Writer/director James Ponsoldt, one of the fellows at this summer’s Sundance Filmmakers Lab, emailed me some information about new regulations on filming in New York City’s five boroughs. Under the proposed rules (.pdf), a city permit would be needed for:

  • Two people with any camera, shooting in a public location (defined as any area within 100 feet of where filming begins) for a half hour or longer, even if the camera is hand-held, including set up and breakdown.

  • Five people with one tripod, shooting in a public location for over 10 minutes, including set up and breakdown.

I have no doubt that the rules are well-intentioned. Anyone who’s lived in New York or Los Angeles has dealt with the inconvenience of film crews — that’s why there’s a permit process. But there’s a difference between a true film shoot, with its trucks and dollies and light stands, and two guys with a videocamera.

Would these rules really get enforced? It’s hard to say. But even rarely-used laws are a Bad Thing if they criminalize free expression. Videotaping a protest march could be deemed illegal under these rules.

Thanks to sites like YouTube, video has become the new generation’s media of choice. It’s their printing press, their pamphlet, their church-door-upon-which-to-nail-theses. Placing undue restrictions on video creation undermines the spirit of the First Amendment. The Mayor’s office needs to find a way to control the burden of filming (trucks, traffic, noise) without restricting expression.

Picture New York has more information about the proposed rules, including a petition.

As for Los Angeles (and other cities), I can’t say exactly what the current rules are. At USC, we had to get LA film permits for our student films. That was a university policy, and made sense given their concerns about liability and guild relations. (We were able to use SAG actors under a waiver.)

This was before the age of tiny, ubiquitous videocameras. You can now shoot a film without anyone realizing you’re shooting a film. If it’s you and a buddy with a tiny camera, should you really have to register with a governmental agency? I say no. And I hope that New York’s proposed rules wouldn’t make that mandatory.