The Fairhope City Council will vote to streamline regulations for film crews at its next meeting, including a new rule instituting a $1,000 permit fee. Community Affairs and Recreation Director Sherry Sullivan said the city receives three to four requests to film each year and the new regulations will make it easier to control what production companies do while they are in town. She presented the new plans, which would be passed as an ordinance, during a work session April 27.
“The new permit allows us to get all the information we need up front so film crews don’t have to keep coming to us to ask permission to do things,” Sullivan said. “We can have control from the beginning with this ordinance. This will give us leeway to go ahead and be aware of what people are wanting to do so if there is questionable material we can deny the permit up front.”
The regulations would require a pre-production meeting between the city’s film liaison and the production company’s location manager, who would be asked to provide a list of dates and locations for shooting and provide an insurance certificate proving the company carries a $1 million policy for general liability, automotive liability and workers’ compensation.
After those meetings and before the permit is granted, production companies will be asked to pay a $1,000 permit fee. The company may also be asked to pay to use certain city facilities and services at the same rate as other for-profit ventures. Off-duty police officers will be paid $30 per hour, with a three-hour minimum, and marked patrol vehicles will be available for $25 for per hour for up to four hours or $50 for unlimited daily use.
Applications must be submitted for review a minimum of 14 days before shooting begins, and five days’ notice must be given to residents and businesses near any shooting site.
Sullivan said a production company recently asked to close streets for a scene, but the city’s current ordinance requires 12 weeks’ notice to do so.
“Right now all of our different ordinances are just not conducive to filming a movie,” she said.
Sullivan studied film rules in Mobile, Gulf Shores, Savannah, Oak Island, North Carolina, and Beaufort, South Carolina, among others in advance of writing the new regulations.
In the last few years, several movies have been filmed in Fairhope. The horror film “Before I Wake,” starring Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane, used the city’s Pecan Street warehouse and Fairhope K-1 Center. The film, about a boy whose dreams manifest physically while he sleeps, will open in theaters in September. The made-for-television movie “Coffee Shop” was partially filmed in Fairhope, and horror films “Oculus” and “Hayride” also filmed in the area.
Sullivan said the new regulations were approved by City Attorney Tut Wynne and the planning commission and received a favorable review from the Alabama Film Commission. She said the city will designate one person, likely someone already on staff, to be its “film liaison.”
“The goal is not to get more film crews here, although that would be good,” Sullivan said. “The goal is to have more control over what they do once they get here. There will be one person in charge instead of several people at different departments.”
During the work session, council president Jack Burrell asked Sullivan if the $1,000 fee was fair, but said he might not want to see a film made by a production company that was unable to afford the fee.
Sullivan said Thursday an exception would be added to allow student film crews to bypass the fee and permit process.
On the other side of the bay, Mobile does not charge production companies a permit fee, and Mobile Film Commission director Eva Golson discouraged the practice.
“I hope they don’t start charging for permits elsewhere, we don’t and the state doesn’t,” Golson said Thursday. “We want their business here. We want a permanent film industry with permanent jobs for young people right here in Mobile.”
Golson cited the passage of a film incentives bill in 2009 which she said jump-started production in the city. The bill was designed to promote the film industry in Alabama by raising the amount of tax refunds production companies can claim after they leave the state. Companies can receive a 25 percent rebate on state certified expenditures and a 35 percent rebate related to payroll expenses for projects exceeding $500,000. Companies can also apply for rebates based on hiring local crew members.
A 2014 bill sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh would have redirected those incentives into the Education Trust Fund, state General Fund and the Alabama Tourism Department. The bill was indefinitely postponed on April 1, 2014, and Golson said it should not have been up for debate in the first place. She said $72 million had been approved in film budgets in Mobile and Baldwin counties from 2010-14 after the incentives bill passed.
“They were worried about the amount of money we were giving back, but if film crews don’t come here you get 100 percent of nothing,” she said.
Golson said “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” starring Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore, is scheduled to film in Mobile in June.
Elsewhere in Baldwin County, the city of Gulf Shores passed an ordinance in 2010 mandating that no motion picture, video or audio production may be filmed, taped or otherwise recorded at any public or private venue without a permit carrying a $250 fee. The city requires $1 million in liability insurance and information about the name of the production, sites, schedule, details of on-site activities, final product, storyboards, treatment, scripts, description of use and outlet for final product, props, whether “talent” will be used, lighting, amplified sound, special effects and more.