By Casey Cipriani
When screenwriter and executive producer Dahlia Heyman began pre-production on “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You,” her first feature film, she never once considered using an alternative New York City-lookalike shooting location to save money. The New York City setting was not only aesthetically necessary for the film, but because of tax credits, the shooting location also proved financially beneficial.
“New York City has great incentives,” Heyman said. “The tax incentives are major in helping producers decide to bring projects to New York.”
The tax credits that Heyman took advantage of for her film were a partial construct of Mayor Bloomberg’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Dubbed “Made in NY” the initiative has led to a growing resurgence of the film and television industry in New York City over the past nine years.
Since the “Made in NY” initiative began, New York’s film industry has become the strongest it’s been in history. It employs over 130,000 people, an increase of 30,000 jobs since 2004, and has contributed approximately $7.1 billion to the local economy annually, a jump from $2 billion in 2002, according to a 2012 report by The Boston Consulting Group. Since the initiative began, film and television productions have flocked to New York City to shoot. During the 2001-2002 television season there were nine primetime television shows shot in NYC, compared to 25 primetime series in the 2012-2013 season.
The industry boost began in September 2004 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor George Pataki held a press conference with celebrity comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks. Together they announced that Brooks’ film “The Producers” would begin production that fall Steiner Studios and would be the first film to take advantage of brand new New York State and New York City film production tax incentives. The Mayor’s Office had contributed $28 million to improve the infrastructure of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and build Steiner, Brooklyn’s state-of-the-art movie studio.
On January 3, 2005, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law a 5 percent tax credit for film and television productions to accompany the 10 percent being offered by the state.
“I am incredibly delighted to be able to sign this legislation into law,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the signing. “New York City is the greatest film set in the world and, this law will help return New York City to prominence as a location for film and television production, ensuring that films that are set in New York City are actually shot there.”
To qualify for the “Made in NY” tax credit, films must produce at least 75 percent of the production within New York. Producers may apply for the tax credits against “below the line” costs, which are the costs associated with the work of costume makers, set builders, location scouts, production assistants, camera and sound technicians, caterers, background actors, and other lower profile industry jobs.
On the application Heyman estimated that out of the film’s $7.9 million budget, about $3.5 million of the below the line spending would qualify for the city credit. She found the application process a bit difficult because she has little experience with accounting, but ultimately Heyman said that the paper work was well worth the benefit, and that the credits are extremely valuable to independent productions that might otherwise choose to go elsewhere.
“You would have to spend a lot of money to emulate New York City,” Heyman said. “Everything helps.”
In addition to the tax incentives that helped lure production to NYC, the “Made in NY” program also set up an educational course to help unemployed and low income New Yorkers get their foot in the door of the film industry. In February 2006, The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting teamed up with Brooklyn Workforce Innovations and the NYC Department of Small Business Services to create the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. This program would provide unemployed and low income New Yorkers with five weeks of free, hands-on production assistant training and connections for entry-level positions in the local film and television industry.
“Everything I’ve learned since day one of this program, I still use and apply it every day and on every job I work,” said Rahsaan Bennett in a “Made in NY” PA of the month profile. He graduated the program in the summer of 2009 and has been working in the industry ever since.
“I finally feel like I’m doing something positive with my life,” he said.
Since its inception in 2006, the Training Program has graduated over 400 productions assistants who are now working throughout the city.
“The more than 400 ‘Made in NY’ PAs who have gone through this program are a testament to the expanded job opportunities in film and TV production for all New Yorkers,” Mayor Bloomberg said in April at a ceremony celebrating the milestone.
The initial $685 million allotted for the city credits ran out by mid-2009, and because of the recession, the city portion of “Made in NY” expired as of December 31, 2011. But in July 2012, Governor Cuomo increased the state’s tax credit to 30 percent, and in 2013 the state budget allotted $420 million for production credits for qualifying shoots within the 2013-2014 production year. The Mayor’s office is also branching into new media, combining the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting with NYC Media into the new Office of Media and Entertainment which will now incorporate digital and social media.
Despite the city’s funding running out, New York’s film industry just keeps growing with the state taking the reins, and the increase of productions lead to an increase in need for space.
Video: John Heyman
John Heyman on production rise in NYC
“The biggest single driver of work to New York are the film and TV tax credits,” said Alan Suna, chief executive of Silvercup Studios. Silvercup has expansion plans in the works that he couldn’t disclose, but agreed that the city had branded itself as film friendly. “The Bloomberg administration has been absolutely brilliant about that, and they’ve also been brilliant marketers of the city,” he said.
In early 2012, Steiner Studios completed construction on five new soundstages, adding 45,000 square feet of shooting space and Kaufman Astoria Studios announced the closing off of an entire city block to build an exterior soundstage. Tracy Capune, vice president of Kaufman Astoria Studios, said that Mayor Bloomberg was one of many New York representatives who helped de-map the city block for the development of an exterior shooting location.
“[The exterior lot] is a unique selling proposition that NY doesn’t currently offer,” Capune said. About the financial incentives, Capune added, “We do believe that the tax credit is helping us stay competitive.”
The city has also recently announced a $6.7 million investment in Brooklyn College’s new Graduate School of Cinema that will be housed at Steiner. The program will begin in the fall of 2014, and it will be the only graduate cinema program in the country integrated with a working production studio.
“We are extremelt grateful for the city’s substantial investment in the Brooklyn College Graduate School of Cinema,” said President Karen L. Gould at the announcement. “The school will create an important pipeline in this diverse borough for talented young people interested in pursuing careers in the rapidly growing film industry.”