NEW YORK — Los Angeles may have 3.5 million square feet of soundstage space, compared with Gotham’s 600,000, but when Steiner Studios opens next year at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York will come several thousand feet closer to Hollywood.
And now that the studio’s walls are finally going up — almost four years after development plans passed through the hands of Miramax Films, Tribeca Prods. and Vornado Realty Trust, before being taken up by Steiner Equities Group — studio execs are beginning to meet with producers to shore up contracts for the new space.
Steiner Studios prexy Jay Fine said he wouldn’t give names but that “we’re starting to talk to people in New York and also in L.A. who have been looking for spaces.” He added, “If we were to open today, we’d probably be full.”
The studio is skedded to open for business in fall 2004.
Steiner is not the only studio construction under way in Gotham — Long Island City’s Silver Cup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens are both expanding, and Studio City New York on West 45th Street plans to open within the next three years — but the $118 million project is currently the most ambitious, with a total of five soundstages, ranging from 17,000 square feet to 27,000 square feet. The latter will become the city’s largest, beating out Kaufman Astoria’s 26,000-square-footer. Even the city has pledged support, putting up $28 million worth of infrastructure improvements.
Steiner Studios will also include the city’s first gated backlot. “New York has never been able to offer that,” said Andrew Stern, senior VP for media and entertainment at Gotham’s Economic Development Corp. “It will allow people to work in New York the way they work in L.A.”
In other ways, too, the West Coast has been very much on the minds of the Steiner development team.
“Over the past several years, we’ve made numerous visits to L.A. to visit with and tour different studios,” Fine said. “We’ve talked with everyone, from the people working the lighting and grip to producers, in order to understand what they would think would be an ideal facility.”
Backdrop with backup
Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, has also been bolstered by Hollywood. “Based on my conversations with studios, networks and producers, it is clear that we will retain and attract more production by offering more diversified space, which complements our current lineup of facilities,” she said. “New York City is the ultimate backlot, but now we’ll have the ultimate backup.”
Industryites say that studio space is not about bringing work to New York, but keeping it here. “The demand already exists because New York is a location draw,” Stern said. “But we can create a bigger pie. We want to make sure no one leaves because stages are not available.”
Stern estimated that of the 180 feature films shot in New York last year, only a dozen projects remained in the city for post-production. Some of those remain at the insistence of talent, such as Nicole Kidman, who kept “Birth” in New York.
Still, not even stages can compete with lower exchange rates and tax incentives being offered by runaway production destinations like Canada and Eastern Europe.
At this point, though, the Gotham film community is simply happy to see a completed project in sight. “I’ve heard so many times that different studios were going to come, but this is the first time it seems real,” said John Penotti, founder and prexy of GreeneStreet Films.
“It’s a huge thing for us. I really hope it pans out,” he continued. “I think it’s a trickle-down effect. It is (true) that if you build it, they’ll come. I really believe that. What will happen is the studio will help culminate a lot of divergent interests: actors, directors, studio heads. They’ll feel there is a more substantive infrastructure to handle not just two movies at a time, but five, six. Clearly the crew base for that is here, but there hasn’t always been the facilities.”
As for Steiner creating competition between the other Gotham studios, the consensus seems to be that more work for anyone is more work for the city.
“This will make the pie that much bigger,” Stern said. “It’s not a matter of fighting between projects.”
Alan Suma, head of Silver Cup Studios, said: “It’s a growing industry in New York. The development of Steiner Studios is a very positive thing for New York. Those of us who know how to do it will do it well.”