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Politics & Government

Filming Permit Bill Advances In City Council

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At least 135 movies have been filmed in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the last 20 years, according to Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

“As of August 1st, that will total $1 billion … from film activity in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which primarily takes place in the city of Pittsburgh,” Keezer told City Council at their committee meeting Wednesday.

Council gave preliminary approval to a bill sponsored by Councilwoman Darlene Harris that aims to codify the city’s process for permitting filming activities on public property.

LaTrenda Sherrill, deputy chief of operations and administration in the mayor’s office, said those wishing to film in the city must meet with the film office, public works, public safety and any other relevant city departments to find ways to minimize the impact on residents. She said the Port Authority of Allegheny County is often looped into discussions as well.

Sherrill said not much will change about the process under the new ordinance, because it simply formalizes a process that was already taking place.

Before casting a "yes" vote, Councilman Dan Gilman wanted to clarify definitions included in the ordinance to make sure that those filming on private property still need to get a permit if their production spills into the public right-of-way.

“Many of these things still require a large number of trucks and generators, especially if it’s a film,” he said. “I want to be very clear that that activity still does require a permit. If you're staging, which includes vehicles, takes up a number of public parking spots, you need a permit.”

Student films are also covered by the ordinance; permits are required only if their productions block the public right away, according to City Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic.

Councilwoman Deb Gross requested a written summary of relevant definitions and requirements for different types of films to distribute to interested constituents.

Urbanic, who sits on the board of directors for the Pittsburgh Film Office, said the plans to replicate their administrative and marketing processes are already in place in other cities.

West Hollywood has a particularly useful website, he said, that provides succinct and easily understandable information about that city’s permitting process. An online permitting and payment process for filming activities is also forthcoming.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said she hopes any documents and forms related to filming in the city of Pittsburgh will comply with her proposal to adopt the principles of plain language as well as a graphic standard.

“We’ll be talking about plain language in a minute so I can only expect that the form will be easy to read and fill out and understand not require hours of labor and discussion with the city film permit office in order to fill out,” Rudiak said.

Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the bill next week.

Movies filmed in Pittsburgh this year include Me and Earl and the Dying GirlSouthpaw and The Last Witch Hunter.