NYC filming leaves 'em scouting for parking

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NEW YORK -- Location filming in New York already has shot up 35% from 2004 to 2005, and the annual $30 million, five-year expansion of tax incentives signed into law a week ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg will likely make street locales more sought-after than ever.

This puts location scouts under new pressure -- not only has their workload increased, but the free-parking permit program they've used to scout locations since 1995 was revoked last month, due to what the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting cites as the abuse of free-parking permits over the years, such as some scouts parking near their homes.

Understandably, not everyone is pleased. As Lydia Dean Pilcher, vice chair of the Producers Guild of America East and a New York-based producer who has used scouting tags on her films, puts it, "There was a very strong emotional reaction when it happened, mostly from location managers, production managers and producers, people who have 30 places to cover in a day and can't afford to put the car in the lot every time they go into a place. It's about time and money and efficiency."

But the MOFTB says this decision didn't come out of the blue. "For well over a year, we had been communicating with the industry about stemming the abuse of scouting tags, but unfortunately the problem continued to worsen," MOFTB associate commissioner Julianne Cho says. "Ultimately this policy serves the aims of the professionals who work in this industry by ensuring that our local communities remain film-friendly for the high volume of business that our tax credit is generating for the city. We continue to provide free parking for productions at the locations of actual shoots, along with free public locations and free police assistance."

Morty Dubin, chairman emeritus of the New York Production Alliance, says the MOFTB attended a board meeting held by his organization last week as they normally do, and that there's a strong interest in creating a group to work on the issue and communicate with the mayor's office. "We've got to have reasonable control over where they can park and how they can use the passes," Dubin says. "We don't want neighborhoods to be upset, but we want to keep business coming into the communities."

Adds Pilcher: "I think the idea is: How could (the location parking permit program) be reinvented so that it exists without the abuses?" For her part, Cho will only say, "We always work collaboratively with the industry and will continue to do so."

Scouts begin their job by checking the MOFTB's "grid," a map of available locations and dates. They also look at the "hot spot" list: chunks of popular neighborhoods where, according to one scout, "neighborhoods are just burned out on filming and you can't shoot there." As MOFTB director of production Dean McCann puts it, "Our biggest priority is not to have a situation where an entire neighborhood is shut down for filming."

Peter Pastorelli, who has worked as a location manager on such New York-based productions as Bart Freundlich's upcoming "Trust the Man," cites Manhattan's Soho, West Village and Brooklyn's Prospect Park South as areas that often end up on the list due to complaints from residents.

But unlike some industry professionals, Pastorelli is understanding about the end of free parking for scouts. "Dean McCann explained to us that we're the only private sector that gets free parking passes," he says. "I'd rather lose parking tags than keep them and lose productions."

With the chance for a revised policy on free location scout parking in the talking stage, the city and its film industry may not have to make that difficult choice.
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