New York's New Film Czar Reveals Plans to Beef Up Shoots, Lure More Productions
"I know how to cut through red tape," says Julie Menin, the mayor's new film and TV chief.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
On Feb. 2, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio crowned Julie Menin his next film czar, handing her keys to the city's office of media and entertainment. It's no small civil-servant job, given the film and TV industry pumped $8.7 billion into the city's economy in 2015. But the appointment was met with a collective "Who?" by many industry players. Menin's credentials as an in-house lawyer at Colgate-Palmolive who morphed into a political operative — most recently heading the city's department of consumer affairs — don't exactly scream Hollywood.
But de Blasio's move might not be so baffling. City Hall insiders paint Menin, 48, as a "killer" and a deft navigator of New York's layers of bureaucracy. And as founder of the nonprofit Wall Street Rising, she spearheaded the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan post-9/11. She also forged a strong alliance with Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, who championed her appointment. Menin, who speaks in succinct sentences, puts it bluntly: "I know how to cut through the red tape and get things done."
She'll need to prove that quickly. The previous czar, Cynthia Lopez, had relationships in the film community as an Emmy-winning documentarian, but critics felt she had trouble negotiating the various stakeholders in the city's entertainment sector, from community groups to unions to City Hall. And many believed her performance was a sign de Blasio did not prioritize the entertainment industry as did his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. (Lopez stepped down in August.)
"To succeed in this job," Menin tells THR, "you need someone who really understands New York City government on a very deep level, who can navigate issues regarding filming, whether it's an elected official or a community board."
De Blasio had preliminary discussions with candidates with studio and industry experience, but sources say he never settled on a shortlist. Instead, he reached out to Menin in January and asked her to take the job. Menin had been considered in 2014 when Lopez was appointed to the post.
Now her biggest task will be keeping and luring filming to the city amid stiff competition and preventing shows from defecting to other states and countries offering better incentives. The city's entertainment community employs about 130,000 people, according to a recent report by Boston Consulting Group, but New York City does not offer a specific production incentive (the state does; see below). Despite a production boom in such places as Vancouver and Louisiana, New York, Los Angeles and London remain the only three cities with filming communities large enough to allow a production to be made without the need to bring in cast or crew from other locations.
When she officially takes office Feb. 22, Menin says her first order of business will be taking an aggressive look at city-owned real estate to determine how her office can increase production and postproduction capabilities. The city's existing facilities, including Brooklyn's Steiner Studios (home to NBC's Blindspot and HBO'sVinyl) and Queens' Silvercup Studios (CBS' Person of Interest and Elementary), typically are booked solid. "My clients love working in New York City, but there's definitely a shortage of studio space," says Authentic president Jon Rubinstein, whose Brooklyn-based management company reps Brie Larson and Vera Farmiga. "When I moved to New York in 1993, nobody was filming here except for Dick Wolf and a few giant movies. It would be tragic to go back to those days."
Despite challenges, the city's production numbers continue to rise, with 336 movies filmed in New York City in 2015, compared with 242 in 2014. On the televisionfront, 46 episodic shows shot in the city in 2014-15, compared with 29 in 2013-14. But TV pilots were a weak spot in 2015, down from the previous year as California has lured more. "Pilots, yes, have been down, and that's something I certainly will be looking at because we want those numbers to remain strong," says Menin.
Her relationship with Rosenthal also signals a detente between the mayor and the Tribeca Film Festival, whose co-founder Robert De Niro has griped publicly about de Blasio's commitment to the film industry. The actor has noted de Blasio never appears at the festival, unlike Bloomberg, who made time to pop up at industry events.
"I can tell you in the conversations I've had with the mayor, he's very focused on the industry and he understands its vital importance to New York City," says Menin. "People can expect that he'll be visible around these issues and cares very deeply. Not only does he believe in it, he wants to put New York City's muscle behind it."