New York fights for film industry

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am

New York

The New York movie and TV industry is nothing if not resilient.

It fought back after a lot of work migrated to Canada a few years ago to take advantage of tax breaks and lower costs, and it is expected to recover quickly from the recent screenwriters' strike, which shut down most filming and hurt many local people, from actors to the pizza- and coffee-makers supplying the crews.

But with film production costs rising, a recession looming and huge uncertainty about how internet delivery is going to transform the finances of the industry, New York's competitiveness is again being questioned.

Neighbouring states such as Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are trying to muscle in on a lucrative business that not only brings in dollars to local businesses but can also boost the tourism industry and bring prestige to politicians who love to share a platform with Hollywood stars.

Since 2006, for example, Connecticut - which is already the home of a large part of the hedge-fund industry, partly because of its fast transport links with Manhattan - began offering a 30 per cent tax credit to filmmakers. As a result, a series of stars spent parts of last year in the state, including Steven Spielberg, Kate Winslet and John Travolta.

Although Manhattan almost certainly remains the most popular backdrop both for TV and movies, that doesn't mean it can't be recreated easily elsewhere. And the chances of anyone noticing have decreased, given the greater sophistication of the technology used in the industry.

More than 30 states now offer film producers tax incentives, including desperate ones like Michigan - which is suffering from a huge loss of jobs in the car industry and is being hit particularly hard by the US housing crisis.

And it isn't only a domestic threat. Countries like Bulgaria, with much lower costs, are recreating something resembling New York City's SoHo district on a giant set, and filming there costs a fraction of doing so in the real SoHo.

But New York, which first introduced a series of incentives in 2004, is watching its back. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer has proposed increasing the state's tax credit to 15 per cent from 10 per cent, and it wants to allow more production costs to be included in the benefit. New York City already offers a further 5 per cent for films and TV shows shot in the city itself.

'It's about job retention and creation,' said Alan Suna, the CEO of Silvercup Studios, the city's largest film and TV production centre. 'While the industry has rebounded for a period, it has hit a wall with increased competition from other states.'

Mr Suna said that despite the loss of work to neighbouring states, New York had in recent years been hosting more television and film productions than ever before.

There are, of course, some New Yorkers who wouldn't mind seeing parts of the industry drift away.

They live in popular film-set locations like Chinatown and Greenwich Village, and find their streets blocked by production crews and their privacy compromised by gawking tourists.

Tomorrow: London