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The Blog of Photographer Steven Gray

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Pensacola's Proposed Commercial Film Ordinance

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I was up late last night writing an email to my city councilman, Mr. Larry Johnson. There is a piece of legislation coming up for a vote at the next City Council meeting that could do a lot of good and a lot of harm to the professional photography and video community here in Pensacola. PNJ Article: http://www.pnj.com/story/news/local/pensacola/2015/05/08/hayward-pensacola-film-commissioner/27017229/

Proposed Ordinance: http://philbaker.info/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/PensacolaProposedFilmOrdinance.pdf

Here is the letter I sent to Councilman Johnson in its entirety:

Councilman Johnson,

Good morning! I hope this email finds you well. I am writing to you in regard to the proposal regarding "Commercial Filming on City Property."

To preface this email, I would like to provide context on my background. I am a lifelong resident of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola. I attended Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida, graduating with a bachelors degree in Communication Arts, with an emphasis on film and telecommunications. Throughout high school and college, I photographed weddings and participated in independent film projects with other local creatives. I now work as a proud member of Mark Lee's real estate team at Levin-Rinke Resort Realty, and still make time to photograph weddings, portraits and editorial photography, as well as assist with independent films for creative enjoyment.

I saw the recent news that Mayor Hayward will most likely be taking on a new responsibility as the City of Pensacola Film Commissioner. That is exciting, as I believe the Greater Pensacola Area has much to offer as a location for film, television and music video production. My enthusiasm increased when I read the council memorandum evoking memories of "Wings of Eagles," "Jaws" and "An Officer and A Gentleman" to help spur Pensacola on to claim its place as an active part of the film industry in the near future.  With that said, my enthusiasm waned when I saw that the definition of "commercial filming and photography" in Chapter 7-12 was left extremely vague.

The ordinance, stated in Sec. 7-12-2 as applicable to "all parks, streets, sidewalks and other rights-of-way, parking lots, buildings, and the grounds adjacent thereto," and going on in Sec. 7-12-3 to say that "no person shall film, digitally record, or take still photographs on city property for commercial purposes without first applying for and obtaining a permit from the Film Commissioner" has put myself and other photo and video professionals very ill at ease.

Most wedding and editorial photographers in this area, myself included, rely on easy and free access to city streets and parks to capture photographs and video of both local and destination weddings in downtown Pensacola. Use of city parks like Seville Square, Plaza Ferdinand, Plaza De Luna, and even the city streets themselves (on calm days) is standard practice among local photographers and videographers. The results of such common practices have been nothing but beautiful imagery of Pensacola and its people circulating on the internet and in wedding and lifestyle magazines across the country. The same can be said of local professional videographers who shoot their own stock footage of this beautiful city in order to better edit commercial pieces for local businesses.

In its current form, the proposed ordinance is terrifying for these aforementioned creative professionals. As of today (May 11th), no details have been given on possible permit costs, how frequently they will need to be applied for and what criteria will need to be met for approval. It is also not yet clear how soon the ordinance will be implemented if it passes the May 14th vote in its current form. As you can imagine, this many lingering questions has many in the local photographic community very concerned.

I fully appreciate the need to regulate large productions that require the use of equipment trucks, tents on city property, drone flights, use of city utilities and the coordination of large equipment in public areas, and I firmly believe that my peers in photography and video do as well. With that said, there is a great difference between large-scale productions involving multiple people and large equipment versus an individual videographer, wedding or portrait photographer with a single camera.

Without a more specific definition for "commercial photography" and allowances made for the photographers and videographers who already rely on free access to city parks and streets for the events they shoot every weekend, this ordinance could cripple dozens of going concerns that add value to our community at large. Local, long-time photographers like Jeremy Cook, Rick Schamberger, David and Jessica Marshall and Josh and Sara Thurber all come to mind, just to name a few. Their bodies of work are more than a means to their own living. Their images help define Pensacola far and wide as a beautiful place. The same can be said of the numerous video production companies who have, until now, freely shot their B-roll footage in public spaces for use in local commercials.

Ultimately, I hope that you will oppose this ordinance in its current form. Before it comes to the table, I would ask you to please, if you have not done so already, look at some alternative models that could be incorporated into a new draftof the ordinance for a vote. The City of New York has a very solid system in place, the details of which you can find here:http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/permits/permit_required_fee.shtml. In short, the system they have in place has a very accommodating set of rules stating a permit is not required when "hand-held cameras or tripods are used and the person filming does not assert exclusive use of City property." This exception has allowed for individuals and small businesses to thrive in New York City while still nurturing a profitable and active film industry under the purview of the city's film commission. Closer to home, the City of Tallahassee has a near-identical set of rules that you may find here: http://www.visittallahassee.com/industry/media-film/

It is my sincere hope that Pensacola could look to those above two cities and adopt a similar model to the benefit of all concerned.

I am writing to you, my District 4 Councilman, in hopes that you will take these thoughts into consideration as this ordinance approaches the vote.

In summary, I believe that reviving the film commission is a tremendous boon to our community, and I believe that Mayor Hayward's active and dynamic personality will utilize the potential of that position to its highest extent. With that said, the current, broad definitions and requirements pertaining to commercial photography and video are toxic to the photographic and video professionals already working hard in our city. As a voter and as a photographic professional, I ask that you oppose the ordinance in its current form and urge the rest of the City Council to do the same.

All the best, Steven Gray East Pensacola Heights, Pensacola 850-712-5730 stevengrayphotography.com