Study says NY is center of U.S. film R&D

NEW YORK — Film and video production in Gotham is now a vibrant — if fragmented — $4 billion industry, according to a study released Thursday.

Using data culled from a wide variety of sources, the study — titled “The Film and Video Industry: A Profile” — found that in addition to $2.2 billion in revenues generated by location shooting in New York during 1996, film and video facilities operating year-round provided more than $1.6 billion in revenues and five soap operas generated $280 million.

Conducted by the New York City-based nonprofit org Exploring the Metropolis, the report is the first in-depth portrait of the city’s film and video industry. It looks at entrepreneurial producers, contractors and distributors as well as soundstages and post-production houses.

If Hollywood is the manufacturing center for film and TV, New York, with its indie filmmakers and suppliers, functions as the industry’s research and development arm, according to the report. But New York’s contributions in R&D could be even stronger, the report argues.

“Although the vision and output of New York’s independent film community places it in the creative vanguard worldwide, the full power of the industry’s productivity has yet to be tapped,” the report stated, and goes on to suggest that Gotham’s industry players band together to exchange information, facilitate access to financing and affordable facilities, and represent their common interests to government.

The study recommends the formation of a trade association. “Approximately 20 unions and at least as many professional organizations service the industry, yet they operate on behalf of separate constituencies,” said Eugenie C. Cowan, director of Exploring the Metropolis.

Once formed, it is recommended that the new Gotham film and video trade group:

  • Establish a statistical center to systematize the collection of employment data to reflect freelance and self-employed workers and to develop additional indicators of industry growth and productivity;

  • Evaluate the cost benefits of a permanent film industry center to act as a year-round marketplace and clearinghouse for Gotham’s indie filmmakers and investors; and;

  • Explore the creation of a local development corporation similar to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. in Los Angeles to address real estate and land use issues as well as financing needs.

Although New York benefits from an exceptional talent pool, inimitable settings and a reputation for facilitating location shooting, it is hampered by a shortage of soundstages and threatened by tax subsidies being offered by Canada, the report noted.

This conclusion was reiterated by several industry leaders during the press conference to announce the report’s findings held at Eastman Kodak’s New York sales office.

“The challenges are very real,” said Patricia Swinney Kaufman, deputy commissioner of the New York State Governor’s Office of Motion Pictures and Television. “The sorts of things being offered by Canada are beyond the scope of what a city or state can do.”

New York has about 550,000 square feet of soundstage space (excluding networks and cable stations), with 112,000 square feet on long-term lease, according to Exploring the Metropolis. By contrast, the Los Angeles region has about 4 million square feet, much of it booked 18 months in advance.

Alan Suna, chief executive of Silvercup Studios in Queens, said New York’s existing soundstages are not large enough to accommodate full-scale studio productions. “We need stages with 35-foot ceilings that are at least 16,000 square feet,” Suna said. “How we’re going to get them, I don’t know.”

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