Amateur yeti filmmaker stands up for First Amendment right to record bigfoot skits in NH park

Jonathan Doyle, a performance artist, has appealed a case involving his right to film bigfoot skits in New Hampshire's Monadnock State Park to the NH Supreme Court. He argues that the permit requirements are unduly onerous for small-scale productions: "I am maintaining the integrity of being real, enjoying day-to-day things, and having fun with your friends. If I let that go, I’ve given up a significant right to the state."

In its Supreme Court brief, the state argues that the permit requirements are reasonable to help the park staff manage competing uses on one of the most-climbed mountains in the world.

The permit regulations are for “mitigating the impacts of commercial events’’ in state parks, and “protecting visitors from unwelcome or unwarranted interference, annoyance, or danger,’’ among other considerations, the state wrote in its brief.

The problem, from Doyle’s perspective, is that permits cost $100, there is a 30-day waiting period, and anyone who wants a permit must post a $2 million insurance bond to protect against injuries and damage, adding several hundred dollars to the cost, according to filings.

That’s too much cash and red tape for a few friends out on a lark with a consumer video camera, Doyle argues.

(via /.) funny,weird,new hampshire,free speech,bigfoot


  1. I can get behind this case.  Our local park in NJ requires a permit but it’s about twenty bucks and is signed and stamped by the ranger when you bring in the twenty bucks.  It’s basically an organizational cost so they’re not surprised to find a crew of five people and three actors monopolizing a park bench all day.

    NYC requires insurance and all that jazz but it’s half that two million and you get all the resources of the City when you have it.  The film office, cops, you can close streets, it’s great.  However, two million to shoot on a trail in NH?  Even a well-used one?  This is a local authoritah showing off.  Live free or die yo.

  2. It’s pretty easy to make reasonable exceptions for permit rules. Is it on a tripod? Does it have lighting equipment?  Will there be more than (reasonably small) number of people there? Will there be lots of noise and/or disturbing elements? Will there be weapons or fight scenes? If the answer to any of these questions is yes (except possibly the tripod) then you need a permit. If not, no. Otherwise you’re putting undue dampers on creative expression. Not to mention, what’s the difference between someone with a camera documenting their friend doing an art piece and a parent with the same camera documenting their family vacation? Does the family need a permit?

    Any agency that can’t figure out a reasonably flexible permitting system is definitely going to be in the wrong.

    *NYC follows many of these permitting rules, and I definitely remember driving around in a flatbed truck with a tripod in it to shoot scenes, since if the tripod wasn’t on the ground we could get around permit requirements :-)

    1. Actually I’ve shot all of the things you’re saying and I’d still consider it a “lark” much like this dude. These days even granparents have tripods so to require a permit is too stringent. I think the discriminating factor should be–can you carry your gear into the park or do you require a truck to get it there? Anything that requires a vehicle should be require a permit. . Everything else is just having fun/constitutional right to make lightsaber fights.

  3. had to read that headline twice. at first i felt it was more of the yeti’s rights to defecate in private. or a photographer documenting fecal material.

  4. Although I am entirely on this guy’s side. The permit and insurance are onerous restrictions on his freedom of speech. However, I can just see them out having fun, filming, someone getting hurt and deciding that it was the park’s fault. Its all fun and games until somebody gets an eye poked out and decides to sue everyone in their now limited sight. I can also see someone, in their fun, deciding that a more “Borat” style film is more fun and the problems for the park that could ensue.

    I feel for the park people who have had this sort of fear put into them. I am surprised they don’t make everyone sign a liability waiver to even use the park. I guess this is what happens in a society where “holding people responsible” denies the ability to act responsibly.

  5. Of all the days for the State of New Hampshire to get out of bed…..

    They probably went after him out of boredom. I’m from New Hampshire, so this is probably going to be the news item of the year.

  6. I can tell you, as a CA transplant to the Northeast, that New Englanders are the darndest rule-followers and rule-enforcers anywhere in this country.  There are more friggin signs and directions here than anywhere I’ve seen in the USA.  People are totally up in each others’ business here.  It’s ANNOYING.  So I don’t blame the yeti guys for taking this to trial.  It’s ridiculous up here in this bitch.

  7. By my calculations, he is about 7336 miles off target. Maybe it’s spelled, New Hampshire. But it’s pronounced “Nepal”. 

  8. Solution: don’t do it at Monadnock– it’s way too popular.   This is New Hampshire– there are a hundred other places you can go, including private property where the owner might let you use it if you just ask politely.

  9. I’m on board with the artist 100%. There’s a great discussion on Slashdot about his right to film and how the permitting restrictions are really meant for large scale productions.

    I just wish this guy didn’t come off as such a dumbass in the interview. That was 4 minutes that I had to struggle to keep watching.

  10. “First Amendment Rights”?  

    Sorry, but the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to stage film/video productions in public parks just because you have a cheap camera.  

    If it were a  First Amendment right, it would apply to larger productions as well.”The permit requirements are too onerous for small productions”?  Absolutely – and *that’s* what needs changing in this instance.

    As an LA resident, I’m getting really tired of half-assed amateurs who think that permitting rules don’t apply to them because they have cheap cameras and they don’t pay the people who work on their shoots.  If you’re blocking public thoroughfares or interfering with the normal use of public spaces, you need a permit.  

    It isn’t about how much money you’re spending – it’s about how much of a pain in the ass you’re being. 

    There may very well be a need for reduced permit requirements for smaller-scale productions – and those should be predicated on limitations that make the small-scale production less of a nuisance. 
    But the idea that film/video production is constitutionally protected speech, if (and only if) you’re using cheap equipment, is ludicrous.

    1. “If you’re blocking public thoroughfares or interfering with the normal use of public spaces, you need a permit. ”

      We both live in large cities but starting in about a month the sidewalks around Rockefeller Center will become a complete interference of normal use of public space.  True, they can’t drop down tripods but grandma with her Instamatic shooting seven photos because someone probably blinked is a huge pain.

      However, do I think these thousands of people need permits?  No, that’s ridiculous.  Does someone shooting video in Times Square need a permit?  Again, no, even though they’re causing traffic flow issues for a few minutes.

      However, where does the line get drawn?  Someone shooting a five minute video handheld with expensive gear?  Ten minutes?  How about on an empty street?

      There’s no flexibility with “you need two million in insurance” and this isn’t a one-size fits all rule because there are likely landscape photographers being more of a hassle to general flow than this guy.  I’m sure Ansel Adams would be given tons of stick today from rangers with all the gear he hauled around.

      Just because he’s a dumbass and brings up the price of his gear doesn’t mean his argument isn’t relevant.  A fashion shoot with Terry Richardson for an afternoon is going to be a massive pain deserving of insurance and forms but he’s using a hundred dollar point and shoot.

    2.  Did you miss the part about the lark? You do know what those are?

      This is different from semi-professionals trying to make something noticible, this is about a guy and his nerd friends goofing off. I don’t see where they’re blocking off anything, being really very near anyone, or pissing on your lawn.

  11. I can’t help but think that this problem is specifically traceable to the fact that it’s in New Hampshire, land of “Live Free or Die” and the “Free State Project.” New Hampshirites have no sales or state income tax (their property taxes are high, though) and they’re a case study in what happens when anti-tax utopians get too much power.

    The state park system in NH is self-supporting, so they have to generate funds themselves instead of being supported by the state’s general fund. The end result is that NH runs their state parks like privately-owned tourist attractions instead of parks, and the whole place feels aggressively commercialized in a way that the rest of New England isn’t.

    Take the Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch State Park, for example, a spectacular narrow gorge with a long, cascading series of waterfalls. To see it, you park for free and then have to pass through a visitors’ center/gift shop, stand in line at a ticket counter, and buy your ticket to enter at $14 a head. Once you buy your ticket, you’re expected to pass immediately through the entrance door and then wait for the optional tram bus to take you for a brief ride (just a couple minutes) up to near the base of the gorge. You’re not allowed to bring any food or drink with you, although we snuck some sandwiches aboard and I guess they wouldn’t ding you for water. On the trail you’re expected to travel in one direction only, and not get off of the trail or otherwise explore beyond the areas they’ve set up for you to see.

    Is the Flume Gorge worth seeing? Sure. But the experience is pretty odd. There’s none of that sense of just going to a park to enjoy nature on your own terms, and much more the feeling of visiting a nice place owned by someone who wants to make money off of it.

    I’m not surprised at all that they charge outlandish fees for filming.

    1. The end result is that NH runs their state parks like privately-owned tourist attractions instead of parks, and the whole place feels aggressively commercialized in a way that the rest of New England isn’t.

      It doesn’t pay to leave Clark’s Trading Post.

    2. ” To see it, you park for free and then have to pass through a visitors’
      center/gift shop, stand in line at a ticket counter, and buy your ticket
      to enter at $14 a head.”

      ???  W.T.F. 

      I’ve paid the odd parking fee here and there but never $28 to get me and the wife in to go for a hike.  They better let me ride down the flume in a fiberglass log at that rate.

      1. Exactly. At many other parks (I live in California), there’s a per-car entrance fee or a parking fee, but if you walk in, take the bus, bike, etc., they’re free. Even at National Parks that charge $20 a car to get in, the fee is good for seven days, there are usually far more things to see, you can explore things at your own pace (and with your own food), and you don’t get the irritating sense that they’re just trying to make money off of you.

        Oh, and they charge an identical amount in another part of Franconia Notch State Park to take the aerial tramway up to the top of Cannon Mountain. But if you buy both, you save 2 bucks and it’s only $26 a pop. A bargain!

        And yes, these are actual State park-run facilities, not private inholdings.

        If you hear conservatives talk about how great it would be to “privatize” parks or to have everything run by user fees, go to New Hampshire and see what this libertarian so-called utopia actually looks like. Maybe their parks are more financially solvent than ours, but they do NOT provide a better park experience.

        1. Agreed.  Northern New England is a double-edged sword.  On one side, basically nonexistent crime and a decent standard of living with lots of nature.  But on the other side, a clusterfuck of rules, 1800’s social mores and total lack of decently paying jobs up here.  Not to mention the Libertarian loonies and even far lefty crackpots, but I can handle those.  It’s the over-PC ones who really bother me.  Oh and anonymous Internet complainers.  Those assholes friggin suck!  I hate being one of them!

  12. New Hampshire is so dedicated to the principles of libertarianism that it has the third largest governing body in the English-speaking world.

  13. Not a simple issue. GlenBank, I appreciate what you’re saying, but I do think you simplify things a tad too much:
    “But the idea that film/video production is constitutionally protected
    speech, if (and only if) you’re using cheap equipment, is ludicrous.”

    Whether large or small, movie making is constitutionally protected. There is a real question as to whether the law views the exercise of that speech so narrowly as to run afoul of the constitution. In effect, the law envisions large scale productions but perhaps make it impractical for individuals to exercise the same constitutionally protected rights. Laws shouldn’t favor the speech of those with lots of resources above others. There is no violation merely by having a (substantively neutral) regulation, of course.

    On the other hand, these guys might be able to make an argument that the law was not intended to apply to their kind of activity. It was obviously designed to address large scale productions with costs based on that conception. These are just guys with a monkey suit. Perhaps their activity is more akin to a family on holiday with a camcorder – and I doubt there’s a law against dressing like a yeti in the park.

    Now maybe we could make an argument that while the final product constitutes speech, these guys aren’t trying to act out a yeti scene in order to express speech then and there.  In that case, no permit should be needed. On the other side, one could argue it’s a distinction without a difference.

    Your personal experiences with filming activity certainly add some perspective and remind me of a recent 9th Circuit decision out of Cali, discussed here:

  14.  Interestingly, NH, for all it’s Libertarian leanings, bans roadside billboards on the highway, even on private property.  And it’s a wise decision: driving up there is pleasant– they recognized that the view of the mountains will draw more tourist business than can be drummed up by tacky advertising. 

    Yes yes, I know, New Englanders can be an uptight bunch, but in other ways we are more accepting than some parts of the country.  I have a new neighbor from the deep south who loves Boston because he can let his freak flag fly without getting hassled by small-minded busy-bodies like he did down south.

  15. Get a Waldo outfit and make you and the park some great money.

    The adults can have their day too, just dress as a job.

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