Gotham’s players find strength in tragedy

NYC eager to rebuild film community better than before

The Gotham skyline may never be the same but that’s not stopping the film and television community here, which suddenly seems stronger and more cohesive than ever.

“New York is still the most extraordinary city there is,” says Tribeca Films’ Jane Rosenthal, who jumped into the World Trade Center relief effort by offering free meals to rescue workers, courtesy of her and partner Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Grill. “You see who the people of New York are by walking by the wall in Union Square Park. People gave blood, relief. Of course we’re going to keep shooting movies in New York.”

Adds producer Scott Rudin: “There’s a group of us who are passionate about where we live and are passionately dedicated to the cultural life of the city. This event frankly brings out the blatant braggadocio in us New Yorkers.” And others, such as Miramax’s Meryl Poster, Greenestreet’s John Penotti and Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard, echo the emotion.

Good Machine partner James Schamus, whose offices are on Canal Street, offered to pay the salaries of his 40-plus staff for a week if they didn’t feel like coming in to work. But his entire staff returned a week after the attacks.

“And this is true for just not our company,” says Schamus. “Everyone was doing that. If that’s the case, things are not as drastic as all that.”

Employees at Miramax, Killer Films, Artisan, Greenestreet and other Gotham shingles located south of 14th Street, wasted little time in getting back in the swing of things. Miramax and Tribeca, located just north of ground zero, were operating in substitute offices for the two weeks after the disaster.

The Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers prexy-CEO Matt Miller sees a potential light at the end of the tunnel: “We needed a shot in the arm. Advertisers have been producing overseas to save costs. This tragedy is going to make corporate America look inside themselves and ask why we are sending work out of the country. All of the patriotism will help people think about bettering the American economy, plus people won’t want to travel as much.”

Bernard notes that a dearth of studio production in the next few months in New York will be less about the WTC attacks and more due to studios spending their production budgets early in the year to avert threatened guild strikes.

“I think we’re going to find a lot more independent film production going on here,” he says, “because the actors have already made their cash with studio projects earlier in the year.”

Bailin claims advertisers are already bringing work back to Gotham, and praises city officials for their efforts. “We’re not going to let the bad guys win,” he says. “If our economy falters, then they have won.”

Such sentiments, however, may not be enough to lift the biz out of its immediate conundrum: according to some, the World Trade Center attacks heighten the urgency of finding new ways to lure the business back to Gotham. Certainly the catastrophe already has caused producers to reconsider the types of movies they wish to make.

“I think people are going to have to reconsider how to keep the movie business here,” says producer Jean Doumanian, who is on the cusp of launching a new production company. “Maybe the unions haven’t come down in their rates enough. We need to find a way to keep things less costly. We need to join hands and help each other, behind the scenes and in front of it. … People aren’t going to be able to afford it here unless a lot of things change.”

Richard Brick, who ran the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting in the early 1990s, feels asking the union leaders to lower costs is futile. “No union is going to initiate or agree to that,” he says, “unless it’s part of a broad-based, industrywide effort.”

But whether they come now or six months from now, producers used to shooting pics in New York say they are reconsidering the types of films they will make.

“It’s the end of irony,” says vet Gotham producer Ed Pressman, who recently launched Content Film with John Schmidt. “Things are going to be more serious now. So many films that were contemporary and modern just weren’t taking anything seriously, like ‘Pulp Fiction.’ The ironic attitude is less relevant now.”

Rudin, who is planning to do reshoots of his Paramount pic “Changing Lanes” in Gotham, adds: “The future of doing movies about terrorism looks grim. But it’s a great time to do films with emotion — undiluted emotion, human emotion.”

“You Can Count on Me” producer John Hart of Gotham-based Hart Sharp Entertainment agrees, noting, “‘You Can Count on Me’ would probably have more relevance now than it did before.”

He adds that romantic fantasy pics and his planned adaptation of the Broadway play “Proof” are more the type of entertainment people will want to make in the new climate.

But, in truth, nobody quite knows what a post-attack pic will look like, or how many people will want to see it.

Says New York Times columnist Frank Rich: “The real story will be told over a long period of time, when we fully see how New York rebuilds and fights back. We need to rebuild in the cultural sense and the psychological sense. A city that can recover from this will, if anything, have a new aura of legend about it.”

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