Hollywood Worries About NYC Filming After Bloomberg's Exit
This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Twelve years after Michael Bloomberg moved into Gracie Mansion, New York's film and television production is thriving. But with Bloomberg's exit looming, the city's nervous industry vets are wondering whether Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio -- currently trouncing Republican rival Joe Lhota in polls -- can continue the momentum even as he bills himself the "anti-Bloomberg."
With such series as CBS' The Good Wife and NBC's The Michael J. Fox Show filming alongside movies like Sony's Annie remake, it's easy to forget that when Bloomberg first took office, the perception of filming in New York City was that it was too complicated and too expensive. A 30 percent tax incentive offered by New York state, implemented in 2008, joined Bloomberg's Made in NY initiative, which offered additional incentives and slashed bureaucratic red tape. The result: Hollywood's financial imprint on NYC rose from $5 billion in 2004 to $7.1 billion in 2012, according to the mayor's office. But even though the 30 percent incentive recently was extended through 2019, there's no guarantee that a de Blasio administration will continue to prioritize filming in the city.
"We need to help grow the film and television industries in New York and also ensure that access to good jobs in these fields are available to more New Yorkers," de Blasio, 52, tells THR. "That's why I've proposed tripling enrollment in the Made in NY PA Training Program."
That program, which offers unemployed, low-income New Yorkers training and job opportunities on films and TV shoots, has produced 450 production assistants since Bloomberg started it in 2006. It also is a rare area of agreement between the two men. Despite heated rhetoric (the mayor has called de Blasio's campaign "racist" for promoting his mixed-race family), de Blasio says he has no intention of discontinuing the Made in NY program. As de Blasio campaign spokesman Dan Levitan puts it: "Bill de Blasio has never shied away from criticizing Bloomberg when he's wrong. But in the area of TV and film production, Bloomberg has gotten the fundamentals right."
Bloomberg and de Blasio do diverge on certain fronts. Although Bloomberg made his fortune as a media entrepreneur, de Blasio, currently the city's public advocate, is a total outsider to entertainment. He is campaigning on a platform of redistributing New York's wealth, which might not jibe with the interests of Hollywood executives. And he has positioned himself as the outer-borough candidate, saying he'd like to see more filming move outside of Manhattan. That contrasts with Bloomberg, who has labored to coax shoots toward the city's Manhattan tourist magnets -- places once viewed as too wrapped up in red tape to consider. As he wrote in a THR guest column in 2012: "Whether a climactic battle scene in the heart of Wall Street (The Dark Knight Rises), an invasion outside Grand Central Terminal (The Avengers) or a re-creation of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (Tower Heist), we'll help you make it happen."
Much of the credit for those blockbuster shoots goes to Katherine Oliver, commissioner since 2002 of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. A longtime Bloomberg confidante (he calls her "K.O."), Oliver is widely praised for streamlining the permit-application process, vastly improving customer service and building Made in NY into a recognizable brand. But with tensions running so high between Bloomberg and de Blasio in the run-up to the Nov. 5 election, a huge question mark looms over Oliver's future in the department.
Asked by THR whether she has considered staying on, Oliver instead trumpets her legacy. "When we started in 2002, we were working on electric typewriters and processing permits by hand," she says. "Our goal is to create a turnkey agency so that all of this work continues and that there is an infrastructure and team in place that can carry on. That's the best we can do."
Continuity is the principal concern of New York film and TV vets polled by THR. Many worry that with the new mayor having to fill 50 city department-head positions, film and TV will fall through the cracks. For his part, de Blasio isn't saying who might run the Hollywood outreach programs if he wins the election. "Bill de Blasio has applauded the work of Katherine Oliver and John Battista in the Mayor's Office of Film and TV. As mayor, he would continue to seek strong, capable and tech-savvy leaders in these positions," says Levitan, without offering specifics as to how de Blasio might ensure continuity or whether he'd keep Oliver.
As such rival states as Michigan and Louisiana, as well as Canadian cities like Vancouver, set their sights on more production, Oliver says it's more than tax laws that have made New York thrive. "There's always going to be a tax credit somewhere that's going to be the same as what we have," she says. "The customer-service approach of making it easy for filmmakers to work here is paramount."