NEW YORK’S MADE IN NY PROGRAM—with new tax credit incentives, vendor discount programs and free advertising for films that complete 75 percent of their filming in the city—has kicked off a moviemaking renaissance in New York City.

We’ve got $450 million in new business here because of the tax credit,” boasts New York City film commissioner Katherine Oliver. “That means 6,000 jobs.” A new tax credit for taxpayers who own qualified film production facilities was signed into law by Governor George E. Pataki in August, which follows the passage this year of the state’s 10 percent tax credit and the city’s five percent tax credit for film and television productions.

Films recently shot in New York City include Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd, Lasse Hallström’s The Hoax, The Night Listener with Robin Williams and Fast Track, starring Zach Braff and Amanda Peet.

“More than half the films are indies,” says Oliver. “It’s a real range of productions applying for the tax credit.”
Films that would previously have gone to Canada are staying put. Not only is New York City—one of cinema’s most iconic locations—now starring as itself, but also doubling for other cities. Scorsese’s The Departed is set in Boston, but is shooting mostly right in the moviemaking legend’s own backyard.

“Last year, Kinsey was shot on Staten Island, which has become an incredible back lot for production,” says Oliver. “It has such diversity. It can be Iowa or Indiana, as it was in Kinsey, or be very rural as it was in Feedomland. It’s very attractive for filmmakers.”

Until recently, New York couldn’t even play itself. “Three years ago, the Rudy Giuliani TV movie was shot in Montreal, not here. We’ve come a long way from that situation,” says Oliver.

Producer John Hart of Hart-Sharp Entertainment, whose previous films include You Can Count on Me and A Home at the End of the World, is New York-based but has sometimes turned to Canada because of the incentives.s

“With The Night Listener, we were able to shoot a scene on a plane, giving the character a journey from New York to Wisconsin, as opposed to just cutting to him driving to Wisconsin,” he says. “It’s a great scene, a great character revelation, and we wouldn’t have been able to afford it without the incentives. Shooting blue sky and clouds going by and 40 people on a plane and drinks being served—the whole scene is one Hollywood wouldn’t blink at spending the money on, but was a really big deal for an indie movie. It incentivised us to shoot a scene that gave our movie scope.”

“New York City is the greatest location in the world… When you can shoot there and utilize its richness, it adds production value to the movie.”

The scene qualified for two tax breaks—one for shooting in New York City and one for shooting in a local studio (Silvercup Studios), saving the production about $200,000. “It’s great. It allows you to do more with your budget,” enthuses Hart.
Upstate New York also doubled for Wisconsin in the film, keeping the entire production local. “If you go to Canada, with the currency exchange being what it is now, you’re going to lose out. We’re not likely to go to Canada anytime soon to shoot,” Hart says.

“It’s easier to make indie movies in New York now,” concurs producer Mike Mailer, who just shot Kettle of Fish in the city. “The incentives made it possible to shoot in New York. We never considered another location. We shot all over the city—downtown, uptown, the Village, Harlem, Brooklyn. We really tried to maximize as much of New York as possible.”
Mailers admits that, in the past, Canada often won out over New York because of its incentives. “The rebates have made movies financially viable to shoot in the city. Being a New Yorker and already having made movies here, it’s a huge advantage to now be able make movies here that would otherwise shoot in Canada or elsewhere.”

“The incentives have helped us be competitive with other states now,” says Oliver. “People wanted to be in New York, but the work was going to soundstages in Canada and other parts of the world. This country was losing valuable jobs. Now, with the tax credit and the weaker dollar, work is staying here.”

“I’m not bashing Canada,” says Mailer, “but it’s frustrating to cheat another location to be New York. New York City is the greatest location in the world in terms of international recognition. When you can shoot here and utilize its richness, it adds production value to the movie.”

Mailer also cites New York’s Broadway-rich acting base as a draw. “The city has the best actors in the world and to have access to that talent pool is also a huge advantage.”

Another plus to staying in New York, Mailer says, is that it keeps the actors happier. “Very few people like to travel and be away from home for months at a time. New Yorkers live in New York for a reason. It’s the best city in the world and now there’s no reason to leave it—unless you’re shooting a movie that takes place in France.”

Mailer adds that the unions have been courting moviemakers with “indie rates.” “It’s gotten a lot easier to work with them if you’re a small-budget film. That, combined with the rebates, really makes it helpful. Soon we’ll get to the point where we can finance them up-front as opposed to later on.”

The Flatiron Building

Oliver’s office also came up with a free marketing aspect of the program. “We are giving productions qualifying for Made in NY free outdoor media space on bus shelters and film kiosks and even the Jumbotron in Times Square. We also have 25 channels and radio stations that go out to eight million homes. That is a great value to a production. We’re the number one media market and we’re trying to use our assets effectively. “

The mayor’s office works as it always has to secure locations for moviemakers, including helping Sydney Pollack be the first director to film in the United Nations building for The Interpreter. “We were very much involved in making that pitch,” says Oliver. They also arranged for the Brooklyn Bridge to be closed down for 10 nights for Marc Forster’s Stay. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” says Oliver, “but that’s the example of the level of support we can offer.”

Can indies quality for such courtesies?

“We look at each film on a case-by-case basis,” admits Oliver. “We do pride ourselves on making the impossible possible. We’re the indie film capital of the world. Small indie films started here. We nurture them and give them an opportunity to send a message to the world that this is a great place to shoot.”

New York City has always offered concierge services, free permits, free police assistance, free parking and free locations. “In other cities, you can pay quite dearly for those benefits,” says Oliver. “We’ve always gone above and beyond to welcome productions.”

The program also includes new investment tax credits for film production facilities, encouraging their creation and expansion throughout the state.

Grand Central Station

“There’s a lot going on on Staten Island,” says Julius Nasso, who just opened the post-production facility Cinema Nasso Film Studios there. “It’s a great location. It’s only 14 miles from Tribeca, but at the same time we’re not in the city with the hustle and bustle and noise and energy.

“Obviously the tax credit has helped me and a lot of colleagues,” says Nasso, whose studio, which includes live-in suites for moviemakers, is already booked up. “We’re booking infomercials, commercials and feature film post-production editing.”
Nasso is also getting films in that weren’t even shot in New York, providing another phase of moviemaking that can stay local.

“It’s enhancing the work in the city,” says Nasso, “even if the films are being shot elsewhere.”

Nasso, who also produces, says, “It’s given me an incentive to start a picture here in New York, Black Betty Boop. We’re still shooting some projects in Canada, but at the same time, the incentives are helping New York to be competitive and get films made.”

“When a movie is set in New York, you should shoot in New York,” concludes Mailer. “I have a number of projects that, up until recently, I was looking to do in Canada. But now that the rebates are in place, we’re going to keep them in New York.” MM