By ROBERT MAIER
As a video production instructor at Gaston College, and someone who worked for 30 years in film and video production, not to mention the author of “Handbook for Location Scouting and Management for Film, TV and Still Photography,” I am shocked by the Davidson Town Board’s decision to saddle innocent people working in video and photography with new onerous restrictions, some of which even unreasonably threaten freedom of speech. (See our report on May 14 town board meeting.)
Davidson’s new film rules
The Town Board on May 14, 2013, approved the town’s Film Production Ordinance, a six-page set of rules and regulations. In a prelude, the ordinance says, “The Town Board of Commissioners declares that film production is an important economic activity, which benefits the community. Nevertheless, such activity requires regulation to ensure that impacts on property, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, circulation, the safety of bystanders and crew are protected and the least possible amount of disruption to the community occurs.”
DOWNLOAD the new rules here.
Most of the permit’s restrictions already are part of town laws, and already apply to every individual and business. The new ordinance repeats sensible restrictions on trespassing, public noise and light nuisances, cutting town bushes and trees, using explosives, destroying property, and parking—nothing new here folks. So then why the new laws? Sadly, as a specific body, they present the threatening, unfriendly, unwelcoming, and stern bureaucratic face.
My 25 video students can be seen regularly photographing and videoing in the parks, and on the sidewalks, and streets of Gastonia, Cherryville, Belmont, Dallas, Mt. Holly and other more welcoming towns in that area. I have never had a complaint about my students blocking traffic, littering, making excessive noise (including explosions), or forcing old ladies into the street. My students are courteous, unobtrusive, safe, and even picturesque as they take photos of streetscapes, fountains, gardens, historic sites, and even profound shots of the occasional cemetery (which by the way Davidson forbids in Section 18-312.) I will henceforth instruct them to avoid Davidson, if they value their freedom. I mean Davidson even forbids saying or showing its name on film (Section 18-314), over-riding the First Amendment.
Davidson now requires students, small independent producers, artists, individuals or sole proprietors to have business liability and worker’s compensation insurance. That costs $500, and entails a lot of paperwork from the state government too. They MAY waive that for students — if they don’t have beards or tattoos? But it can be quite a barrier to free speech for a struggling artist and/or student.
Another barrier is The Town’s requirement of 10 days’ notice and filing of an application to film or photograph anything. This includes students or artists hoping to shoot a small video scene or take a photo in Davidson. After reviewing the application for 10 days, unspecified permit fees may be levied. If an artist or individual producer wants to take a few quick shots on the Village Green, with no greater impact than a tourist taking a family portrait, they must apply at least 10 days in advance, or risk arrest.
Note to visitors: You may be stopped by local police if you are spotted taking a snapshot of the beautiful library; please have proof ready to show that you are not a professional, a student, artist or 501-C(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization.
With all the detail in the town’s shiny new 6-page anti-filming ordinance, there’s one glaring omission.
NUDITY! These are films after all … not watercolors from the senior center; yet nowhere is nudity prohibited! What are our leaders espousing here anyway? Don’t cut the bushes, but it’s OK to show them? Perhaps some tweaking of the new ordinances might be appropriate to better fit town sensibilities.
Bob Maier is a video and film veteran who teaches at Gaston College. He lives on Walnut Street.
The attached photo is a snapshot of the cover of Robert Maier’s textbook, “Location Souting and Management Handbook” (1994, Focal Press). This book was adopted by film schools around the world. The cover image is a collage of Davidson’s Main Street, as photographed by Mr. Maier. He did not obtain a permit for these shots, and fortunately no one was injured and no businesses were damaged in the course of the photography. Davidson’s name however, was mentioned, along with several Davidson residents in the thank-yous. The author is therefore grateful for the statute of limitations.