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Boise heads back to drawing board on film permit ordinance after concern from filmmakers, press

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Disclosure: BoiseDev editor Don Day testified in front of the city council last night, along with several other members of local media, advocating for changes to the ordinance language around the definition of activities journalists could engage in. You can read a version of his testimony, here.

A proposal to create a permit for commercial film productions in Boise is heading back to the drawing board after members of the press and the film production community brought up concerns. 

On Tuesday night, Boise City Council held a public hearing on a new version of its film production ordinance. But, despite changes that created different tiers of films based on what sort of activities the production would require and a shorter review period for the permit, attendees raised concerns that it still isn’t responsive to the needs of the filmmaking community. Journalists also raised concerns that the definition of “news media” in the ordinance could infringe on the freedom of the press. 

All of the city council members and Mayor Lauren McLean said the testimony showed them there was more work to the done on the ordinance before it was ready to be voted on by the end of the year. They suggested changes to the definition of news media, a review of whether or not the penalty for violating the ordinance should be a misdemeanor and insurance requirements in the ordinance. 

“What I would like to see ideally happen is for another round of stakeholder outreach through the Office of Community Engagement and with some of our policy-making staff working through this to refine what we’ve started with and address some of those concerns where (the ordinance) is accomplishing all of our objectives where the news media is free and to make sure that this is doing the job of incenting film production and all of the economic development and all of the vibrancy that it brings to our city and all of the cultural opportunities,” City Council Pro Tem Holli Woodings said.

What’s the latest proposal?

The ordinance has evolved since it first came before city council in June

The first proposal required any commercial production that had certain high-impact characteristics like late-night shoots, impacts to car or pedestrian traffic or dangerous animals, to get a permit. Now, the city’s ordinance divides productions based on what the filming will entail. 

Films are now sorted into three categories: Low-impact, medium-impact and high-impact. A film that requires a reservation on city property, entry after business hours when the general public isn’t allowed or production would be disruptive to city business would be considered low-impact. This permit would be free to apply for and have no per-day fee. There would also be an annual permit option for local film companies to obtain a low-impact permit. 

A medium-impact production would any of the following elements: filming between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. within 300 feet of a residence with a cast and crew of more than five people, “significantly” disrupt the flow of foot or vehicle traffic, brandishing real or artificial firearms or other weapons or simulating nudity or sexual encounters in public or on private property visible to the public. This would require a $25 fee per day of filming. 

A film would require a high-impact permit if it disrupted pedestrian or vehicle traffic, included pyrotechnics, car crashes, dangerous animals, “excessive” noise, dangerous stunts or stages and other large props. These films would require a $250 application fee and the $25 per day of shooting. 

This ordinance would not apply to personal films, like taking a video of your child playing at the park or at a wedding, the news media, still photography, or student or charitable films. But, some in the film production industry still had questions about how this could impact their work. 

Press freedom concerns

The city’s definition of “news media” in order to exempt it caused some problems for representatives of the journalism community. 

The ordinance defines news media as: “The filming activities conducted for the purpose of reporting on current or breaking stories involving persons, events, or scenes by newspapers, television, or other outlets that are devoted solely or primarily to the broadcasting or distribution of information about current events.”

Don Day, the publisher of BoiseDev, argued in this testimony that this law violates the First Amendment’s protections for the freedom of the press. He said the definition of news media could give the city the power to restrict what sorts of journalism is created in the city, even unintentionally. 

“The language says the media can only engage in matters that are ‘current’ or ‘breaking’ without getting your permission,” he said. “But our local journalists often work on stories that aren’t either of those things. They may be on history. They may be on the future. It is not your role or place to decide what we cover or in what manner.”

Idaho Press Club President Betsy Russell also spoke out against the ordinance, specifically its provision saying a violation was a misdemeanor. 

“…Please reconsider imposing misdemeanor penalties of up to six months in jail for violations of this new ordinance,” Russell said. “Citations would be more appropriate for this type of civil violation. To think that a news crew working on a routine story, or a documentary crew highlighting something important about our city, could potentially face up to six months in jail for doing its job is appalling. I can’t imagine that’s really what the city wants to do.”

Film industry looks for more adjustments 

Several members of the independent film production community Boise had concerns about the ordinance as well, even after the changes. 

It wasn’t the idea of a permit that troubled filmmakers in Boise. Creators who testified on Tuesday said a process with more specific rules and regulations will help bring certainty to film productions and could lure more productions to the City of Trees, but they said the industry needs to be more involved in crafting the rules. 

Liability insurance was one of the issues of concern. 

“I did talk to Jaime about the commercial automobile insurance at $1 million,” Jennifer Ivanhart with Wide Eye Productions said. “That is much higher than we are required to carry by many of the largest employers in Idaho that hire us to do commercial production. We carry $500,000 and that’s a standard that is accepted by many companies we work for and we were wondering if the city would consider matching that amount.”

Another repeat topic was a request for a film office in the City of Boise to help support productions and review applications. John Mark Krum, who works for KTVB and does independent film productions on the side, said there should be staff with film experience reviewing these applications and helping resolve issues. 

“One of the problems I have with this ordinance is when you take the Boise market for us we’re trying to be professionals in the industry now with this ordinance we’ve entered into the city with a business relationship,” he said. “So for us to get these permits becomes valuable so that working relationship is extremely important and having someone who is a professional (is important) and right now I don’t think there’s anyone with professional experience to take our requests and mitigate any problems. That’s why it’s best practice to have a film office.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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