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National Parks May Boost Filming Fees

When filmmakers shot Fox Searchlight’s upcoming “Wild” at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, officials could not have been more helpful, says the movie’s location manager, Nancy Haecker.

What a contrast from the stereotype of government bureaucracy — and from issues with filming at national parks in the past when, for example, Alfred Hitchcock was unable to shoot the climatic chase scene in “North by Northwest” on Mount Rushmore, getting his shots instead on a studio mockup.

But now there’s a new concern: cost. The U.S. National Park Service and Dept. of the Interior are weighing a proposal to increase filming fees, and in some cases, double them.

The MPAA says the increases aren’t justified, and could discourage filming on federal lands. More than 50 lawmakers signed a letter urging Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack not to boost fees.

Location manager Doug Dresser, who recently shot a car commercial at Death Valley National Monument, maintained the competitive climate doesn’t support the hikes. “States are trying to eliminate or reduce fees for filming in state parks, and obviously there are foreign governments trying to attract filming. It doesn’t make sense (for the national parks) to price themselves out of the market.”

The proposed fee schedule would charge $1,000 per day for productions with 51-70 cast and crew members, and $1,500 per day for projects employing more people. According to the MPAA, the increases are from 33% to 100% higher than current prices. The fees are in addition to the repayment of the government’s costs for restoration of a site after any disruption caused by filming.

Some have argued, however, that the cost is hardly out of line when it comes to the budgets of many studio productions.

A spokesman for the park service said that responses to comments on the proposed fee schedule are still being drafted, and it is hoped that a final schedule will be issued early this fall.

The fee increase would raise money for backlogged repair projects, resource preservation, renovations and law enforcement. The National Park Service issued about 3,150 permits for commercial film production and photography in 2012, the only year for which statistics are available.

For years, studios were able to shoot with no location fee because the park service was prohibited from collecting money for location permits. But a law passed in 2000 allowed the service to establish a “reasonable” fee for filming. The MPAA, under then-chairman Jack Valenti, even supported the legislation, testifying before Congress that films that shoot on public lands are “the most enticing kind of tourism ad you can imagine.”

The effort to increase fees assumes that even in the face of global competition there’s nothing like a national park stamped all over a picture. Shooting there comes with restrictions, Dresser says. “But the tradeoff is, you get some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world.”

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