Film & TV

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

“It’s corporate welfare,” Mr. Polone said by phone from L.A. “Credits end up going to large multinational companies. If I were a citizen of New York, I’d like to see that $420 million being put into schools. In the long run, that will put more back into the economy than subsidizing guys who drive vans and boosting large global corporations like Viacom and Sony.”

Ms. Lehman is familiar with arguments like Mr. Polone’s. “The New York film industry is not taking money from orphans and schools and firefighters,” she said, citing a protracted review process in which only a fraction of a movie’s budget—the portion spent on New York labor, purchases and rentals—is eligible for the state’s (rare) nontransferable credit.

The production and postproduction incentives expire in 2014, although Gov. Cuomo’s budget includes an extension through 2019. Mr. Robertson says that the programs give the industry “room to breathe” and necessary opportunity for the type of growth that could handle all the work—pre through post—on, say, the next Spiderman movie.

But he notes that the local industry was in good health when he arrived, just before the credits went into effect. “It’s almost self-sustaining now,” Mr. Robertson said. But “we were already a city where you could come and do your entire movie from start to finish and have a choice of crews. Even then it was busy.”

Ms. Lehman is hopeful that Albany will extend the program. The growth in production would certainly slow—if not reverse course—should it die.

But even Mr. Polone, who “sympathizes” with New York filmmakers competing against incentive-mad filming capitals like Toronto, believes that the city would prosper if all of the credits were eliminated and entertainment operated on a true free market.

“The two big winners would be California and New York, because they have the best locations and infrastructures,” Mr. Polone said. “New York can’t be doubled—it’s New York”

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