High number of features expected to head to Gotham in coming months

At a glance: Gotham tax guide
Eligible: Feature-length narrative films and TV films, pilots and series
Max benefits: 10% tax rebate from New York state and 5% from New York City (payable in the subsequent year) on all production costs incurred within New York City (including pre- and post-production)
Available funds: The state and the city have earmarked $25 million and $12.5 million, respectively, for each calendar year. Productions will be rewarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
How to qualify: A production must complete 75% of its stage work at one of nine city-approved facilities — with a minimum spend of $3 million at that facility — or shoot 75% of its location work within the city. If a production fails to meet either additional requirement but shoots 75% of its stage work in the city, it will receive a credit for the expenses incurred at the facility only.
Paperwork: Applications must be submitted at least 180 days in advance of production. For state go to: http://www.nylovesfilm.com; for city: www.nyc.gov
– Matthew Ross

Set your film in New York, but don’t build your set in New York, and shoot as many of your exteriors as possible elsewhere.

For years, those’ve been the rules for studios and producers looking to hold the bottom line on their features. Recently, however, Gotham has become a production player again, thanks to a pair of new tax incentives that have reeled in some serious business.

The sea change began in August, when the New York Legislature passed a bill giving a 10% tax rebate on below-the-line costs to all productions that shoot at least 75% of their stage work in the state and at an approved facility.

In January, the city of New York followed suit, offering an additional 5%. While only a handful of features are shooting here, signs point to a record-breaking number of mid- to high-budget features heading to the Big Apple in coming months.

Already, a number of pics have shuffled their production plans to take advantage of the rebates. One such film is Steven Shainberg’s “Fur,” the Diane Arbus biopic starring Nicole Kidman, which will kick off its two-month shoot in May at Steiner Studios.

“Shooting on a stage in New York is so much more expensive than shooting on a stage anywhere else,” says “Fur” producer Andrew Fierberg. “Without tax incentives, it makes no sense. This isn’t like shooting in the Valley, or Louisiana, or going abroad, where you can really get cheaper labor. But you cannot underestimate the power of New York as a location. The added value is the aesthetic of the city and the fact that there is so much talent based here.”

Another production that changed locations as a result of the incentives is “Awake,” a thriller directed by Joby Harold and produced by GreeneStreet and Open City Films.

“We brought this movie back from shooting in London because of the tax incentives,” says GreeneStreet prexy John Penotti. “This has leveled the playing field with regards to Europe, which has very aggressive tax schemes. I think those other production centers are interesting, but they’re not very deep in terms of crew.”

Revolution’s “Freedomland,” which kicked off its eight-week New York shoot in March, is one of the first studio features to take advantage of the incentives. “In the future, Revolution is always going to look to New York first if the film is set here, as opposed to Toronto or L.A., which up to now has so often been the case,” says the pic’s exec producer and Revolution production head Charles Newirth.

Among other pics lured to Gotham, in part due to the tax credits, are Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and Patrick Stettner’s “The Night Listener.”

Recent and current productions include the Lindsay Lohan romantic comedy “Just My Luck,” which shot all its stagework in Louisiana in January and February before traveling to Gotham for exteriors, and “The Producers,” which started prep work at Steiner Studios in November.

“The incentive didn’t exist when we were in pre-production,” says “Just My Luck” director Donald Petrie. “When we shot in New Orleans, we had to bring just about all of our equipment in from out of state, which then drove the cost up. Had we had the rebate in New York, and if the cost of shooting here even approached the cost of anywhere else, I bet we would have justified shooting in the city.”

By all accounts, the credit for the incentive goes to Steiner Studios, which initiated the process when it hired a lobbyist last year; and to Pat Kaufman and Katherine Oliver, heads of the governor and mayor’s film offices, respectively, who managed to broaden the scope of the legislation to ensure that all New York soundstages with at least 7,000 square feet qualify for the rebate.

“When I first started, the complaints were that we were not competitive — it was just cheaper to shoot out of the country,” says Oliver. “Now, I think you’d have to agree that that attitude has changed.”

The city’s branded “Made in N.Y.” program also is offering free outdoor media equal to 1% of New York production costs for all film and TV productions shooting 75% of their work in Gotham.

Steiner chair Doug Steiner says the studio expects a lot of activity. “New York used to be the exception, but now it’s the rule,” he says.

Adds Julianne Hausler, prexy of below-the-line agency New York Office, “At this point last year our clients were just as busy, but the work we were getting for them was in productions shooting all over the world. This year, more of it’s in New York.”

LENSING IN GOTHAM

Current:

THE PRODUCERS
Director: Susan Stroman
Prods.: Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger
Cast: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart
Start/wrap: February/May
Domestic distrib’n: Universal

THE NIGHT LISTENER
Director: Patrick Stettner
Prods.: John Hart, Jeff Sharp, Robert Kessel, Jill Footlick
Cast: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh
Start/wrap: March/April
Domestic distrib’n: Available

FREEDOMLAND
Director: Joe Roth
Prod.: Scott Rudin
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco
Start/wrap: April/August
Domestic distrib’n: Sony

THE DEPARTED
Director: Martin Scorsese
Prods.: Brad Grey, Graham King, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Start/wrap: April/September
Domestic distrib’n: Warner Bros.

Upcoming in 2005:

FUR
Director: Steven Shainberg
Prods.: Andrew Fierberg, William Pohlad, Laura Bickford, Bonnie Timmermann
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr.
Start/wrap: May/July
Domestic distrib’n: Available

THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Director: Robert De Niro
Prods.: Jane Rosenthal, De Niro
Cast: De Niro, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie
Start: Summer
Domestic distrib’n: Universal

AWAKE
Director: Joby Harold
Prods.: Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente, Tim Williams
Cast: TBA
Start: Summer
Domestic distrib’n: Available

– Matthew Ross

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