Forms, growing state requirements present undue burden filmmaker says
By Lani Duke
When Rutland filmmaker David Giancola shot scenes for his in-process feature film Axcellerator around the downtown Rutland parking deck before 9 a.m. October 26, he took care to have permission from the parking deck operator LAZ Parking and to inform the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, and state and local police that there would be fake ammunition fired during the filming.
The section of the deck used for the filming were closed off. People who called the police were told that a movie was being filmed at the site.
Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras, however, said neither the city nor LAZ knew the nature of the scene. LAZ contracts to manage the deck for the city, which leases the structure from the state. The city has no formal permitting process for filming on city-owned or city-controlled property. The Board of Aldermen weighed in, finding no problems with the way the studio had handled the project.
On Jan. 9, Edgewood producer Joseph Palumbo emailed LAZ Parking asking permission to perform some brief re-shoots, requiring five or six people over three to four hours with no speeding cars, or shots being fired. The studio asked for a Jan. 20 date, a Friday, assuring the contractor that all insurance was in place.
Deck manager Ray LaMoria replied that he would need permission from the state, that he should call Deb Ferrell, assistant director of Property Services in the Government Business Services Directorate of the Building and General Services Department. LaMoeria also suggested shooting on the weekend to be a better choice when fewer Monday-through-Friday parkers would be on hand.
Palumbo emailed Farrell back, listing the four shots the studio was requesting. reiterating the small number of people that would be involved and the short time required, confirming insurance and the studio’s willingness to shoot on Jan. 21, a Saturday, as well as willingness to meet other conditions.
Ferrell again referred Palumbo to an online form and rules “governing use of any State facility or grounds.” Requirements for using the parking deck would include, she wrote, proof of liability insurance, proof of approval from the Rutland mayor (as tenant of the facility), security arrangement details, number of cars, locations inside the deck to be used, whether any simulated firearms were to be used, and a promise to remove any and all debris at the end of the shoot.
The list of conditions and the number of involved parties seemed to be mushrooming. When questioned, Ferrell described the added requirements as having been in place on a “long-standing” and necessary “to protect the State’s interests.” The earlier filming had taken place without the State’s knowledge, she said, or Edgewood would have had to comply sooner.
On Jan. 23, already past the date when Edgewood had planned to film, Giancola tried again. Film production may be an “alternate use” for any object or facility, he argued.He and fellow filmmakers have had no difficulties with using state property before, with permission. Why now was he suddenly learning of “long standing” rules to follow, forms to fill out, and permissions to obtain, he asked.
Ferrell repeated her request for information. She also suggested he speak with Deputy Commissioner Michael Stevens..
Giancola approached Stevens directly, arguing that his business was being held to “a higher, unprecedented standard.” He questioned whether any filmmaker had had to meet these requirements.
No, they hadn’t, Stevens admitted. In the 4-1/2 years in which he has held the position, Buildings and General Services had received no request from filmmakers for use of the public buildings and properties it oversees. But it handles many other requests, granting more than 400 each year, he added.
The form, as onerous as it may seem, helps his office “understand what activities are taking place so we can mitigate any potential impacts to other business operations,” Stevens explained. The questions asked on the form are intended to guide “the ways we get to say yes to using these assets,” he said.
Unlike some other state-owned properties, there may be more liability considerations brought to bear on the parking deck in particular. It is a state-owned structure, run by the city, in turn operated by a private business. In Stevens’ eyes, using the deck as a movie set is “one of the most extreme events we’ve had.”
Pat Menduni, Rutland City’s assistant to the mayor, says that the city was not involved with bringing what seem like new restrictions to bear. “It’s just the state requirement,” she said.
Giancola says his project can proceed without returning to the parking deck, splitting those few remaining shots between Glens Falls and Killington sites, although doing so will add to production cost. All the details must be arranged because one actor must be brought in from New York and another from California.
He continues to ask who put these seemingly sudden permission requirements in place, not only the form but also that for mayoral approval. “If there were more to film, I would make more of a fuss,” Giancola said.
Future Edgewood filming “may well come back” to Rutland. “It would save me money,” Giancola said. But his question of who the decision makers were to insist on the extra provisions remains unanswered.