Lights, camera, reaction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am

When I was in college in China, my vision of New York City came straight from the silver screen. Manhattan was a Fifth Avenue jewellery shop in Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Empire State Building in King Kong. It was glamour, it was romance, it felt real. And, to an extent, it was, with the city often becoming one giant movie set.

In recent decades, this has often not been the case. Sure, movies are set here, but the film crews are just as likely to have been shooting in Toronto or Montreal, and faking the New York scenes. Skyrocketing labour and other costs in New York, combined with attractive tax incentives in Canada, pushed much of the industry across the border.

But New York's film industry has come back with a vengeance. This is, after all, the city that established the world's first municipal film production co-ordinating office as early as 1966. It's a place where hundreds of TV and movie hits have been based, and as much as US$5 billion in revenue and 100,000 jobs are at stake in any one year.

At the beginning of last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off a city tax incentive programme for movie and TV productions, promising 5 per cent tax credits, as well as free promotions in city-owned spaces, such as bus shelters. Only last week, the city announced the allocation of more funds to the programme and extended it to 2011. In addition, New York state offers 10 per cent tax credits.

But it has worked almost too well. Not only are more productions that are supposedly based in New York now also shot here, but some movies set in other cities - such as Martin Scorcese's upcoming Boston-based thriller The Departed - also have plenty of New York in their DNA. A weak US dollar has only served to make New York more competitive.

The rebound isn't all positive, though. Residents in areas often frequented by film crews are demanding a break. Parking problems, noise, bright lights and blocked streets are all reasons to moan. In Chinatown, for example, some businesses have vowed to drive production teams out. But they may want to think again. Hand in hand with the return of New-York-shot productions is another, related, business that is also booming.

Many tourists, it seems, want to go to that Jimmy Choo shoe shop filmed in Sex and the City, visit the Soup Nazi's establishment from Seinfeld, or the firehouse from Ghostbusters. Tens of thousands of visitors have already toured these locations. So, if locals resent having the Hollywood set tramp around their neighbourhood, just wait until fans take invasion of their privacy to a new level.


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