Take two: New city ordinance on film productions is put into action

A production company operates a set for a film Monday on Highland Avenue, operating under the city’s new film ordinance. Photo by Maisie Crow

MARFA — Film crews are already putting the new City of Marfa film ordinance and filming guidelines to the test, less than a month after city council put it into effect. “Exotic Creatures Film Production” arrived to shoot a short film for an online video streaming service.

Last week, a small production filmed actors and B-roll on city sidewalks for an hour, “but this is the first real, robust one,” Community Services Director Mandy Roane said about the shoot that shut down parts of Highland Avenue on Monday and filmed around town Tuesday and Wednesday.

On set, a sizeable crew of at least 10 filmed an actor in a vest, boots and a cowboy hat as he leaned against a truck with a cage in the back, and a woman in a crisp white button down with the sleeves rolled up and tucked under a belt buckle leaned her hip against the tailgate, talking to him.

However, details are slim on what the film is about, and a producer listed on the city’s permit kept mum about the project, hoping to provide more publicity next month. Roane was told the project shot in Marfa was “the pilot, but then they’ll be doing some other kind of iconic locations.”

One new aspect of the city ordinance is an increase in fees for filming in Marfa, which were previously negligible. Filmmakers will now pay $250 for the permit and incur additional costs for use of city property. For a complete road closure, like the one on Highland Avenue near the courthouse that stopped traffic in both directions, those additional fees look like $150 per block, per hour of shooting.

Despite filming in Texas, the crew on this project hailed from New Mexico, where film productions are temporarily halted due to COVID-19.

According to the New Mexico State Film Office, “The health safety of our citizens and workforce is of paramount importance, and the Governor has not yet green-lit a date for safe production resumption. When production resumes, the New Mexico Film Office will release recommendations that have been shaped by local film industry experts and are in alignment with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force ‘Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force Proposed Health and Safety Guidelines for Motion Picture, Television, Streaming Productions During the COVID-19 Pandemic.’”

But the City of Marfa also implemented COVID-19 precautions in their permit, requiring a “COVID-19 Safety Plan” and estimated time that local extras will need to be without masks for “shooting purposes” and precautions to protect local extras from the spread of the virus.

Sandwich boards around the set’s perimeter informed locals “a motion picture is filming here. Due to COVID-19 regulations, no visitors are allowed on set.”

“They got all the permits, it seemed to go smoothly,” said Eugene Binder, whose gallery was being used as a backdrop as well as a staging area on the interior. “These people are pros, so to my knowledge it all went smoothly,” he said. The locations manager told Binder that permitting with the City of Marfa went smoothly.

Chelsea Smith, the city secretary of Marfa, noted that another new provision of the ordinance would have crews notify neighbors and have them sign off on filming in their area. The crew also had a person designated to monitor COVID precautions, according to Smith.

“They have a COVID person on staff who is doing the checks, making sure they are washing hands, taking care of distancing, screening people for symptoms, asking them questions,” Roane said. And although masks have to come off when the cameras roll, “They’re doing a good job mitigating any issues.”