Burbank Film Permit Ordinance – Op-Ed

MAILBAG – Published in Burbank Leader 12/12/2008

I’m glad the Burbank City Council unanimously passed a new Film Permit Ordinance; It’s a great 1st step and much better than what we had previously. We can now all shoot legally on most private & public property with a hand-held camera, along with a tripod and on-camera light. I’m also very happy that at least 2 Council members (Ramos & Gordon) expressed support for revisiting & updating our 10 year old Home Occupation ordinance to be more flexible & accommodating to media freelancers working from home (studios) in areas such as audio post, video editing, web/graphic design, 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 &/or audio equipment. 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 & 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 a fire threat than someone using a 1000w Lowes work light in their home or garage. Christmas lights and smoking in the home pose far greater risks. Moreover, a small 1-3 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 impact the public or create a nuisance re noise or traffic.

Therefore, I’m disappointed the Council did not grant a permit exception &/or fee waiver for Videographers using external lights and audio gear. While the $350 film permit fee could be revised/reduced next 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 SAG strike. We need our leaders to act now! This is not a bail-out, 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 waiver or reduce permit fees for single-operators & small 2-3 person crews? Burbank has always been sensitive and generous with respect to providing financial help to those on a low/fixed income & our non-profit service providers, as well as incentives to attract businesses to our community, but seems unwilling to give indie film/documentary makers & videographers, who are already struggling as companies go out of business and cut back on advertising, a break. (BTW: indie films are mostly a labor of love & 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 will have one final opportunity to correct this wrong and re-consider their position on the fee waiver/reduction at the ordinances 2nd 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 suppose to be the “media capital of the world”; let’s make sure it stays that way!

Useful Links:

Eric Michael Cap speaks on Film Permit Ordinance @ Council meeting

Videos of Council discussion on Film Permits 

Burbank Leader Article – 12/14/08

Burbank Leader Article – 12/17/08

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