Fairhope considers changes in film permits

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FAIRHOPE – Shooting some films could become easier and cheaper in Fairhope under changes being considered by the City Council.

The proposed ordinance would reduce fees and application times for some short films, such as commercials for local businesses and set deadlines and other specifications for all film production products in Fairhope.

“We’re trying to make it easier for our customers and our citizens to be able to film their commercials and get them into us,” Jessica Walker, Fairhope community development director told council members at a Nov. 25 work session.

The city now charges a $1,000 application fee and requires a $5,000 security deposit for all film productions shot in Fairhope. The same fee applies for a 30-second television commercial or feature-length film, she said.

The proposal would reduce the fee for a film of less than 10 minutes to $500 with a $2,500 refundable deposit.

“Often when people are coming in to film commercials or any kind of thing like that, they maybe don’t have as big a budget as someone who’s coming to film a feature film, so we really don’t want to ding them in that regard,” Walker said.

The proposal would also require film makers who want to use city property to apply 21 days in advance. Walker said requests to use city property require council approval.

“If they’re not using city property, it has to be received no later than 14 days ahead of time,” Walker said. “Obviously all this has to go through multiple departments before we can sign off on the application. In some instances, we’re getting these three days before somebody wants to film or a week before somebody wants to film, it makes it really difficult for us to get it through where we need to get it through and get everybody approved.”

Council President Jack Burrell said city officials could put some flexibility in any new ordinance to allow Fairhope officials to approve some requests without going to the council for some ordinary projects.

“Where do you draw the line? Let’s say they’re standing on the park, Henry George Park and they’re shooting a scene of the bay there. By the letter of the law, they’d have to come to us for permission and that seems almost excessive as well,” Burrell said.

He said that if city department heads could approve some projects, the process could be streamlined and the result could bring more film business to Fairhope.

“You wouldn’t be waving the fees or deposits and you wouldn’t waive the requirement for the business license,” he said. “You’d only be waiving the 14 or 21 days, because you’re going to be hit with multiple occasions of five days, three days and they’re so minimal, that they’re just going to go somewhere else if they have to wait 21 days.”

Other proposals in an ordinance regulating filming in the city would specify whether film makers were required to have a Fairhope business license. Walker said the city requires film makers to have a business license, but the requirement is not included in the current ordinance. The changes could also specify that news organizations reporting stories were exempt from the permit regulations.