1. Filming in New York City has been on the upswing in the last few years due to production incentives, how did that come about?
As a media executive myself, I quickly recognized the enormous potential of the city’s production industry. It employs 100,000 New Yorkers, contributes $5 billion to our economy each year, and supports some 4,000 local businesses. So in 2005, we set out to bring the industry back to New York—where it all began, and where it belongs—with the “Made in NY” incentive program, offering a 15 percent city-state tax credit and free advertising for qualifying films and TV shows which shoot in New York, along with discounts for the industry at more than 550 businesses across the city. Thanks to this program, the city posted nearly 32,000 location shooting days in ’05—our highest number on record.
2. New York had a reputation for being a difficult place to shoot. What are some of the efforts the city has made to make it easier?
First of all, whoever said we’re a tough town to shoot in clearly hasn’t made a film here in a long time. I have to admit, when I first took office, film permits were still being processed on electric typewriters. But my film commissioner, Katherine Oliver, had permits online within her first 30 days on the job. We also made customer service a top priority by creating a concierge service to assist producers with all aspects of the production cycle—as we like to say, “from script to screen.” And we’ve made delivering access to top locations a priority. For example, we shut down the roadways of the Brooklyn Bridge for eight nights for the filming of Stay, and I lobbied Secretary General Kofi Annan to help The Interpreter become the first film ever to shoot inside the United Nations. That’s what we’re willing to do to keep filmmakers here in New York.
3. What is your favorite film set in New York?
I love all of Mel Brooks’ films, but I think it would have to be the original version of The Producers. So you can imagine what a thrill it was to stand next to Mel at Steiner Studios when he announced that the remake would be shot here, and become the first production to take advantage of the “Made in NY” program. During filming, some of the actors were taping the film by day and appearing in the Broadway musical at night. That’s definitely something that could only happen in New York.
4. Filmmakers have been capturing the city on celluloid (and now digitally) for decades—what do you think makes the city so visually interesting?
Hands down, it’s the people. New Yorkers themselves are the best extras you could ever find. The people, the cultures, the diversity, the festivals that you encounter on the streets of this city—there’s just nothing else like it. In fact, this fall, we are publishing a book to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Entitled Scenes From the City: Filmmaking in New York, 1966-2006, it looks back on the past four decades of location filming in New York City, and the incredible people and locations that have been captured on film.
5. What do you think has not been shown enough in New York films that directors should know about?
Our beaches, forts and castles. Everyone knows that New York is the place to shoot landmarks, skyscrapers and bustling streets, but what many filmmakers don’t realize—and what I get to see every day as I travel around—is the incredible diversity in the look and feel of the city across neighborhoods and boroughs. Lately, filmmakers have been using Staten Island to shoot scenes set in suburban areas, and Scorsese’s latest film, The Departed, even used New York to stand in for Massachusetts. To connect filmmakers with these lesser-known locations, earlier this year we launched Hot Shots, an online library on nyc.gov/film of city-owned properties available free of charge for production.
6. How have Tribeca and the other festivals contributed to the film culture in the city?
A tremendous amount. Particularly after September 11, the Tribeca Film Festival was there to support the city’s film community. New York is actually home to more than 50 local film festivals, which are important because they showcase the work of our city’s artists and bring filmmakers from around the world to the city. While they’re here, we encourage them to stay and shoot their next projects here.
7. One of your big concerns as mayor has to be balancing a budget and keeping costs down—is there any advice you can give to directors?
I’ve got a $50 billion city budget and still have to save every penny, so I can certainly appreciate the importance of keeping costs down. My best advice is pay nothing as often as you possibly can. Here in New York, we offer free permits, free police assistance, and free access to city-owned locations. Filmmakers who can’t afford to build complicated stages can shoot for free on the streets of New York—truly one of the world’s great stages.
8. 9/11-themed films have been a controversial topic, do you feel it’s a subject that is ready to be dramatized on film?
September 11 is a part of our city’s history. There are so many important and inspiring stories from that day—concerning our brave police officers and firefighters, as well as the everyday heroes who were living and working downtown. So, on one level, I’m glad that these stories are being shared. At the same time, it is important to be mindful of the sensitivities of family members of the victims and New Yorkers who lived through that tragic day.
9. Was the city involved officially or informally in the Oliver Stone film or any other production about 9/11?
While the Oliver Stone film was shot mostly in Los Angeles, the film did shoot a few scenes, such as those at the Port Authority, in New York. In issuing permits for filming, the city looks at logistics, feasibility and safety. Obviously, subject matter is protected by the First Amendment.
10. Some people feel the communal experience of watching a movie is being replaced by home viewing. How important is it to the life of the city to be able to go out and see a movie together in a theater?
Nothing will ever replace the experience of going to the movies, laughing in the dark with complete strangers, and eating way too much popcorn—it is an essential part of our lives. Fortunately, New York City is home to dozens of local movie theaters, providing that unrivaled opportunity every day to millions. I expect my future grandchildren—and theirs—will still be enjoying it generations from now.