The Union Recorder

February 14, 2014

City looking at film permitting ordinance

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The City of Milledgeville developed an ordinance for guidelines and permits with a stated goal to invite and encourage television, film and video productions.

Considering the size of Georgia’s film industry, the town must establish an easy and consistent permitting process.

The draft as presented to City Council for first read this week requires more massaging.

City Councilman Walter Reynolds, District 4, said in Tuesday’s work session the ordinance is missing in certain spots. 

Reynolds’ stated prior to his recent election that streamlining film permitting and access was a cornerstone of city growth.

“It’s incredibly important that we get this right the first go-around,” Reynolds said. “This will be the face of our public relations with the film industry. You only get one chance at a first impression. If this is what a film producer looks at, they are probably going to turn tail and look at another community.”

Milledgeville based filmmaker and member of the Producers Guild of America National Film USA Locations Committee Jeremiah Bennett worries certain requirements, as worded, could inhibit a production team.

“The purpose of an ordinance is to of course streamline the process so that a filmmaker can easily come into a town, get all the information they need with the approved permits and get it done in a timely manner,” he said. “Some of the issues I saw in this proposed ordinance would make this process actually take longer.”

Executive Director of the Milledgeville Convention & Visitors Bureau Jane Sowell said she pulled film related permits and requirements from 10 other cities for comparison to find what “worked best for us.”

Sowell said there are two versions of the document created.

“We put a shortened version together if they are interested, and if they do come, it’s a more elaborate document,” she said last week. “The final draft going before City Council is fairly extensive, but we feel like we didn’t want any surprises for the production company when they got here for any type of permit they might need.”

Multiple line items alarmed Reynolds and Bennett.

An applicant must submit written forms to the city no less than 10 working days before the commencement of any film project.

Reynolds worries that’s not long enough.

“The industry needs to work faster than that,” the councilman said. “If the turnaround time for approval or denial is five days or less, then why does the permit need to be issued 10 days out? We need to set ourselves up to be competitive in this right from the get-go. We need to have someone that can get this done quickly.”

Bennett said he’d struggle bringing a commercial shoot to Milledgeville under that timetable.

“Sometimes clients don’t give you a complete answer until within the week,” he said.

Along with the 10-day rule, film companies must submit a written notice no less than five business days before production begins to all businesses and residents within a 300-feet radius of the planned activity. The city could increase this notice radius at its discretion.

A potential three-week waiting game is longer than the state of Georgia’s requirements for state property location use.

“The state is working to streamline theirs because they realize they have issues,” Bennett said. “This is why you have a permit, so that if someone has their insurance and meets all of the qualifications why can’t a permit be turned around in 24 to 48 hours?”

Non-computerized special effects require $5 million worth of insurance coverage per incident. 

Reynolds feels this section should be situational.

“That’s a blanket amount that doesn’t apply to every situation,” he said.

“Slapping $5 million dollars across any effect is pretty silly.”

In collaboration with Creekside Films, Bennett’s Glass Door Entertainment brought a full-length family feature film to Milledgeville last October and November.

The crew shot footage at Central State Hospital. The state department body that owns that property required only $4 million worth of insurance.

“It would make you guys have the highest insurance requirement that I’m aware of in any community,” Bennett said.

Sowell said that insurance mandate wouldn’t be an issue for most interested in Milledgeville.

“You have to remember that a film company that isn’t doing any type of pyrotechnics doesn’t have to worry about that provision,” Sowell said. “Some of that just won’t even affect a lot of those film companies. Especially filming out at Central State, it just doesn’t pertain to them because it’s part of the state and not the city.”

Milledgeville has much to show with natural and historic locations that have rarely been seen on film.

The proposed ordinance restricts shoots on a single location to four times per year. A fifth filmmaker wouldn’t receive a permit under the document as written.

“I really don’t think that is going to be an issue for us,” Sowell said. “I don’t think we are going to have a rash of production companies wanting to film one location more than four times in one year. If I’m wrong, I’ll be tickled to death, and we’ll take it before City Council again.”

Sowell believes the majority of Milledgeville’s film industry hook is Central State Hospital. The CW network series ‘The Originals’ filmed an episode at CSH in January.

“We have certain things that other communities don’t have,” the CVB director said. “We are going to do everything we can to get them to come to Baldwin County.”

The ordinance doesn’t state any fee structure or which city agency handles the permits.

Depending on what a production entails, a film team must check with various city departments to ask for approval. 

“It still leaves us running around town and not one single person at the city that knows everything that’s going on,” Bennett said. “It ties our hands.”

According to Sowell, there are two permitting fees depending on the scope of the project.

Small-scale project would pay $100, while a larger production would bump to $250. Additional inspection costs for outside food trucks or the like come into play also.

Sowell said she hopes any film related activity would come through the CVB.

Milledgeville’s ordinance draft spans seven pages. For reference, successful film hotbed Senoia provides a two-page document.

While attending a Producers Guild of America Committee meeting in Atlanta, Bennett was informed the city would soon unveil an online permitting process that would eliminate the need to enter a city office.

Local governments in Georgia cities are hunting for filmmakers and large-scale productions. Milledgeville’s permitting process should be tailored to maintain a competitive edge, he said.

“Where it stands right now, it will do more harm than good if passed this way without serious revision,” Bennett said.

Sowell said the draft protects the city.

“We need to do what’s in the best interest of our community and city, and I feel like this document is a good document. It’s a starting point for us,” Sowell said. “If we find that we become a film mecca, we can always revisit it.”

City Councilwoman Denese R. Shinholster, District 3, and Councilman Steve Chambers, District 6, said Tuesday it was good to be enlightened about the ordinance and what other Georgia communities are doing to attract the film business.

City Manager Barry Jarrett said an upcoming work session will be set up for more discussion prior to any binding vote on the ordinance.