The Empire State Strikes Back

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Tue, 02/26/2013 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

As digital technology inexorably transforms the way movie theatres do business exhibitors at times may feel singled out as they adapt to the challenges of the transition. Realistically though as things stand now no segment of the motion picture business has been altered more dramatically than post-production. In the 1980s both audio editing and video editing were drastically changed by the advent of digital tools and at first those who adapted were happy. By the start of the Nineties the post business was booming driven by the high hourly rates that could be commanded for work done in editing suites that often cost a million dollars or more to equip. Even more dramatic change came at the end of that decade though as lower cost tools gradually forced many facilities out of business. From 2000 to 2010 the industry saw a 43.2 percent decline in the number of video post-production companies according to a 2011 report from IBISWorld on the nation’s Top 10 dying industries. New York always a thriving production center was not immune to these changes. Today though there are growing signs that the state’s overall production picture is poised for a comeback. The Empire State is striking back. Last month Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that applications to New York state for post-production work have soared as a result of legislation he championed and signed into law last year which strengthened incentives to attract post-production activity to the state. Since the law took effect 34 productions have applied for post-production work in New York – double the number of applications received during a two-year period under the previous tax credit – helping to create jobs and spur new spending in the state. “Last July the state sent a clear message with a new law that we welcome and support producers editors and directors to come to New York for post-production work ” Cuomo said. “In just a matter of months the state has received a record number of applications to do post-production here – evidence that we are making smart investments to attract businesses create jobs and generate economic activity. Let this progress be an invitation for other productions to come to the Empire State the future television and film capital of the world.” The new law boosted the available post-production credit from 10 to 30 percent in the New York metropolitan commuter region including New York City and Dutchess Nassau Orange Putnam Rockland Suffolk and Westchester counties. For post-production work in Upstate New York 35 percent in tax credits were made available to encourage additional investment and construction of new facilities in the region. So far applications have been submitted by projects shooting in states including Louisiana Georgia Idaho and Massachusetts and from as far away as Jordan. It is estimated that this work will generate $23 million in new spending in New York. “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo the state’s television and film incentives program is attracting new productions that are resulting in more investment in New York and more jobs for New Yorkers ” said Empire State Development president CEO and commissioner Kenneth Adams. “It is clear that New York is becoming the place to be for the film and television industry.” Among the new applicants for the credit is Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage an upcoming feature film from Benaroya Pictures. The film stars Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce and is directed by Liza Johnson from a script written by Mark Jude Poirier based on a short story by Alice Munro. “The New York state post-production credit was a game changer in getting this film made ” said Jamin O’Brien a producer on the film. “Prior to the post credit we may not have been able to make the film as the 30 percent credit on New York expenditures became part of our finance plan. There are very few states that offer a post only credit and New York being one of them will allow a lot more films to get made by allowing films to post where the directors and producers are based.” Jamie Patricof of Electric City Entertainment and the producer of Random which filmed in New Orleans but did post-production in New York said “New York is a wonderful place to edit a film. With the amazing facilities and large talent pool you have unlimited options. Thanks to the new incentives we will now be able to bring the films there to finish that we aren’t able to shoot in the state.” The strengthened law was designed to expand state support by specifically focusing on attracting post-production work to communities in all corners of the state. At a time when other states are experiencing production flight New York’s strengthened credit supports a robust industry cluster which has become a major source of direct and indirect employment and economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people. Yana Collins Lehman is managing director of Trevanna Post and executive board member of the Post New York Alliance. The alliance which now represents thirty member post companies was formed to encourage New York State to include post-production under the umbrella of tax credits that it offers to filmmakers so that as Lehman said a producer could qualify for the tax break “even if you didn’t shoot here.” The effort is beginning to pay off. Productions that shoot in Los Angeles are starting to post in New York she said and many post-production professionals who had left the city to find work elsewhere are moving back. “The incentive now is working very well ” Lehman said. “We want to grow it here and keep it here.” Perhaps ironically digital technology is playing a positive role in this. Thanks to digital pipelines projects can be shared with people and companies working virtually anywhere in the world. Much of the mundane work of post-production is typically performed by younger workers in entry-level positions. For larger productions these workers can easily number in the dozens if not hundreds. It is one reason that the closing credits on major Hollywood effects movies run so long. Until very recently this reality limited the amount of work that New York post houses could compete for because New York salaries are high even for starting workers and the cost of the New York real estate needed to accommodate them is prohibitive. Upstate New York has been hit harder than anyplace else in the state in the recent economic downturn but for the post-production business the region has two major advantages to address these very problems. Large universities such as The University of Buffalo and Syracuse University each have hundreds of students eager to gain entry into the motion picture and television business. And upstate rents are very affordable. Given the digital pipelines Manhattan post houses are increasingly working with satellite offices and partner companies upstate. “A lot of business partnerships are forming between businesses in the city and upstate ” Lehman said which she said has resulted “in a vibrant post-production scene all over the state.” Lehman said this is leading to graphics and effects projects that in recent years have routinely being farmed to China and India coming to Western New York instead. “There are no tax incentives overseas ” she said. “The future of post is incredibly bright.” Lehman suggested I speak with Paul Moore of New York Local 700 of the Editor’s Guild because she said he had been working obtaining tax incentives for post much longer than she has. That proved to be true. Moore said he’s been working on the tax credit issue since 2000 and that he first turned his attention to adding post-production to the tax credit in 2006. That possibly explains why he is more measured in his optimism than Lehman is. For one thing some of the biggest companies in the city have yet to embrace this opportunity. “The big players like Deluxe and Technicolor need to make a commitment ” he said. While he agrees that overall union editors are working more lately he said that many of those jobs are in Los Angeles. Moore said the latest jobs figures he has show little or no job growth but were compiled last summer before the latest incentives took effect. He won’t have definitive new numbers until later this summer. Still the recent boom in TV shows such as the CBS hit Elementary that shoot in and around the city is a positive. “We’re a TV town now ” he said. But Moore has seen many political decisions evaporate when new administrations take office. Many states have embraced tax credits only to rescind them once new politicians are in office. Governor Cuomo is a big advocate of the tax incentives but New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is not as enthusiastic. After so many years of dealing with the slow-moving political process Moore understands that more work needs to be done. He’s hoping for a five-year commitment to the tax credit from the state something that could be in the current budget being negotiated in Albany now. A lot hinges on that. “If that happens ” said Moore “we’re poised to be in a really good position in two or three years.”