NY Film Tax Credit Calling It A Wrap?

(Editor’s Note: This was written in the Spring of 2009 during my tenure at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.)

When New York State established a tax break program for television and movie productions in 2004, it made for an appealing and lucrative proposition for Hollywood’s elite moviemakers.

And the Hollywood producers came in droves. Last year, New York State reserved more refund money than ever before — $515 million – a figure set to last through 2013. However, filmmakers exhausted the entire amount in 10 short months.

Now, the governor wants to cut the plan. It’s a classic Catch-22: you have to spend money to make money, but the government doesn’t have any money to spend.

And the exodus to Canada’s Great White North has begun.

On February 23, producers of Fringe, Fox’s freshman science fiction drama, announced their move from Fort Greene and Long Island City to Vancouver for their second season of shooting. According to Warner Brothers officials, the show’s distributor, their decision was a direct result of the rebate program’s uncertain future.

“It won’t make a difference creatively speaking if these productions film elsewhere,” said Kanessa Tixe of Queens’ Kaufman Astoria Studios, the indoor home of ABC’s Life on Mars. “They will get their shots whether or not if they film here. But it will affect the local carpenters and hairdressers who work on those productions. They stand to suffer the most.”

It may not make a difference to the creative bigwigs, but to the local D.U.M.B.O. “below the line” carpenters and electricians, it means survival.

“We are at critical juncture,” said New York State AFL-CIO President Denis M. Hughes via email. “We are losing jobs right now, good paying, union jobs with benefits are leaving New York as we speak because of the lack of funding of a program that is a proven economic stimulus package over the last four years.”

The program offers producers a combined 35 percent rebate on both the state and local level. If New York kept the program this year, it would cost $215 million but it would bring in $404 million and create about 19,500 jobs in the process, according to a recent financial study.

Despite the governor’s plans to end it, the program is still alive in the New York Senate. Last week, local studio heads Hal Rosenbluth and Alan Suna met with Assemblyman Sheldon Silver in Albany to lobby for his support. Silver representative Melissa Mansfield said that they are working with the governor on a budget that will help put the state’s economy back on track.

“Together with our industry partners, we are working on crafting a reformed tax credit proposal that will keep this vibrant and job producing industry thriving in New York, while at the same time recognizing the State’s budget realities,” said Empire State Development’s Marisa Lago, head of the governor’s film office, via email.

In film and television, writers often establish a tense story arc that climaxes by story’s end. As we approach the pinnacle of this tale, will Governor Patterson save this damsel in distress in time? Tune in this April to find out.

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