The tide of film and TV productions fleeing to cheaper non–New York locations such as Toronto and Prague has infuriated city leaders for years, prompting anti-Canadian propaganda on the set of Sex and the City and moral outrage over the shot-in-Montreal Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story. On Sept. 28, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki decided to do something about it, by announcing tax incentives to entice productions to stay in the city and state. And it looks like it’s already working.
Apparently, the incentives are motivating entertainment money men to re-evaluate their options. The producers of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit recently asked crew department heads to calculate the cost of moving the production from its current northern New Jersey studio to the new Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, according to a staffer involved with the production. Special Victims Unit has been shooting its interiors in New Jersey since the show’s inception in 1999, while filming its exterior scenes in New York City; a move to Steiner would qualify the show for the tax breaks. It would also bring SVU closer to its three wayward siblings: Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which use soundstages at Chelsea Piers, and the upcoming Law & Order: Trial by Jury, which announced that it would set up shop at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
The SVU budget request has also led to speculation on the set that Dick Wolf, the mastermind, creator and executive producer of the Law & Order franchise, might be considering the idea of consolidating all four shows into one giant crime-and-punishment megaplex, which would allow them to share sets. The only facility in the city large enough to accommodate all four shows at once is none other than Steiner Studios.
“We have room for another building of about another 100,000 square feet of space, so absolutely we could put all the Law & Orders under one roof,” said Doug Steiner, Steiner Studios’ chairman. Mr. Steiner would not be specific, but allowed that he’s fielding calls from several interested producers considering his studio, which will be the largest in New York. “We’re talking to a bunch—mostly feature films, but also a couple of television series,” he said.
A spokesperson for Mr. Wolf would not address the SVU budget question, saying only: “We have no plans to move from New Jersey to Brooklyn.”
The Empire State Film Production Credit Program was signed into law by Governor Pataki at the same time that Mel Brooks announced that he would shoot The Producers: The Movie Musical, a movie directed by Susan Stroman and starring Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, in New York this fall, at the Steiner Studios. In return, The Producers will receive a 10 percent New York State tax credit on below-the-line production costs (most expenses, but generally excluding the script, writers, directors, producers and actors), so long as 75 percent of the stage-related costs are incurred at a New York State soundstage. A New York City Council bill providing for an additional 5 percent New York City tax credit is pending before the Council’s finance committee. The city incentive program, called “Made in New York,” also provides marketing credits—essentially free advertising on bus shelters, phone booths and outdoor banners—as well as other services to local productions.
“The reality is, it can be hard for film productions to do business in New York City,” said David Yassky, the Brooklyn Council member who sponsored the city bill. “There’s a lot of traffic congestion, it’s hard for trucks to get in and out, labor costs can be higher. So if we’re really going to compete on a cost basis, the government has to pitch in to attract the productions.”
Producers of the Warner Brothers TV series Johnny Zero, who shot a pilot last winter and had the series picked up by Fox, desperately wanted to film in New York but were under financial pressure to consider other locations, according to Llewellyn Wells, one of the executive producers. The tax breaks made it possible for them to stay in town, and the show is in production on its fourth episode at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City. In addition, the feature-film project American Gangster (previously called Tru Blu), which is to star Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro, is staying in New York as a result of the tax incentives, according to the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.
New York City film commissioner Katherine Oliver, for one, would be thrilled if Mr. Wolf brought SVU to Brooklyn.
“We want to lure as much production as possible to the city. And you know, it would be wonderful if that happened,” she said. “The Law & Order franchise is very important to New York City. They spend over $1 million a week on production, they’re employing on a regular basis so many New Yorkers, they’re buying props here, they’re supporting dry cleaners and coffee shops. If you factor in that Law & Order has been on the air for 14 seasons—we did the math: that adds up to about $700 million spent in the city of New York with that one show. And they employ over 1,000 people. That’s just the original Law & Order—all four shows together, it’s much, much more.”
Sarah and the City
Designer Vera Wang may send her two daughters to private academies, but that doesn’t mean she can’t support the plebes who tough it out in the public school system. On Thursday, Sept. 30, she offered up her posh Upper East Side digs to host a fund-raiser for New York’s largest tag sale ever, the proceeds of which go to the city’s public schools. In her living room, candles flickered off an elaborate chandelier and muted creamy walls. In an adjacent room, a piano player festively tinkled away.
Surveying the residence, Karenna Gore Schiff said that she misses the terrace from her last apartment, but not the elevator operator. “The elevator-man thing—I’m just not with it! You know, it’s like, I can press the button! And then there are those times when they’ll look at their watch and be like, ‘You’re up late tonight, eh?’ What is that?”
Nearby, Ms. Wang’s daughter peered, giggling, around the corner to glimpse Sarah Jessica Parker. She stood in the cool marble hallway, her arms around Katie Couric and Jessica Seinfeld, who tried to break away from the trio once the shutterbugs started flashing. “Don’t you dare run away!” Ms. Parker admonished, pulling her back into the huddle. She’d paired a long black pleated skirt with a satin camisole, under a blazer with a floral broach on the lapel. The 5-foot-4 actress was as least 5-foot-8 in her sky-high strappy sandals.
Ms. Parker, who will send her son James Wilkie to public school, says she still stays in touch with all of her grade-school teachers. “While I wasn’t what you would call academically inclined, I still have very good memories,” she said. Ms. Parker is the spokeswoman and greatest champion of the tag sale.
“I’m not being cagey, but I’ve donated so much stuff that I barely remember!” Those she could remember are Sex and the City mementos like her jury-duty outfits, Aidan’s chair (“a lot of sentimental value”) and Swarovski cell-phone covers. “Are you donating anything?” she asked suddenly. Uh, reporters are poor, we told her, you know—re-poor-ter. She wagged her finger at The Transom. “Reporters are not in any way exempt from this event!”
We showed Ms. Parker a printout from http://www.votecarrie.org, a campy Web site designed by TBS, nominating the Sex and the City character for the Presidential race. On the site, Ms. Parker has an American-flag dress Photoshopped onto her body and is posed next to the slogan “Join the Cosmopolitan party!” “I haven’t seen this,” the Kerry-supporting Ms. Parker said with surprise, taking the printout. “It’s the most important election of our lifetime. So if the people at TBS feel this somehow serves their purpose, well, it’s still a democracy, and it’s still a free country.” She broke into a wry grin. “I can’t do anything to stop the besmirching of the fine name of Carrie Bradshaw.”
On the way down in the plush elevator, Ashleigh Banfield was anticipating the political showdown. “I can’t wait!” she said, standing close to her husband. “I wish there were 10 of them, not three!” The Transom told her that some of the actresses (ahem, Marisa Tomei) had balked when we asked them about the debates. “You know why? Because most of them don’t follow politics!” she exclaimed. “What you got to do is throw them a softball like ‘Do you think Kerry will do well?’ So then they can say, ‘Of course.’ That’s what you have to do—just give ’em some bullshit questions!”
Two nights later, Ms. Parker was on public display as an estrogen-heavy crowd gathered in West Chelsea to watch her get interviewed by writer Susan Orlean, as part of the New Yorker Festival. The audience sat on folding chairs in a shabby space called the Holding Tank and got tanked on the free wine provided by the festival sponsor, Turning Leaf. Over the course of the night, so many glasses dropped that after the sixth one shattered, Ms. Parker cracked, “It’s a party!”
After extensive conversation about Ms. Parker’s upbringing, the questions turned to her son with husband Matthew Broderick. Although the actress (who grew up in Cincinnati) debuted on Broadway at age 11, James Wilkie Broderick will be forbidden to act until at least age 18. “This is a city where it’s a business and where child actors are a commodity—it’s a land mine for children …. Child actors and parents have an aggression and an ambition that I don’t want for my child.”
Ms. Parker credits her parents with her successful transition from ingenue to adult performer. “I just had parents who were really afraid of trash,” she said bluntly. “They were afraid of my doing things that I wouldn’t be proud of, or that my family wouldn’t be proud of. They had a nice arrogance about them that I think in the end can be O.K.”
Perhaps her parents’ conservative standards were a factor when Ms. Parker tried to back out of Sex and the City after the pilot was picked up by HBO. “I tried to make a deal with [HBO] to get out of it. I panicked. I said, ‘I don’t want to be on a television series!’ It was a fate worse than death. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be stuck playing the same person—and what if it’s not well done, and what if we can’t produce it for television, and what if I can’t do a play again, and what if I can’t do movies when I want to, or live my life or see my friends?!’ It terrified me, it really did.”
Later, Ms. Parker’s announcement that she could never live anywhere but New York likely pleased one male admirer. “I saw you this week!” he cooed to Ms. Parker over the mike during the Q&A. “I was outside at Mary’s Fish Camp, and I tried to be all New York and pretend I didn’t notice, but I was very excited!”
“I saw you too, and I was equally as excited!” she quipped as the audience laughed.
Another brave soul dared to ask, “What really happened between you and Kim Cattrall?”, and the room erupted with laughed and applause. “Uh, I think I went spontaneously deaf!” Ms. Parker said sheepishly before answering. “The reality with the movie is, we just couldn’t make a deal. And it’s really that simple. It’s not nearly as interesting as everyone would like to believe.”
After the Q&A, people shuffled out of the room amid the sound of more breaking glasses. In front of The Transom, a woman said to her date, “You know what’s pathetic? I already knew everything she said. That’s how well I know about her.”
Out on the street, a heavy-set woman with curly hair was gushing to the woman next to her, “I don’t just like her because of the show—I like her because she’s cool. She’s so cool! She’s somebody I’d like to have as a friend.” She paused. “In fact, she’s better than a lot of my friends!”
Ready For Boring
On the night of Sept. 29, several hundred young hipsters and their artist friends—some of whom still wear cowboy boots ironically—capped their spray paints and set down their guitars to slip into crumpled suits and Goodwill gowns and make their way, one hour each way, to J.F.K. Airport’s Terminal 5.
Prom for New York’s junior art set was Terminal 5, an exhibit put together by Rachel K. Ward, a 29-year-old “independent curator” whose last credit was a show in a Swiss ice cave. All of her 90 pounds poured into a mermaid sheath by Zac Posen that night, she looked like just the sort of personality who could lure people into an ice cave or an airport terminal for art’s sake.
So there, in the fabled Eero Saarinen Terminal (Leo and Tom’s co-star in Catch Me If You Can), vacant since T.W.A.’s 2001 demise, she had managed to assemble original work by a group of hip young things like Vanessa Beecroft, Douglas Coupland, Toland Grinnell, Jenny Holzer and Tom Sachs. Mr. Grinnell had set up a camping station complete with a metal vibrator, fur and iPods near the baggage claim; Tom Sachs built a skateboard ramp; and Jenny Holzer did something terribly clever with words on the arrivals/departure board. There were fake paparazzi kicking around courtesy of the guy who made the “I Fucked Anna Wintour” T-shirts, a large square pile of padlocks hanging out of the floor—a misguided bastardization of Carl Andre—and gallons of flavored vodka.
The terminal still looked empty, its enormous open space specifically designed to deter comfort, to encourage constant movement, its grim bright lights meant to induce stress and, more recently, fear. Artist Hope Atherton and artist-in-training Arden Wohl, both in floor-skimming couture and normally the toast of most parties on the mainland, milled about, strangely out of place among the giddy vanilla-vodka-sipping set. Shutterbug Patrick McMullan’s legmen kicked about, desperately trying to bring home something. Only Sean Linezo, the laconic Floridian and mastermind behind the Staremaster competition, was able to hold the attention of the crowd: He had constructed a miniature stage, in line with Saarinen’s curves and swooping lines, on top of which Presidential-candidate impostors faced off in a staring match. Underneath the stage sat a nine-by-nine-foot speaker, resonating at a frequency of 18.9 megahertz, which is scientifically proven to induce anxiety. Mr. Linezo was reflective, saying that he found the relationship between “spectator and the spectacle” worth exploring. “Frankly, I find it a little amazing that I’m in an art show with all these people!”
The Staremaster ended with Bush winning, and slowly but surely—and quite a bit before its scheduled midnight end—the kids started leaving, climbing back into their cars or hailing cabs. As the vodka supplies ran low, some revelers moved on to Terminals 3 and 4 to have a drink alongside real passengers, before eventually grabbing the nearest taxi to head home.
“You got no luggage?” asked the driver.
The Transom Also Hears That ….
Several angry moviegoers were clustered outside the entrance to the sold-out 8:30 screening of I § Huckabees at the Loews Cineplex Village theater on the night of Oct. 1. A few anxious ushers were busy carrying a bench into the theater to accommodate extra people. “How do you expect us to fucking sit on that?” yelled one man. “We’re trying, sir, to take care of everyone,” replied an usher. Two little girls, accompanied by two male companions, walked up to the entrance. “Forget it, there are no more seats,” muttered one guy. “We have seats,” gushed Ashley Olsen, as her sister, Mary-Kate, nodded in agreement. But the two twins were mistaken, and they cooled their heels outside, Mary-Kate sitting on the floor with a large tub of popcorn. Ashley slunk down the aisles of the theater to the front row with her tub of popcorn, snickering at actor Jason Schwartzman’s curse-filled rant at the start of the movie, as she plopped in a single seat. The twins’ male companions lingered outside the theater. “This is New York—always the same bullshit, you know what I mean?”