From 'Girls' to 'Tonight Show,' How NYC Is Wooing Back Productions

Girls Director's Chair - H 2013
Courtesy of HBO

Girls Director's Chair - H 2013

Film and TV crews are taking over the city, with a direct-spend increase in the film sector of more than $2 billion since 2002 and 25 primetime series setting up shop in the past year.

This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

If ever there was a film destined to shoot in New York City, it was Lifetime's 2003 biopic about former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But when the network began production on Rudy in 2002, it opted to use Montreal as a stand-in for the Big Apple.

"That was my first week on the job," recalls Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. "I knew right then and there that we had a lot of work ahead of us to make New York film-friendly again."

New York has made great strides over the ensuing years, culminating with a best-ever year for the city in 2011, the last year for which it has compiled complete statistics. According to a recent economic impact study by the Boston Consulting Group, New York City's film sector is the strongest in its history, generating a direct spend of $7.1 billion in 2011, an increase of more than $2 billion since 2002. The sector now employs 130,000 people, an increase of 30,000 jobs since 2004.

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Hailing NBC's April 3 announcement that The Tonight Show will be returning to New York in 2014, Mayor Michael Bloomberg trumpeted, "Not since the invention of television has so much production been based in our city, which is creating good-paying jobs for New Yorkers in all five boroughs."

The biggest reason for the uptick continues to be the New York State tax credit of 30 percent, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently extended through 2019. That has kept the cameras rolling during the past 12 months on such films as the recently released Tina Fey-Paul Rudd romantic comedy Admission; Kill Your Darlings, an ode to the Beat Generation starring Daniel Radcliffe as poet Allen Ginsberg, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival; and the Coen brothers' latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, the portrait of a '60s singer-songwriter finding his voice in the Greenwich Village folk clubs that CBS Films will release this year.

"It's not the most generous tax credit among the 50 states, but it's just enough to make everything else that is so wonderful about doing business in New York shine," says Silvercup Studios CEO Alan Suna.

The results can be seen in the city's bustling TV production business. New York has become a destination for TV series shooting both in the area's booked-to-capacity soundstages and on the city's streets -- from Times Square, where NBC's Smash often sets up shop (tourist lookie-loos notwithstanding) to the brownstones of Harlem, where CBS' Elementary frequently films.

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The 2012-13 season marks the city's best ever for primetime episodic series. From June 2012 to the present, the city played host to 25 primetime episodic series as well as the new Netflix original offering Orange Is the New Black. Compare that with the 2001-02 season, when there were only nine primetime episodic series shot in New York.

The pace of production has gotten so busy that Girls found itself in the situation of many a desperate New Yorker, searching for available space to rent. It shot its first season on the Silvercup Studios stages in Queens. But when that lot was booked as it came time to film the second season, HBO's Girls had to move to Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. Now that work on its third season has just begun, it has returned to Silvercup.

The series also ventures into locations in the neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, whose hipsters and wannabes are woven into the comedy's storylines. Cafe Grumpy, the coffeehouse at 193 Meserole Ave. where Lena Dunham's Hannah briefly worked, has even started showing up on tourist maps.

Even as such longtime mainstays as Gossip Girl and 30 Rock sign off, new series are expected to take their place. This spring saw 14 pilots filming in the city, including CBS' The Ordained, U.K. series redo The Tomorrow People for The CW and NBC's untitled Michael J. Fox project.

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The only thing that could hamper the good mood among New York's film and TV community is the sometimes-unpredictable weather. When Superstorm Sandy hit land in October, it shut down Lower Manhattan and parts of Staten Island, but both Silvercup and Steiner Studios were spared, and work continued uninterrupted.

"It was a lot of luck," says Steiner's chairman Doug Steiner. "That, and our building is really well designed."

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