Officials at the Utah Film Commission were among those who lobbied for federal legislation to charge fees for filming at national parks - and they don't believe it will impact Utah's film and television industry in the slightest.
The bill, HR2993, was approved by the House of Representatives Tuesday. It would authorize the Interior Department to set fees for commercial use of public lands, including national parks and wildlife refuges, and allow the federal agencies that run them to keep the proceeds.Since the bill hasn't passed the Senate yet, the fee amounts haven't been set. However, film commission executive director Leigh von der Esch said she has been promised that they will be "equitable for all involved.
"The fees won't be so exorbitant that they prohibit filmmakers from using the parks in their productions," von der Esch said, adding that the legislation is not an effort to get more money from the motion picture industry.
"(Motion Picture Association of America officials) helped us lobby for it," she said. "This is actually an attempt to make our lands even more accessible to studios - and one that will allow the parks to be compensated."
Currently, wildlife refuges and national parks are prohibited for charging filming fees, even though lands run by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service can do so.
"It's completely ridiculous that it works this way," von der Esch said. "And as the current policy is written, the system is unfair to the parks and the movie studios."
Also, the legislation should speed up requests by filmmakers to use the public lands in film and television productions.
"With rules in places, maybe they can expedite the requests," she said. "The last thing we want to do is have (film crews) waiting for months to hear back. After all, we don't want to discourage them from filming on our lands."
As written, the House bill would also allow the interior secretary to reduce charges for projects that benefit the parks and refuges, including educational or promotional films. Television news productions, commercial photography and newsreels would be exempt from paying the fees.
Also, von der Esch said the legislation should exempt student and low-budget independent productions, or at least reduce the fees assessed to them, in certain instances.
"We're quite aware that there are significant differences between those types of films and the multimillion-dollar movies, besides the obvious monetary ones," she said.
Film and television production brings more than $100 million in the Utah economy each year. And much of the projects shot in Utah include advertisements filmed in national parks, such as Arches and Zion National Park.