Film & TV

Hollywood Moves East: Tax Incentives, Growing Tech Talent Pool, Beckoning Film Industry

Farther north, in Chelsea, the comprehensive post house Company 3—a unit of Deluxe Creative Services—operates on the top three floors of 218 West 18th Street. “The industry as a whole has migrated below 23rd Street,” said Marcelo Gandola, the senior vice president of Deluxe’s East Coast division and president of the Post New York Alliance.

SAE Institute (formerly the School of Audio Engineering) signed a 27,000-square-foot lease earlier this month in Company 3’s building, citing proximity to postproduction companies as a reason for its move from Herald Square. Google owns nearby 111 Eighth Avenue, and the technology surge across Midtown South has been an additional boon to visual effects teams and other fields of postproduction.

“The work we do is very complicated and scientific,” Mr. Robertson said. “We hire skilled artists but also need high-level programmers and people familiar with multiprocessor computer platforms and custom-written software. We’ve been able to do a lot more local hiring than I’d imagined. I thought, upon starting out, that we would have to hire as much as 50 to 60 percent from afar to draw those people who’d left the East Coast years ago and gone to L.A.”

While postproduction facilities cluster downtown on the West Side, much of their creative personnel commute in from across the East River. “If I were going to open a new space, I would probably venture into Brooklyn,” Mr. Gandola said. “I would take advantage of the costs there and the work force. The bulk of your work force is coming out of that borough.”

Production is already centered in Queens—at Silvercup and Kaufman Astoria Studios—and Brooklyn, where Steiner Studios is about halfway to its goal of 32 soundstages built across 50 acres, the largest American production compound outside of Hollywood.

The industry’s growing local footprint no doubt convinced the Pratt Institute to quadruple its film and video enrollment and expand into a 17,000-square-foot Clinton Hill campus, a move it announced last month. The film and TV equipment, studio and office space provider Eastern Effects last month signed a lease for 72,000 square feet in Gowanus, expanding upon the 68,000-square-foot studio space it already had in the neighborhood.

New York has seemingly appeared in every other movie released since the dawn of celluloid, but the public subsidies and growing real estate presence have led to a huge surge in productions actually made here. The New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment reports that it issued permits for 267 feature films last year, about a 70 percent increase from 2004, when the tax credits kicked in. And 25 prime-time series from the current TV season have filmed in the five boroughs. The Mayor’s Office—which declined to comment further—claims that the entertainment industry employs 130,000 New Yorkers.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of that rise is attributable to the state’s incentives. What few people deny is that New York would be a nexus of film and television activity even without them.

“New York has great incentives, but it also has the talent and the infrastructure,” Mr. Gandola said. “There’s the backdrop of New York, the energy—all these amazing things that other places can’t offer.”

Movie industry incentives have been as big a magnet for controversy as they have for production and postproduction crews. Some economists question how much of the money generated by filmmakers actually benefits the states in which they shoot (more than 40 states have passed some form of tax credits). Politicians and private citizens wonder if public money should go to the entertainment industry as schools fail and unemployment persists.

The criticism extends to Hollywood. Gavin Polone, the executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Gilmore Girls, among other movies and TV series, has been a particularly outspoken dissenter.

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