needs. Kanner admits that many larger production companies would want a more specific film permit rather than the number of other permits they may need.

"It's a matter of how we can help film makers in our city," Management Analyst Ann Seltzer said. "As we became more specific, it raised the question of who we actually permit. This requires self-assessment of the film maker's needs. Film language can be weaved in to the existing permits. "

Mayor John Stromberg asked if this process would have worked during the production of "Wild."

"'Wild' was essentially a special event permit," Seltzer said. "As we went through the process, it triggered other requirements."

City staff will now explore this option and ensure that current regulations could support film making in the city and what might need changing.

"Even if we don't use the updated ordinance, the work was still important," Lemhouse said. "We were able to explore all of our options with this."

"We need to have the wisdom to know if what we're working on isn't working," Slattery added.

While the decision to explore this new option was unanimous, some councilors still have questions about this direction.

"I'm not entirely sure we don't need this specific regulation," Councilor Rich Rosenthal said. "But I'm open to what staff has to bring back."

Kanner would ideally like to have something before council before the end of the year. However, city staff has not yet begun work on examining this new direction.

Email reporter Ian Hand at ihand@dailytidings.com or call him at 253-722-4071. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.