New York City’s film czar puts the happiness of filmmakers at the top of the list
Established in 1966, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting is the oldest film commission in the country. And when Katherine Oliver was appointed by Gotham mayor Michael Bloomberg in August 2002 to head the org, it certainly looked like it.
People were still working on electric typewriters, Oliver recalls, and permits required quadruplicate forms and a few days’ wait. But not for long: Within the first 30 days of the commissioner’s tenure, she got staffers working on computers and had streamlined the permit process.
“We get it,” she says. “Time is money. You need permits fast.”
It was one of the first efforts in an overall push for the type of customer service that aims to make filmmakers and production companies happy to return to New York.
“Katherine is really helpful both in the micro and macro sense,” says Likely Story’s Anthony Bregman, the New York-based producer behind films including “Please Give,” “Our Idiot Brother” and the in-production feature “Every Secret Thing” — the producers opted to film in Gotham and its environs even though the story doesn’t take place there. “Like the free police for location shoots. That’s something that happens almost nowhere else in the country.”
The Made in NY marketing incentive, launched even before the state tax credit was approved, provides citywide advertising for projects that meet local spending guidelines — a high-value proposition, in what’s generally acknowledged to be the No. 1 media market country, and one of the most expensive to boot.
Oliver also boosted education initiatives, perhaps most prominently with the Made in NY Production Assistant Training Program, a partnership with Brooklyn Workforce Innovations that offers unemployed and low-income New Yorkers training and placement in entry-level film and TV production gigs. It not only assures access to such jobs for a cross-section of New Yorkers, but it also serves as an ambassador training program for the industry. “A P.A. is the face of a production in a community,” Oliver notes.
The office also recently partnered with Brooklyn College for a graduate school of cinema, to be located at Steiner Studios and expected to accept its first class in fall 2014. Just last fall, the office announced the Made in NY Media Center in Brooklyn, a joint effort from the office, IFP and General Assembly to encourage cross-pollination of local entertainment, advertising and new- media talent.
In 2009 Oliver rose to commissioner of the Office of Entertainment and Media, an umbrella org that encompasses not only film, theater and broadcasting but also NYC Media and NYC Digital.
Such three-pronged activity is essential, per Oliver. “It’s being innovative and responsible and responsive to the changing sector,” she says. “It embodies what’s happening with our customers day in and day out, and all of these programs will live on after the Bloomberg administration.”