NYC does a flip-flop

In late May everyone got a touch excited when the City settled its lawsuit with filmmaker Rakesh Sharma. The lawsuit occurred because Rakesh was detained after police officers saw him photographing buildings and held him for several hours.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film and Television for being very filmmaker friendly and the settlement news made people think that it would be easier for filmmakers on New York streets –

In a settlement released today New York City has agreed to create, for the first time, written rules governing the issuance of permits for film makers and photographers. Under the new rules, which are to be published Friday in the City Record, filmmakers and photographers using hand-held equipment no longer will be required to obtain city permits or have $1 million of insurance.

Sounded so hopeful, but… they’ve finally come out with the rules and while many of them are fine, some of the rules are totally headed in the wrong direction – primarily because the rules are arbitrary and therefore, there is going to be a lot of room for abuse and “interpretation”. How wonderful.

From the New York Times:

New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance.

The same requirements would apply to any group of five or more people who plan to use a tripod in a public location for more than 10 minutes, including the time it takes to set up the equipment.

Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers.

So… the whole handheld exemption rule is true only if I am alone. If I am with someone else, then I need a permit and $1 million in insurance.

And by leaving the language so broad, the police are the ones with the discretion. So while Ms. Cho kindly informs us that it is not “intended” to apply to families on vacation, hey, if you happen to be a brown family and the police happen to be suspicious for any reason, you just violated this rule baby!

The whole point of written guidelines should be to provide clarity and therefore reduce the chances for abuse and these guidelines do nothing in that regard.

Mr. Dunn said the proposed rules would potentially apply to tourists in places like Times Square, Rockefeller Center or ground zero, “where people routinely congregate for more than half an hour and photograph or film.”

The rule could also apply to people waiting in line to enter the Empire State Building or other tourist attractions.

The rules define a “single site” as any area within 100 feet of where filming begins. Under the rules, the two or more people would not actually have to be filming, but could simply be holding an ordinary camera and talking to each other.

The issue is that most people would not even be aware of these rules and would be in violation. That’s really sad. I understand their desire to get professional filmmakers to get permits and get the required insurance – especially because getting the permits is relatively easy (if you have the insurance in place) and the insurance is important since NYC is a busy city and accidents can happen on film sets. But leaving the net so broad so that amateur filmmakers and anyone deemed suspicious by the police can be trapped is not cool at all.

It could severely hamper amateur, guerrilla filmmakers who definitely won’t be able to qualify for the insurance. I remember when some friends and I would quickly sketch out a story, and take a handheld onto the street, shoot something and edit it later in the day. It was a blast and it kept us working and learning. And now, I could be detained for that. If I trust Ms. Cho, I shouldn’t be, but the guidelines do not provide the clarity for me to be sure.

If you want to voice your opinion and tell the Mayor’s office to change this rule and clarify the language, please do so here.