Made in New York
New York City is one of the hottest locations in the US when it comes to shooting a movie or TV series. In recent times, the city has hosted an average of 200 feature films a year, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). For the 2013/2014 season, the city is on track to welcome a staggering 27 TV series to its fabled streets.
Among high-profile film productions that have visited The Big Apple recently are The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Cobbler, The Last Five Years, Learning to Drive, Non-Stop, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Winter’s Tale and The Wolf of Wall Street.
As for TV, recent credits include The Good Wife, Boardwalk Empire and Elementary. But topping all of these was February 2014’s news that Walt Disney and Marvel Studios are going to spend $200m filming four live-action television series in NYC, starting with Daredevil. With 60 episodes in the pipeline, the four shows represent “the largest film or television production project commitment in New York State history,” according to a statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. The deal is expected to create 400 full-time jobs and thousands of part-time posts.
Ben Stiller calling the shots on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
NYC’s popularity is a far cry from the situation a decade ago, when the film and TV industry were rapidly falling out of love with the city. According to MOME, producers were “becoming cautious of the logistics and costs of production in NYC. The industry perception was that the cost was too high, the logistics nearly impossible to overcome. And the economic downturn of the time, compounded by the after-effects of September 11th, did not help the City’s image.”
So what changed? Well the first thing was that NYC got itself a film-friendly Mayor (Michael Bloomberg) who then appointed a dynamic media executive called Katherine Oliver to turn things round. Oliver’s first act as head of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (as MOME was then known) was to cut red tape and make the process of production more customer-friendly.
Next came a new website and a high-profile marketing campaign that utilised the logo Made in NY (still in service today). And in 2004 came the biggest development of all, a tax credit for film production that offers 30% fully refundable credit on most below the line expenses incurred while shooting in the city.
The combined impact of an attractive incentive and simplified permitting has had an enormous impact on the level of business that takes place in the city. In May 2012, the Boston Consulting Group released a report which estimated that the industry now generates a direct spend of $7.1bn, an increase of $2bn since 2002. Not only that, “the sector now employs 130,000 New Yorkers, an increase of 30,000 jobs since 2004,” says MOME, adding that: “This growth has been accompanied by private infrastructure investment and expanding studio and post capacity.”
There are lots of examples to back up this last point. In 2004, the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Steiner Studios opened its doors, eventually welcoming shows like Damages and Boardwalk Empire. In 2006, Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, unveiled plans for a $1bn facility that would bring in TV shows like Ugly Betty and movies like Music and Lyrics.
More recently, Queens-based Kaufman Astoria, home of Sesame Street, added five soundstages and, in December 2013, announced plans for NYC’s first backlot, a 34,800 sq ft site that will allow productions to construct temporary outdoor sets and shoot exterior and sfx shots within the campus. Unveiling the plans, Kaufman Astoria president Hal Rosenbluth said: “The backlot is an exciting development for the film and TV industry in New York. It will draw more world-class productions and give these productions much needed space to create temporary sets that can stay up for as long as they need to shoot.”
Kaufman Astoria’s backlot isn’t the only big development for NYC. In February 2014, Broadway Stages won a bid to buy the former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island for $7m and convert it into a state-of-the-art studio complex. With an estimated budget of $20m, Broadway Stages plans to build five sound stages with 100,000 square feet of studio, generating 1,500 jobs over the next five years.
Over the years, Staten Island has served as a backdrop to classic films like The Godfather, Goodfellas and Annie Hall, but the proposed studio is a whole new level that could woo work away from Hollywood and Toronto. Speaking to the New York Post, Broadway Stages president Gina Argento said she wants to begin filming on the site by the summer. “We can do different kinds of shows, more shows with stunts and more shows with outdoor exterior shots,” she told the Post. “We anticipate using the surrounding landscape. Hopefully we can build some sets outdoors.”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Benefits of The Big Apple
There’s so much going on in New York City these days that careful navigation is required. So anyone interested in filming in the city should start by approaching the mayor’s office, says MOME press secretary Marybeth Ihle. “Our office was set up to make it as easy as possible to film on location in New York City. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects.”
According to Ihle, “We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works with productions to ensure on-location shooting is properly coordinated. Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting where we discuss the production’s requests and review shooting plans and schedules. Productions then have the ability to apply for permits from any computer with internet access through our website.
Working with the production, our staff will come up with solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a large-scale stunt, we might suggest the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.”
Further benefits include the Made in NY Discount Card, which helps make it more cost effective to film in the City. “Productions filming here have access to discounts at more than 1,000 local businesses such as restaurants, transportation suppliers, lumber yards, florists, prop houses, post-production facilities and more. We also offer the Made in NY Marketing Credit which provides free advertising in bus shelters, subways and on Taxi TV to productions that have filmed at least 75% of their project in New York City.”
HBO's Broadwalk Empire
While the incentive and other forms of financial inducement have been a key part of NYC’s success, Ihle stresses that other factors have played their part in the city’s success. “NYC is home to talented crews who have that famous New York ‘can do’ attitude,” she says. “The City features 300 square miles of City streets, parks and iconic architecture that provide the backdrop for the hundreds of films and television shows that film on location here. There are also hundreds of thousands of square feet of stages, studios and production facilities across the five NYC boroughs.”
There’s another point that Ihle is keen to highlight, which is that NYC can also do a great job as a double. “New York City has long been a favorite place for filmmakers to bring their artistic vision to life, finding inspiration in the people and architecture. But what’s great about filming in New York City is that it offers something different for everyone. Our locations are so diverse they can stand in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and even Ireland or Paris.”
While NYC has entered 2014 in fantastic shape, is there any threat to the city’s momentum now that Bloomberg is no longer mayor (his tenure ended in 2013)? The answer to that question appears to be no. Governor Cuomo, who took up his post in 2011, has been just as enthusiastic about NYC’s film industry.
Keen to reduce NYC’s dependency on financial district Wall Street as the city’s main employer/revenue generator, Cuomo has extended and expanded the city’s $420 million a year incentive programme. Under a new framework introduced in 2013, the incentive will run until 2019 and has been rewritten to make it more attractive to post-production companies. Qualifying standards for film projects being shot and/or completed in New York have also been relaxed to encourage more of them to join the party.
Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger has made it clear that he’s a fan, saying: “The Governor’s policies make this great state a more affordable and attractive location, opening the door for even greater economic investment and job creation for New Yorkers.” That’s quite an endorsement from a company so closely associated with Californian production.
To read more about filming in New York, check out our production guide by clicking here.