New York Incentives Keep Productions Made in Manhattan

Big Apple incentives juice production

When Johnny Carson moved “The Tonight Show” from Manhattan to Los Angeles in 1972, with the state’s then-first lady Nancy Reagan among his early guests, it wasn’t as much a blow to jobs as it was to pride: For years afterward, whenever New York got mentioned in latenight, it usually was about crime and grit.

Two generations later, NBC’s decision to move the “Tonight Show” to New York after naming Gotham-based Jimmy Fallon as host in 2014 doesn’t spell Hollywood’s impending doom, but it’s hard not to view it as anything other than a slap in the face. That’s why “Tonight’s” impending move seems to underscore the extent to which New York has captured the production momentum in the bi-coastal rivalry. For years, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed a desire to entice Tonight back to Manhattan; by contrast, when word leaked that such a move was happening, local L.A. officials were caught by surprise.

SEE MORE: The Gotham 50


There may have not been anything that L.A. could have done, but it will only highlight the Empire State’s ability to offer a sweeter pot of incentives that California struggles to match. It’s a reminder that Southern California, with its concentration of talent and terrific weather, is no longer such a sure thing as a locale, as TV dramas and major feature films have been drifting away from L.A. for a decade or more.

“With the incentives, and with the fact that everyone is so easy to work with, it almost makes shooting in California a really distant choice,” says Martin Shafer, the Castle Rock exec whose latest pic, an untitled Hugh Grant romantic comedy from Marc Lawrence, is shooting in locations both in New York City and in the state.

SEE MORE: Katherine Oliver Puts Filmmakers First with Incentives, Citywide Initiatives


While Manhattan is not the new Hollywood — according to FilmLA, which issues permits in the region, there was a 37.3% gain in TV pilots during the 2013 first quarter, a major rebound in that category — the trend in recent years has seen production in Los Angeles draw a healthy dose of sitcoms and reality shows, while drama series production has fallen off. On the feature side, there is ample production of low-budget indie features, but only one big budget tentpole, the sequel to “Captain America,” is being shot locally.

“Los Angeles is sort of the last resort now when it comes to feature films, even though actors and producers want to stay in L.A.,” says Steve Dayan, business agent for Teamsters Local 399 and vice chairman of the California Film Commission.

California launched its first-of-its-kind production tax credit in 2009, but it is far smaller than those of rival states with a maximum of 25% of the budget. With only $100 million in credits available annually, demand far exceeds supply with recipients selected through a lottery in June. What’s more, feature films with budgets over $75 million aren’t eligible, making Argo the highest-budget film to qualify.

SEE MORE: Mayor Bloomberg Keeps New York Humming with Thriving Showbiz Sector


The state has been able to persuade a few series to relocate to L.A. in exchange for the credit: ABC’s “Body of Proof” moved from Rhode Island, BBC America’s “Torchwood” from Wales and Comedy Central’s “Important Things With Demetri Martin” came from New York. “Body of Proof” producer Matthew Gross says the state’s incentive has helped in ABC’s renewal to second and third seasons. “Hopefully it will help us get season four and five,” he says. “We have the best crews. I don’t think there’s anything anyone could offer to get us to move.”

But the Empire State continues to outpace the Golden State when it comes to production incentives. New York’s film and post-production credits, recently extended and bolstered through 2019, includes a 30% tax credit on New York State expenses and a local post-production credit upped to 30%-35%. The city, meanwhile, ponies up a Made in NY marketing incentive as well as a slew of initiatives aimed at making Gotham a place filmmakers want to come back to. Among the programs is a vocational training program for production assistants and a new Brooklyn media center.

“New York simply outcompetes us,” says FilmLA president Paul Audley, who adds they are planning a push for expanded incentives next year.

The post-production savings is one of the big draws. “Post in New York is very attractive right now, especially because there are more and better post-production facilities in town than ever,” says Anne Carey, the indie producer of “Love,” “Marilyn” and “The American” who recently joined Gotham-based production company Archer Gray.

“Location decisions are driven by the availability of incentives,” says Amy Lemish, executive director of the California Film Commission. “Infrastructure and looks are important but it’s incentives first and foremost. It’s hard to draw a conclusion based on a quarter or two, but we’ve generally seen TV leave California in greater numbers over the last four or five years.”

SEE MORE: In Search of a Great ‘Gatsby’: Hollywood’s F. Scott Fitz and Starts


New York’s frenzy to drum up local film and TV production, both on the state and city level, was sparked in large part by 9/11, which emphasized the need to diversify the Gotham economy. It lured shows like “Ugly Betty” from L.A., and while it also managed to get “Fringe” to shoot in New York, that show eventually ended up in Vancouver.

That’s why, as much as New York has had success in drawing production, there is a certain wariness that it is also a “race to the bottom.” That’s the term that Bloomberg himself used at a press conference last year.

New York “won’t ever be as competitive as New Orleans or Atlanta,” says Kevin Turen of Treehouse Pictures, which produced Gotham-shot pics “Arbitrage” and “Are We Officially Dating?,” currently in the editing room. “If you have a limited budget and you have talent that’s incredibly expensive, you’d probably choose somewhere else.”



More Biz

  • Hong Kong skyline

    Hong Kong Declares Emergency in Coronavirus Response

    Hong Kong’s government has put the territory on the highest state of emergency in response to the outbreak of coronavirus in mainland China. Schools will remain closed until Feb. 17, long after the Chinese New Year holidays, which begin today, should have finished. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Area of China and some 600 [...]

  • Harvey Mason Jr.., Chair of the

    Grammy Board Chief Calls Allegations of Nomination-Rigging ‘Just Not Right’

    Among the many allegations in ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan’s blockbuster legal complaint, the one that possibly cuts most to the heart of the institution — and is of most concern to artists and the public — is the allegation that the nominating process is “rigged.” The example in the complaint points to the [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Friend Tells of Annabella Sciorra's Mid-1990s Struggles at Harvey Weinstein Trial

    A longtime friend of Annabella Sciorra testified Friday in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial that the actor turned to cutting herself and exhibited other troubling behavior in the mid-1990s after she was allegedly raped by the disgraced film mogul. The defense questioning of model Kara Young got heated as Judge James Burke sustained repeated objections to [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Judge Doubts WGA Claim That Packaging Fees Are Kickbacks

    A federal judge seemed skeptical on Friday of the Writers Guild of America’s claim that packaging fees amount to a criminal kickback to agents. Judge Andre Birotte heard more than two hours of arguments from attorneys for the guild and three agencies: WME, UTA and CAA. He said he would issue a ruling at a [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs for Screens: Why Aerosmith Is Still Gold for Synchs

    Aerosmith’s star-studded tribute concert as the 2020 MusiCares Person of the Year honorees on Friday night (January 24) will cement another important milestone in the historic Boston-founded band’s contributions to the American rock canon. But over the past decade, some of the band’s best-known music has remained part of the cultural conversation through some of [...]

  • Sirius Logo

    Radio Hall of Famer Kid Kelly Leaves SiriusXM After Two Decades

    In a surprise move, veteran programmer, on-air personality and Radio Hall of Famer Kid Kelly has left SiriusXM after nearly 20 years with the radio giant, a rep for the company has confirmed to Variety. The news was first reported by RAMP. He most recently served as SiriusXM’s VP of Pop Music Programming. “After a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content