New York’s Westchester County Offers Elbow Room That City Lacks

Billions NYC TV Production
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

Even though leafy Westchester County, just north of New York City, has recently become a hotbed for filming, it has yet to succumb to local production fatigue — a syndrome in which residents come to resent the intrusion of trucks and crews close to their property.

When actor-producer Chance Kelly, whose credits include “American Sniper,” recently received an unexpected phone call from a police official in Yonkers, N.Y., his first reaction was “Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.”

Instead, it was a how-can-we-help inquiry related to his shooting permit in the city for a boxing film. “Westchester is happy to have you,” says Kelly, a resident of the county. “You aren’t going to get that in New York City.”

The county’s film office reports it received more than 300 shooting-permit inquiries in 2016, triple that in 2011.

“You have towns like Yonkers and White Plains with alleys and street intersections, and also highways, historic places, old farms, country roads and mansions,” says Ernie Karpeles, a location scout for TV commercials and other productions, who lives in Westchester. “There’s a real diversity of looks. And the police will work with you to close roads.”

Westchester is known for rolling hills and affluent communities sandwiched between the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. East Coast elites such as music mogul Clive Davis and Bill and Hillary Clinton maintain Westchester residences. Permanent production infrastructure is scarce, though Westchester does have four soundstages and some post-production services.

“Most of the activity we’re seeing is for episodic series [including] ‘Madam Secretary,’ ‘The Get Down,’ ‘Billions,’ ‘The Blacklist’ and ‘Quantico,’” says Natasha Caputo, director of the county’s Tourism & Film Office. “It’s all different subject matter, not just one period setting. And we’re seeing more and more commercials too.”

The southern end of Westchester, which encompasses the county’s bigger cities, is within what union work rules generally classify as a local zone (in this case a 25- or 30-mile radius from Manhattan). Within the radius, employees report to the location where their workday starts, but beyond the radius, the pay clock can begin in Manhattan, thus covering travel time too.

In addition, shoots anywhere in Westchester can apply for New York state production subsidies for below-the-line expenses ($420 million per year is funded through 2022). That’s an advantage over neighboring New Jersey, which has some geography within local-labor zones but offers no state subsidy money.

Another selling point: elbow room for trucks, campers and other bulky equipment. “In the congestion of the city, parking is your biggest hurdle because you don’t have exterior parking lots in Manhattan,” says Celia Costas, executive producer of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and Westchester-centric thriller “The Girl on the Train.”

“The varied housing stock in Westchester provides the opportunity to double any number of mid-Atlantic and coastal cities,” says county resident Lauri Pitkus, location manager for “Ocean’s Eight” and “Orange Is the New Black.”

The landscape diversity is such that Westchester locations can be dressed up to look like faraway places. For example, the county’s suburban-caliber airport has doubled for an aerodrome in North Africa, and a local marina served as a Miami Beach club.

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