Prod’n awakened in the city that never sleeps

“LAW & ORDER” has put millions in the pockets of its makers, but it has also thrown off tons of cash to the town where it’s shot.

New York City has, over the last 15 years, benefited to the tune of $750 million from the local shooting of the various installments of the NBC primetime juggernaut. And that’s just the original “L&O,” not the offshoots “SVU,” “Criminal Intent,” or “Trial By Jury.” Easily over $1 billion in direct and indirect revenues has flowed into the city from the franchise.

Producer Dick Wolf is overseeing the first scenes of his company’s latest Gotham-set drama series, “Conviction,” which is lensing at the Kaufmann Studios in Astoria, Queens.

The city is riding high on the success of these and an impressive number of other film and TV projects that are thriving in the Big Apple.

One of the people directly responsible for the recent upsurge in these stats is Katherine Oliver, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, who confirmed that the city had turned the post-9/11 corner.

Few in the film or TV biz, she said, are now “running away” from a potential shoot in Gotham.

“We’re still doing the final crunches on our numbers, but 2005 was definitely one of the best years ever in terms of shoots and revenues to the city. We’re experiencing just the opposite of runaway production,” she said. And, she emphasized, the OFTB is trying to become “one-stop shopping” for everything that a production should need.

Some $600 million worth of new biz was lured to the city last year and created jobs for more than 6,000 New Yorkers. Including, she pointed out, Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” which is set in Boston, and “Fast Track,” in which Staten Island doubles for Ohio.

OVERALL, GOTHAM’S production industry employs 100,000 New Yorkers and contributes $5 billion to the local economy each year.

Not that the commissioner, who worked with Mayor Michael Bloomberg as media operations head at Bloomberg News before segueing to city hall, is resting on her laurels.

She makes a point of making regular set visits in order to see and assess the crews and assure that quality of life for New Yorkers remains high despite the shoots. Robert De Niro’s “Good Shepherd” is re-creating Berlin in 1947 on a Steiner sound stage. (There are also now discount vouchers for local businesses in and around a given shoot.)

Oliver and her team have a number of ideas to enhance and tweak the formula in 2006:

  • an online permit system using proprietary software, which will significantly limit the bureaucracy;

  • the establishment of a digital photo library that will delineate thousands of potential shooting sites;

  • enhancements to a workforce training program, especially with an eye to servicing indie pics budgeted under $3 million;

  • the training of more production assistants;

  • revving up the red carpet permit process to attract more global premieres, junkets and after-parties;

  • more use of jumbotrons in and around Times Square to promote pics and shows shot in the city.

“I would put the emphasis on three things in trying to specify what has worked here in our city,” Oliver said. “Customer service, business-to-business outreach and savvy marketing.”

On this last score, she is particularly enthused. Under her leadership, the city last year unveiled a first-of-its-kind “Made in NY” incentive program, which clearly helped lure production.

THE MAYOR’S OFFICE estimates that 250 indie and studio films and 100 new and returning TV shows shot in New York City’s streets and studios in 2005.

The “Made in NY” tax credit was signed into law by Bloomberg on Jan. 3, 2005, and offers a 5% tax credit from the city on top of the state’s 10% credit for qualified movies and shows.

A key component of the incentive programincludes free advertising on city-owned media to productions which do at least 75% of their shooting throughout the five boroughs. If the budget of a movie is $20 million, the pic gets $200,000 in free local advertising, Oliver explained.

The productions that have benefited so far include everything from “The Apprentice” and “As the World Turns” to “Mad Hot Ballroom” and “The Squid and the Whale.”

The ads run on bus shelters, NYC TV, Kodak’s Times Square Gallery, the Nasdaq Tower and the Reuters sign in Times Square.

“Obviously,” Oliver said, ” other cities have their incentives too and that’s great. But our permits are free, our police assistance is free, our locations are free. A picture or show can save an average $19,000 a week on these things by coming here.”

Other, more challenged film destinations — think New Orleans — could do worse than try to emulate these practices.

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