City adopts version of one-stop permit covering public property

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - The Grimm cast and crew take a break during a switch of scenes in West Linn back in March.Making a film in Wilsonville just got a bit more formal.

The Wilsonville City Council last week voted 5-0 to approve a new ordinance requiring commercial filmmakers to acquire a city permit and business license and carry liability insurance before filming on public property within city limits. The ordinance would not apply to private property.

The move follows a similar move by Clackamas County to create a “one-stop” film permit that standardizes the permitting process across the entire county.

“Basically, we don’t have at this time a formal policy regarding commercial filming that takes place in the city,” Wilsonville City Attorney Mike Kohlhoff said at the council’s Sept. 16 meeting. “We basically have done it on an ad hoc basis. But the state of Oregon has made some very positive steps in economic development and with the film industry in incentivizing a very large tax credit situation. And at the same time Clackamas County has become a lot more active and they have approached the cities in Clackamas County about joining with them.”

Probably the most high profile film to set up shop in Wilsonville in recent years was the 2010 CBS Films medical drama “Extraordinary Measures” starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell. That production took over the city’s Willamette River Water Treatment Plant for several days to film laboratory scenes.

But city officials said that experience, which involved extensive painting and other modification to the treatment plant in preparation for Ford’s scenes, had little to do with the current ordinance. Instead, it is related to a June move by Clackamas County to adopt a one-stop permitting process that will apply to all cities within the county. Wilsonville is just the latest city to adopt a similar measure tailored to its needs.

“They (the county) are preparing a one-stop permit application,” said Kohlhoff. “So as more of a housekeeping, into-the-future type of look we took their model ordinance and worked it to meet our situation and circumstances and have developed this particular ordinance.”

Others are already there, including the city of West Linn, which has had high-profile crews visit town recently. Last month, for example, saw NBC crews use the city’s Willamette Park to film an episode of the popular show “Grimm.”

The film and media production initiative is an emerging economic driver within the county, said Clackamas County Economic Development Manager Catherine Comer, with production, wages and tax payments accounting for more than $200 million in annual spending in the county. That covers more than 5,000 jobs, according to the county.

“We have an incredibly diverse landscape of urban, agricultural, small towns and mountain settings perfect for film locations,” Comer said in June when the county policy was adopted.

In Wilsonville, city officials enthusiastically adopted their own version, albeit with a few details remaining to iron out, including permit fees and the amount of liability insurance required.

Kohlhoff noted that the permit process offers advantages over the previous ad hoc situation that compelled the city to treat each filmmaking request separately. In the case of “Extraordinary Measures,” he said, the city had to put together an agreement with CBS Films to cover the cost to the city of using the water treatment plant, as well as the modifications the company wished to carry out in order to film.

“We didn’t have any pyrotechnics,” Kohlhoff said, “or any different type of filming situation. But nevertheless there are some things that occur that may have costs to them. So the application is set up to say what types of things you’ll need from the city, whether extra police will have to be available, fire, or just, all in all, what might be going on.”

For now, City Manager Bryan Cosgrove will have the authority to determine permit fees on a case-by-case basis, mainly because of the vastly different requirements demanded by large companies like NBC or CBS when compared with small independent filmmakers.

Any violations of permit conditions could be met with fines of up to $1,000 a day.

“I think with insurance and a deposit we’ve covered it,” Kohlhoff said. “When you get into the bigger types of films they’re pretty much used to doing these types of things. There are always exceptions, I’m sure, but it’s probably the indie film maker that might not be as well established and we’d have to work with them a little more. Again, this is something that currently we don’t have a great deal of demand for, but hopefully in the future we will.”

The ordinance will return to the council next month for a second and final reading.

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