Made in New York

By Scott Macaulay | November 30, 2010
Will Smith and canine friend in an abandoned NYC Will Smith and canine friend in an abandoned NYC

Scott Macaulay looks at the backstory of the New York’s Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and how Gotham transformed itself into a true movie town.

Think about the last 10 years of New York and the movies, and some spectacular scenes come to mind. The city streets as pinball machine in The Bourne Ultimatum’s third-act chase; Tom Cruise wandering through a deserted Times Square in Vanilla Sky; Will Smith driving through zombies and deer on Park Avenue South in I Am Legend.

These films have many things in common — great location and A.D. departments, for one. But they also all relied on the support provided by New York’s Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (the MOFTB). Operating unlike many other municipalities, New York City maintains the MOFTB to streamline the process of shooting film and television within the complex logistical environment of its five boroughs. The office coordinates everything from the issuing of parking permits and shutting down streets to providing free police assistance, helping find locations and even advising on environmentally-friendly “green” production practices. 

The MOFTB has its roots back in the mid-1960s, when producers were tasked with obtaining up to 50 separate permits in order to shoot their scenes in New York. Filmmakers were put off shooting in New York, and the city's red tape became not only a public relations issue but an economic one. “Each additional feature film or commercial television show means additional jobs for New York residents,” wrote Mayor John V. Lindsay at the time in an open letter. “Additional jobs mean a healthier economy. And a healthier economy means a healthier city.”

Lindsay’s response was to consolidate the permit process within the Department of Commerce, replacing those 50 permits with just one. Production swelled, and, over the years, the city’s commitment to filmmaking grew. In 1993, the MOFTB was elevated to cabinet status by Mayor David Dinkins.

Since 2002, the office, housed in the Ed Sullivan Theater, where The Late Show with David Letterman is filmed, has been headed by Katherine Oliver. She has overseen a boom in New York filming due in large part to an incentive program enacted by the state in 2005 called Made in New York. Currently, producers filming 75% of their shooting days in New York and at least one day on an approved soundstage receive in the form of refundable tax credits 30% of their allowable New York filming costs. (For full details on the credits, visit the program’s FAQ. More recently, other incentives have been added to the Made in New York program, like a 10% post-production credit, professional mentorship and training programs, outdoor marketing support, and the Reel Jobs PSA campaign — those taxicab spots celebrating the contributions of New York’s below-the-line crews.

All of these programs as well as much more — like production guides, sample letters to residents, and word of an anti-piracy campaign launched by Mayor Bloomberg and the MPAA — are detailed on the MOFTB’s website.

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