Horry County still in rehearsal stage of film ordinance

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comJanuary 27, 2014 

— An Horry County official is asking for a second take on the county’s attempt at regulating the motion picture and film industry after a lengthy meeting with state film officials.

Paul Whitten, assistant county administrator for public safety, met with members of the South Carolina Film Alliance about the first draft of an ordinance that would regulate filming in rural Horry County. Currently, Horry County is proposing a 45-day advance notice of filming in the county, which state film officials said is a stretch from the normal three- to five-day notice that other areas require. County officials have said they want that notice to avoid a similar situation that Georgetown County went through last summer with the filming of “Party Down South” – a Jersey Shore-style reality TV show where the cast has been seen binge drinking and partying outdoors in a residential area.

“We think there’s some options that can address their concerns, but still address the concerns of county council,” Whitten said. “We think that we can bring back to you something next month that will still address your needs, but not hamper the industry.

“There’s some different tiers that cause the problems.”

Whitten was referring to the plateau the state set for filming incentives the state gives to production companies. For instance, if a production will cost more than $1 million, South Carolina offers various incentives, said Linda Lee, vice president and founding member of the film alliance. Lee and county officials hope to hash out details of a new ordinance that will loosen the requirements for companies who had surpassed that hurdle, while buckling down on fly-by-night reality show attempts and low-budget films.

Until the discussion Monday, the county had wanted to treat the ordinance like a special use permit by making production companies apply for a permit 45 days in advance, similar to the process used at bike rallies. Whitten had said that form would allow for appeals and any adjustments needed.

The first draft mirrors, to a point, one adopted by Georgetown County in October after the “Party Down South” filming. However, Georgetown only requires a five-day notice for production companies to notify the county of its intention to film. It initially considered a 45-day notice, but after meeting with state film officials, the ordinance was amended. The rest of Horry County’s proposed ordinance, which is also similar to Georgetown County’s ordinance, requires the filming company to notify residents around where the filming is going to be, list a cell phone number of someone in the production company to help address any concerns and limits the time of filming between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. There are also provisions for violating the noise ordinance, lighting regulations and traffic control. It also gives the county the right to revoke a permit because of a natural disaster or if the county feels it needs to revoke it.

Georgetown County adopted its ordinance last year in response to CMT bringing film crews in to tape “Party Down South” – a reality show that was filmed in Murrells Inlet last summer. The reaction from residents was mixed as some enjoyed the exposure the coastal community was receiving while others complained of noise and trash.

Lee, with the alliance, said the group has a problem with the special events permit part of the proposal.

“The problems that we have, by using a special events permit, you’re kind of putting us in a position by asking us to do thing we are not able to do,” Lee said as she handed out a sample of a suggested impact statement. “This is what we call a suggested impact statement, which production companies fill out in many towns.”

That statement provides an outline of what type of impact a film production crew thinks it may have on a community.

Whitten said there’s a great deal of flexibility in the special event permit process, and that it is not overly restrictive.

“The fundamental question that’s in front of county council is ‘Do you want to be notified or do you want to approve?’” Whitten said. “If you want to approve, I’m telling you I need 45 days to staff it... I can tell you I cannot do it in five days. I can not review it and approve it in five days. If you want us to just be aware of it, we can do that.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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