Filmmaking Legislation

In Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws, the tiny seaside town of Edgartown, Massachusetts was transformed into the fictional shark-menaced Long Island community of Amity Island.

In the classic film Groundhog Day, the quaint Victorian inn where Bill Murray wakes up over and over to report on Punxsutawney Phil’s annual Spring prediction is actually five hundred miles away from the famous Pennsylvania town — in Woodstock, Illinois.

Such is the magic of movies and the ability of filmmakers to select the right locations that properly frame their stories and align with their creative visions.

Today it’s not unusual to see movie and TV production crews descend upon big cities and small towns to scope out unique backdrops for new projects. While their presence can create a buzz of excitement among locals and help boost business, many municipalities are creating ordinances aimed at finding a balance between allowing filmmakers free access to their communities and protecting residents’ rights, property, and quality of life. 

Setting the scene

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and television industry supports a dynamic U.S. creative economy, employing people in every state, and across a diversity of skills and trades. In all, 2.4 million people—from special effects technicians to makeup artists to writers to set builders to ticket takers—and more—work in jobs supported by the industry, which pays over $186 billion in wages annually.

View sample filmmaking legislation >

The producers

When a movie or television show shoots on location, it produces jobs, revenue, and related infrastructure development, providing an immediate boost to the local economy. The film industry pays out $21 billion per year to more than 260,000 businesses in cities and small towns across the country—and the industry itself is comprised of more than 122,000 businesses, 92 percent of which employ fewer than 10 people. As much as $250,000 can be injected into local economies per day when a film shoots on location. In some cases, popular films and television shows can also boost tourism.So, what could be the problem with all that?

Lights, camera, distraction…

The prospect of having a big-name film or television show shoot in your community can be exciting and lucrative. Yet many residents who have experienced a local shoot may offer a different opinion. Large entourages of film crews descending on a community often generate numerous complaints from residents including objections to large trucks and trailers overtaking neighborhoods, traffic tie-ups and blocked parking areas, crews shooting at late hours and large crowds gathering to see the action. In rare instances, crews have simply shown up to shoot footage without permits or notifying residents and local government officials. For locations that are used for a one-time-only shoot it can be a manageable distraction. But for residents and businesses in frequently used film locations such as Los Angeles and districts in and around Hollywood and in New York City, the disruptions can be major.

Creating filmmaking legislation to regulate production

While most municipalities are generally eager to encourage the production of films and television shows in their communities, a number of local governments are taking steps to ensure that basic rules and regulations are followed through legislation.

In Totowa, NJ, for example, the Borough Council recently approved new regulations to address potential disruptions caused by filming in the area. Under the new regulations, no person can use public or private property, public right-of-way, facility, and/or residence for the purpose of taking motion pictures, television pictures, or commercial still photography without first applying for and receiving approval and a permit from the Borough Clerk of the Borough of Totowa. The permit will cost $100 for a Basic Permit and $250 for an Expedited Permit. There will also be a daily filming fee for filming of eight or more hours of use of public lands per day costing $1,000 per day and $500 for filming of less than eight hours per day. Applicants must also provide satisfactory proof of insurance coverage and the posting of a cash or maintenance bond to protect and ensure that the location used for filming will be left in a satisfactory condition.

Film commissions help filmmakers and local governments work toward common goals

To serve the common interests of municipalities and filmmakers, many local governments establish or work with film commissions. These organizations are government-mandated business units that represent the creative industries in the region and help them market and grow. Industries like motion pictures, television, commercials, corporate videos, music videos, documentaries, and still photography are supported by film commissions. There are currently more than 320 registered film commissions across 40 countries. All film commissions perform a standard set of functions that include:

  • acting as official adviser to government on the policy, legislation, and regulations necessary for the promotion of the film, television, and related multi-media industries;
  • acting as official intermediary on behalf of government with the film sector, and vice versa;
  • marketing and promoting their region as a cost-effective, quality location for local and international productions using a variety of tools;
  • compiling a database of locally available crew, talent, services, facilities, and equipment in the region, and promote their use to international and local filmmakers;
  • advising film makers on any other aspects of production including, but not limited to, municipal by-laws, traffic ordinances, environmental legislation, and employment legislation and practices;
  • conducting and coordinating research into all areas of film, television, and multimedia productions locally and internationally, and to be informed on best practices within Film Sector development and management.

Useful examples of filmmaking legislation from the eCode360® Library

If your community is interested in regulating filmmaking by legislating or updating ordinances, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:

Updating your municipal code is vitally important

Submit your code updates as soon as possible to ensure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Make it part of your Board meeting close-out process to send your adopted legislative changes to General Code when everything from that meeting is already right at hand.

General Code clients can easily send legislation to [email protected] (If you’re located in Texas, please submit your legislation to [email protected]) For tips that will allow us to process your code updates most efficiently, click here.


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