National parks have always played starring roles in Hollywood productions. Sandstone pillars and deep gorges also appear on television and in magazines, selling cars, beer and almost everything in between. But most parks, some of which host an average of 50 productions per year, don't see a dime from production companies.
A 40-year-old rule
prohibits the National Park Service from charging location fees for
filming. Yet the agency has never been able to cite a reason the
regulation exists, and some say it should be
The Washington, D.C.-based National
Parks and Conservation Association has advocated setting fees for
years. "The fees can be a comfortable little revenue for the Park
Service," says Phil Voorhees, the group's associate director for
Currently, the Park Service is allowed
to recover only the costs incurred from the filming itself, such as
salaries for agency employees who handle traffic, monitor a
production or process the filming permit. Location fees could
provide new income for parks facing budget
Other public-land agencies, like the
Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, charge production
companies anywhere from $700 to $3,500 per day. For elaborate
filming projects, these agencies also require environmental
assessments and a public review, unlike the Park Service. The Park
Service turns down film requests that it thinks might damage the
park or inconvenience visitors.
superintendents can't solicit donations, there is a loophole: If
donations are offered, they can accept. Film companies, however,
donate money only about 30 percent of the time, says Jim Webster,
chief ranger for Arches National Park, which has starred in the
movies Thelma and Louise and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Meanwhile, the Park Service regulation against
collecting filming fees is under review, though officials say they
don't expect a change anytime soon.