Filming in national parks has been free by law since 1948.
So, for example, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" paid no fees for using Arches National Park, even though the film grossed $312 million in U.S. sales and rentals.Now filmmakers worry that Congress may soon go to the other extreme - and make filming prohibitively expensive in parks.
For example, one proposal by Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., would charge fees amounting to one-half of 1 percent of a film's budget. It would have charged the Indiana Jones movie $160,000 to shoot its opening sequences at Arches.
Leigh von der Esch, executive director of the Utah State Film Commission, warned a Senate hearing Thursday that such fees could send filmmakers looking elsewhere, hurt local economies and result in a drop in tourists who come to Utah after seeing it in movies.
"The average two-hour movie has approximately 80 different locations within the course of the film, from houses to hospitals, as well as public lands," she said.
So she said producers would be hesitant to spend so much for just one location in a national park.
Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, added that another problem is Thomas' proposal would charge the same amount regardless "if a company was on the site for 14 days or 14 hours, or if the film crew numbered five or 50."
He added, "A production budget is not anchored in concrete. It is fluid and ever moving. To penalize the filmmaker for budget overruns . . . is to turn every producer away from national park filming and toward alternative locations."
Still, Valenti, von der Esch and others from the movie industry said they favor creating fees for filming at parks - but say it should be based on the number of crew members, the length of shooting and disruption it causes.
They also want most of the fees to stay in the park that collects it - to help local rangers feel their park benefits from such shooting, not just the general U.S. Treasury.
Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who started the push to create fees for filming in parks, also supports developing such a formula based on use and impact.
He also told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday that basing fees on production budgets is not wise. "I cannot see how it would work without hiring a team of auditors at the Interior Department."
Meanwhile, still photographers also worry that proposals meant to get money out of movie and TV commercial makers could unwittingly make lawbreakers out of freelance scenery photographers or even some families taking vacation snapshots.
Victor Perlman, managing director of the American Society of Media Photographers, said current bills could require fees of anyone taking photos in a national park that they might seek to sell. He said photographers on vacation might need permits in case their vacation photos yield something they may want to sell.
He said it would be wiser to require such fees only if the photographer is using models or props; is granted access to areas normally closed to others; or whose activities could create significant disruption of normal visitor uses.
Perlman also called for Congress to make any fees it sets consistent among all public lands agencies - including the Park Service, Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"Perhaps such uniformity would correct the current situation where, on lands administered by the BLM in Utah, it costs more to make still photographs for a day than it costs to graze a herd of sheep on the same piece of land," he said.
He and moviemakers also called for Congress to streamline the process to obtain permits to shoot pictures in parks.
Von der Esch said, "Some of our burdensome regulations require weeks for processing, and in an industry that is dependent on the cooperation of our unpredictable El Nino weather, flexibility for changes . . . is almost impossible."
Films made in Utah National Parks
Movie Year National Park Star
City Slickers II 1993 Arches Billy Crystal
The Flintstones 1993 Glen Canyon John Goodman
Maverick 1993 Glen Canyon James Garner
Grand Canyon 1991 Glen Canyon Kevin Kline
Thelma and Louise 1990 Arches Geena Davis
Beastmaster II 1990 Glen Canyon Marc Singer
Indiana Jones/Last Crusade 1989 Arches Harrison Ford
Jewel of the Nile 1985 Zion Kathleen Turner
Romancing the Stone 1984 Zion Kathleen Turner
Superman III 1982 Glen Canyon Christopher Reeve
The Electric Horseman 1979 Zion Robert Redford
Apple Dumpling Gang 1978 Glen Canyon Don Knotts
Exorcist II: The Heretic 1976 Glen Canyon Linda Blair
The Outlaw Josey Wales 1975 Glen Canyon Clint Eastwood
Man Who Would Be King 1974 Glen Canyon Sean Connery
Against a Crooked Sky 1974 Arches Richard Boone
Jeremiah Johnson 1972 Zion Robert Redford
The Eiger Sanction 1970 Zion Clint Eastwood
Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid 1969 Zion Paul Newman
Planet of the Apes 1967 Glen Canyon Charlton Heston
Mackenna's Gold 1967 Glen Canyon Gregory Peck
Greatest Story Ever Told 1965 Glen Canyon Max Von Dydow
Plastered in Paris 1930s Bryce Canyon Tom Mix
Source: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.