NYC a reel shoot-’em-up kind of town

Shooting is up in New York City. Figures for the first three-quarters of 1995 show a 54% increase in production shooting days for feature films compared with the same period last year.

The city’s efforts in recent years to recapture some of the business lost through escalating production costs and metropolis-size hassles apparently are paying off. Union concessions – particularly a more flexible contract for small-to medium-budget films – came in the wake of a devastating 1990 strike against Gotham by Hollywood studios that sent city and labor officials scrambling to give New York a friendlier feel.

During 1994, a record-setting 157 features were filmed in New York, and city officials project a comparable number for 1995. But the big increase comes in the number of shooting days, when cameras are rolling on city streets – an increase that suggests production companies are spending more time – and money – here than ever before.

Based on figures provided to Variety by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting, shooting days on feature films totaled 1,472 from January through September of last year, compared with 2,267 this year – a 54% jump. Feature film shooting days for 1992 topped at 1,097; in 1993,1, 715.

Television production also is rising, although at a less dramatic rate. In the January-September comparisons, shooting days for TV programs went from 2,870 in 1994 to 3,630 in 1995 (a 26% increase) and for commercials from 3,000 to 3,709 (24%). Shooting days for musicvideos held even, inching up from 621 to 625.

“We have a much more level playing field in basic union contracts than ever before,” says Patricia Reed Scott, commissioner of the film office. “And more flexible small-budget contracts.” She also credits increased cooperation among trade orgs and production service companies that grew from the “crisis of the boycott.”

Industry insiders say the production upswing also owes itself to the serendipity of fad. A decided vogue for New York-based stories has been bolstered on the low-budget end by the popularity of independent films, from “The Brothers McMullen” to “Living in Oblivion,” and in the high-budget arena by the success of “Die Hard With a Vengeance” – a picture Scott says showed the industry that “amazing things can be done in a vertical city.”

Fad or not, the production boom shows no sign of letting up in the near future. During the first week of January, a time when bitter New York cold usually keeps helmers away, no fewer than nine major, high-profile features will be filming here: Alan Pakula’s “The Devil’s Own,” starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt; Mike Newell’s “Donnie Brasco” with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp; Don Petrie’s “The Associate” with Whoopi Goldberg; Penny Marshall’s “The Preacher’s Wife” with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston; Ron Howard’s Mel Gibson-starrer “Ransom”; Barbra Streisand’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces”; an ever-present Woody Allen project, this time with Julia Roberts, Alan Alda and others; Hugh Wilson’s “First Wives Club” with Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton; and Sidney Lumet’s “Night Falls in Manhattan” with Andy Garcia, Lena Olin, Ron Leibman and Richard Dreyfuss.

The influx of stars wintering in Gotham comes at a time when city officials are cracking down on film permit abusers. A recent local news broadcast demonstrating the ease with which parking permits, ostensibly for location scouting and lensing purposes, can be obtained by frauds (or passed from legitimate users to friends and family members) has stirred some action. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ordered police, transportation and film office reps to study the permit process and street enforcement, the result being a more stringent fact-checking procedure to catch the parking chiselers.

Changes in the permit procedures – including, among other things, three-hour time limits on parking for scouts, proof of insurance coverage, documentation authenticating the production shoot and the individual permit holder – isn’t expected to add more than 24 hours to the permit-review process.

The permit teapot tempest was the second glance Giuliani has made in recent weeks toward the production industry. He recently appointed an 18-member advisory council to “offer guidance” regarding the city’s economic development efforts pertaining to the motion picture and TV industries.

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