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Pitkin County not ‘film friendly,’ says industry rep

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Pitkin County is pricing and regulating itself out of contention as a locale for film and commercial shoots, the co-owner of a local production company told county commissioners Tuesday.

Liz Long of Aspen Productions and Kevin Shand, Colorado film commissioner, both urged the county to be more accommodating to film productions – from lowering its permit fees and reducing the long lead times required for permits to lifting its prohibition on the use of helicopters in filming. In short, Long said, the county needs to be “a little more film-friendly.”

Commissioners decided earlier this year that it was time to review their film policies after denying use of the county courthouse for a scene in “Cougar Hunting,” a film shot in Aspen and around the county in the spring and summer. At the same time, Long has wanted to address commissioners about county policies, according to Lance Clarke, assistant community development director.



Commissioners, due at a joint meeting with the City Council late in the afternoon, made no decisions, but scheduled a discussion of the issues on Dec. 15.

Film and commercial shoots employ local residents, boost the local economy with an influx of spending, and put the resort in the spotlight, drawing visitors, Long said. And, with other locales actively courting film and commercial productions, Pitkin County could find itself out of contention despite the stunning scenery that has long attracted them, she said.



“It behooves the county to be friendlier than ever to filmmakers here,” Long said.

The county charges a $499 permit fee for a minor production (two hours of staff time) and $1,497 for a major one (six hours of staff time), but recent experience suggests the process routinely requires more than six hours, sometimes a lot more, Clarke explained. If it takes more than six hours, the county charges $249 per additional hour. VH1 was charged $4,500 for the recent shooting of a reality TV show.

“That is the policy of Pitkin County – that land-use applications pay their own way,” Clarke said.



Though the county wants a production company to file an application 60 days before the shooting, staffers realize shoots often operate on much shorter time schedules and has always worked to accommodate short turnarounds, he added.

“We’ve never turned down a shoot,” he said. “We’ve never said no.”

The county doesn’t necessarily approve all that is requested, though, and the use of helicopters has been generally denied because of the associated noise and disruption, and potential safety issues.

Many productions want aerial shots, however, and they turn elsewhere, Long said.

She provided commissioners with a list of locales where the permit application deadline is much shorter, if a permit is required at all, and where fees are relatively insignificant. Long said her company was recently involved in a shoot in Vail where no fee was charged.

Here, a company may need permits from both the county and city of Aspen, she said, calling for a way to streamline the process.

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle questioned the need to obtain a permit from both the U.S. Forest Service and the county for some shoots at local ski areas, and urged the county to be cognizant of the benefits film productions bring to the resort.

Shand, the state film commissioner, suggested the county develop a permit for filming that is different from a special-event permit, as film productions are different than, for example, bike tours that come through the county. Currently, the permit process – which requires input from a host of agencies and affected residents – is the same for filming and events.

“Filmmaking is very much a self-contained industry,” Shand said.

He also urged the county to explore helicopter use. They are not all noisy and intrusive, he said.

The sheriff’s office is neither for nor against helicopter use, said Tom Grady, director of operations, but it does require a $10,000 deposit if one is to be used, in case authorities must respond to a crash.

“We do consider helicopters to be highly risky,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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