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New York Fights To Remain Hollywood Backdrop

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

Actor George Clooney, left, talks to Katherine Oliver, center, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, and John Battista, second from left, the deputy commissioner, on the set of the film "Michael Clayton" in this Feb. 15, 20

From Bollywood to Hollywood, filmmakers have always needed New York City as a backdrop for every genre, musical, drama, action and thriller.

The eight million who call this international city home come from far and wide around the globe and bring their cultures, languages, foods and festivals to make life in New York a spectacle hard to re-create on a set.

This is why film making is big business in New York, $5 billion per year big. According to city officials, it employs over a 100,000 New Yorkers every year, working on an average of 200 films and over 100 TV shows that come to this city not only from the tinsel town on the west coast of the U.S., but from India, Italy, Japan, South America and many other countries as well.

The theatre community employs as many as 70,000 people in the metropolitan area and provides not just a delightful experience for Broadway and Off Broadway lovers, but also a rich crop of talent for the film and TV producers who come here.

New York competes with Canada and some other countries that provide financial incentives and cheaper production costs to international film makers. Even with its iconic image, New York is fighting to stay competitive in the global entertainment industry. The responsibility to keep the city an attractive destination for setting up lights, camera and action falls to the New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Katherine Oliver is the Commissioner heading this office and she sat down with the VOA team in New York to explain what it takes to shoot a film or TV show in New York and how her office works to facilitate all productions.

A website maintained by the media office boasts of free location and free police assistance while shooting in New York. Confirming this for the VOA, Ms. Oliver explains that shooting at any city maintained location in New York, including city parks, bridges or streets, is free. The only expense, other than the production costs, is the $300 application fee to her office.

In return, she says, her office provides a team of staffers ready to answer all production related questions by phone or email and a website explaining all the requirements of filming in New York and how to go about fulfilling those requirements.

Still, shooting in a big city is expensive and New York falls amongst some of the most expensive big cities of the world. That is why even films with a New York-based story, like “Finding Forrester,” started shooting the bulk of their script in Canada with just a few New York exterior shots.

The Empire state has also responded by offering a 30 percent tax credit on qualified New York production costs and another 10% in post production costs for qualified films. In August 2010, the state extended and expanded the tax credit program and allocated $420 million for the years 2010-2014.

New York City created a “Made in NY” vendor discount card providing discounts of 10 percent or more at thousands of vendors around the city with services as varied as dry cleaning and broadcast equipment rental to florists and restaurants.

Those working in the industry say that the cash incentives seem to be doing the magic and since 2005, the entertainment industry in New York is doing well once again.