April 4, 2016

Lights, camera, action!


West Side Story is a classic New York tale spun by quintessential New Yorkers. But when Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway hit became a movie, it came to exist as a piece of New York in name only as much of the film was shot at Samuel Goldwyn Studios in California.

In the 20th century, Hollywood beckoned New York’s creative class, while Broadway endured because there is no real substitute for live theater. Those who left for L.A. never ceased to draw on Gotham’s gritty streetscape, but if they returned it was to film an exterior.

In 2004, New York, like other states, started offering a film tax credit to resuscitate the industry. Though similar credits have been criticized as giveaways with little economic benefit, New York’s quickly proved to be the exception. That’s because the city always has had the talent and moviemaking infrastructure; it just didn’t have the economic edge. Now it does, and the industry is booming. Film and television employment has climbed more than 53% since 2004, and economic activity generated annually is nearly $9 billion, up from $4.6 billion a dozen years ago.

Most New Yorkers see the industry only when a shoot on their block forces them out of their way as they try to get home. But that tension is overblown. Out of a quarter-million complaint calls to 311 in February, only 52 were related to filming.

That’s why we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the industry by launching a weekly newsletter. Crain’s Entertainment will cover—without fear or favor—the people, companies, politics and policies behind the lights, camera and action. Crain’s Entertainment will focus on the organizations that fuel film, television and Broadway productions and the many businesses and communities in the five boroughs touched by them.

To sign up for it, go to CrainsNewYork.com/entertainment. Reporter Addie Morfoot will lead our efforts. She joins us having covered the industry for a dozen years for Variety, The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

Crain’s Entertainment will no doubt unearth great stories, insight and actionable information. It also will offer valuable context for the complex policy and heated political debates that will no doubt occur, especially when the state’s film tax credit comes up for renewal in 2019, and CEOs like Hal Rosenbluth of Kaufman Astoria Studios make their pitch for extending it. “This industry is diversifying the economy … promoting tourism and generating 130,000 jobs,” he said. “This industry is one of the pillars of the city.” Crain’s will be there to cover it.

A version of this article appears in the April 4, 2016, print issue of Crain’s New York Business as “Lights, camera, action!”.

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