Student Films Across America

Tonight, I attended the LA screenings of Student Films Across America, a traveling film festival that highlights great shorts made by film students nationwide. I was one of the judges this year — months ago, I watched a bunch of screeners. So it was nice to see the final results.

And here’s where I beg forgiveness. After arriving late, waving hello, and watching Kathy Huang’s keenly observed doc Miss Chinatown, U.S.A., I got sucked into a Hollywood vortex of lawyer/agent/studio phone calls, which forced me into the hallway, and ultimately out the door. So I never got to shake hands and congratulate the filmmakers. I’m doing that now.

Sorry. Congratulations. And the reason for my absence will hopefully become clear soon. (It has nothing to do with The Nines, for a change.)

Permitted filmmaking

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.

Look out! He is a Spider-Pig

I saw and quite enjoyed The Simpsons movie this weekend. But having just gotten the MPAA rating for The Nines (“Rated R for language, some drug content and sexuality”), I was a little surprised-slash-envious to see the official rating for The Simpsons:

Rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout.

I’m fine with PG-13. There is yellow nudity, after all. But “irreverent humor throughout” feels like a marketing quote, not a rating. You could blow that up in 200-pt type on the newspaper ad: “The MPAA says… IRREVERENT HUMOR THROUGHOUT!”