Mayoral candidates fuzzy on prod’n policies

WITH NEW YORK’S MAYORAL Democratic primary on Tuesday and the general election in November, it’s surprising that few of the candidates on either side of the political divide have made public their ideas on how to keep television and film production in Gotham.

Film, television and commercial production add $5 billion to the New York economy. But what’s a few billion between friends?

Still, I was determined to canvas the candidates on some of the issues affecting the biz in Gotham. Though there are more primetime shows being shot in New York than ever before, and feature production has ballooned since the dog days of the early 1990s, when the unions had practically priced themselves out of the market, skeptics fear a new era of conflict: The number of nasty skirmishes between communities and producers is on the rise; there’s more runaway production, particularly in the commercial arena; and everyone knows it isn’t cheap to do anything in New York.

I call all of the candidates’ offices. No response. I email questions. Still nothing. As the deadline for this story nears, I remind the candidates’ press officers of how important the entertainment business is to the New York economy. Politicians are like Hollywood producers: Nothing matters unless they feel the pressure, unless they sense that not participating in my story has consequences, costs them image points. I adopt an urgent tone. Don’t they care about the issues?, I ask.

That strikes the right note. Candidate Mark Green’s office calls back first. Of course they can find 10 minutes for Mr. Green to speak with me, on Sunday afternoon. Then Fernando Ferrer’s camp weighs in. Fifteen minutes in his schedule has, miraculously, opened up.

“My belief is that there is too much bureaucracy,” begins Ferrer, who calls me punctually at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. “When you consider the amount of revenue the film business brings to the city of New York, we are going to have to be a lot more efficient dealing with the problem of the high cost of doing business here.”

Well said. I like this guy: dry, serious, well-versed on the problem, if a little shy on specific suggestions as to what to do about it.

Almost the first words out of Green’s mouth are “I have a lot of friends in the industry.” (Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg are said to be among them.) “I am going to play a hands-on role as a cheerleader to the industry — partly because it’s not yet in the modern age here in New York. I mean, we must be the last people on the planet using carbon paper to fill out permit forms. And filling out those requests in triplicate is ridiculous!”

Green assures me that he and his wife are real movie buffs. He hints at a plan for a motion picture investment fund and slips in a little swipe at Mayor Guiliani. “Our mayor blew up the Weinstein/DeNiro deal,” he says, referring to Guiliani’s role in putting the kibosh on a deal that might have seen Miramax and Tribeca Films invest in soundstages at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

I am impressed with this Green. He is hip on movies, including “Ghost World,” which he and his wife have just seen and rated a B+. He knows the issues, knows how to name drop. If this mayor thing doesn’t work out, he’s still got an auspicious future: Maybe DreamWorks will offer him a first-look pact with fat overhead, or perhaps “Law & Order” will make him a series regular.

Monday rolls around without a peep from Democratic candidates Alan Hevesi and Peter Vallone. But another, more desperate call to Republican Michael Bloomberg’s office, in which I mention casually that I have already interviewed Green and Ferrer, results in an immediate response.”The first thing you can do to keep production here is to make the city safe and clean, so people will want to come and work here,” says Bloomberg, sounding every bit like the savvy media mogul that he is, while positioning himself squarely as the successor to the mayor who has made New York safer and more chic. “Some people have suggested letting the local communities get involved,” continues Bloomberg. “But I am dead set against that.”

Surprisingly, Bloomberg seems to know about what some consider a very serious threat to the Mayor’s Office of Theater, Film and Broadcasting’s centralized power; he understands that granting community boards’ veto power over productions — legislation for which is still pending at the City Council — risks throwing the film permitting process into a draconian nightmare.

And the man who brought the world the Bloomberg Box, which allows clients the ability to buy and sell stocks, does not rule out being proactive: “I think the mayor should, to the extent that he can, use the bully pulpit to help in any way he can — to work with unions in lowering costs and to make the permit-getting process easier.”

Bloomberg produced the soon-to-be-released pic “Focus,” based on the novel by Arthur Miller. He knows the power of images. Like Green, he understands how every sitcom or feature or commercial that shows the world Zabar’s or Tom’s Diner or the Circle Line Ferry or the Empire State Building is a priceless advertisement for what many have called “the most photogenic city in the world.”

But images are one thing. Green, Ferrer and Bloomberg — and the other candidates, wherever they may be hiding — are going to have to do more than speculate. They’ll need original ideas and clear plans to implement them if anyone is to believe they’ll have a positive impact on the city’s uphill battle to keep production here.

– Charles Lyons
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