Movie and TV work just outside New York City conjures the vision of outdoor shoots in leafy landscapes with plenty of elbow room, compared with the cramped metropolis — but that image is a thing of the past. These days, production in suburban New York increasingly involves brick-and-mortar physical studios and post-production houses.
This infrastructure boom can be credited to the state’s $420 million annual incentive for production and post-production, which will last at least through 2022.
One example: Grumman Studios in Bethpage, on Long Island, which includes eight soundstages. It was there that NBC staged three of its high-profile live primetime musicals, including “Peter Pan Live!”
“One of the advantages is we have plenty of parking” compared with Manhattan, says Grumman owner Parviz Farahzad. “You can pull in right to the soundstage door and do whatever you have to do.”
Grumman Studios opened in 2009 on a former aerospace industrial site on the edge of the 25- to 30-mile radius of Manhattan that film and TV labor unions classify as local work. That’s where the regional production boom is concentrated; work beyond the radius gets tagged with extra labor expenses.
“We have some properties that are available, and we’d love to see studio developers or a major studio set up shop,” says Lucy Redzeposki, director of economic growth and tourism for Rockland County, on the Hudson River just north of New York City. The county is mostly within the local labor zone, and Redzeposki reports location work in the area is “sizzling.”
Post-production is also impacted by the incentive. Membership in the statewide trade group Post New York Alliance has increased from 14 companies in 2009 to 66 this year, says chairwoman Yana Collins Lehman. “Every single member of PNYA has expanded its physical plant as well as its employee base,” adds Collins Lehman, who is also president of Trevanna Post. “What we did not anticipate is that the [state tax] credits also brought in a ton of TV work.”
There are drawbacks to the boom, however. Production executives say one of the causes of the sudden growth is New York City’s go-go real estate economy, which increasingly pushes work to the cheaper suburbs. In addition, it’s not clear if the suburban production facilities will have staying power, because most are in repurposed industrial buildings.
New York City is the centerpiece of a three-state urban sprawl bookended by New Jersey and Connecticut. However, those neighboring states haven’t experienced big increases in film and TV production because they lack big incentives. “The 30% New York state tax incentive has been huge for our industry,” says Debra Markowitz, film commissioner in Nassau County on Long Island, which abuts Queens and is home to Gold Coast Studios in addition to Grumman Studios.
New York’s suburban-facilities boom builds on long-standing outdoor location shooting in the region. “Productions are attracted here by friends,” says Laurent Rejto, director of the Hudson Valley Film Commission, a nonprofit funded by three county governments beyond the New York City labor radius. “Everyone has an artist, musician or filmmaker friend in the Hudson Valley. Plus, there’s plenty of space, fresh air, low permit costs — and proximity to New York City.”