As New York City’s streets play the backdrop in an ever increasing number of TV shows and movies, the tension between film crews and local residents has occasionally erupted into melees and/or the posting of passive aggressive notes. Things are so bad in some picturesque quarters of the the city that New York even has a “take five” program to give film-burdened blocks a temporary break.
But a new backlot at Astoria’s Kaufman Studios—the city’s first—should take some of the pressure off the streets, supplementing the burgeoning facilities at Steiner and Silvercup studios.
Silicon Alley U
Back in the Spring, The Observer traveled to Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where Doug Steiner is working on building the biggest movie studio outside of Hollywood. Part of that plan is building a new media-tech campus, including a new grad school for Brooklyn College’s film program that is already under construction in old radio building at the foot of Washington Avenue.
The marquee feature is a 20 acre satellite for Carnegie Mellon University, to be located on the site of a former naval hospital. On Friday, The Times revealed both a rendering of the project and the fact that the city and Steiner Studios were close to a deal for redeveloping the property.
When The Observer visited Steiner Studios earlier this year for a profile of the film production facility’s founder Doug Steiner, we all dropped by Terence Winter’s office on the third floor of the 20-acre complex‘s main stages. It is there that each episode of Boardwalk Empire is painstakingly crafted by the former Sopranos writer, now showrunner.
Mr. Winter’s office is packed with paraphernalia from his past and the real past. Two huge Boardwalk Empire posters, one in Korean, one in Czech, frame a flat-screen TV. On the facing wall, a Mad magazine poster of The Sopranos hangs, signed by the entire cast; “Fuck you. -James Gandolfini” it says next to a caricature of the actor, who felt the artists made him look especially fat. Two plates hang nearby: a commemorative one of The Honeymooners, a favorite of Mr. Winter’s growing up, and a dinner plate from the original Calissimo’s restaurant in Chicago. It was actually used in the first episode of Boardwalk, in the scene where Al Capone shoots Jim Calissimo. “A good find on eBay, that was before Calissimo became real popular,” Mr. Winter said. “I’m sure it would have been much more expensive after the show.”
Alongside the old photographs, posters and props is an unusual painting of a snub-nosed revolver on a beige background. Below it, in cursive, “Cesi n’est pas un pistol.” The story of this mock Magritte is a wild one, as outlandish as the artwork itself. Being the fantastic storyteller that he is, who other than Mr. Winter should share the tale than he himself, in his own words.
At the ribbon cutting for Steiner Studios earlier this month, The Observer caught up with Voice of the City Lena Dunham, who had just moved production for the second season of her feverish hit Girls to the studio in Brooklyn. Gretchen Mol of Boardwalk Empire was up on stage, looking radiant beside the mayor and Doug Steiner, but Ms. Dunham hid in the back of the sound stage.
It was actually her first day at the studios, she said, but her experience helps underscore why the city needs more and bigger studios if it is going to continue to grow its film and television industry. (Also, there wasn’t room in our profile of Doug Steiner for Ms. Dunham, but we figure giving her her own post should drive some good Google hits to Observer.com, what with the ultra-buzz humming around Girls at the moment.)
“I’m very excited to be here,” Ms. Dunham told The Observer of her arrival at Steiner Studios. “I love the Navy Yards, it’s such a cool, historic place.” Somehow we could not help but think of that scene from Tiny Furniture where she has sex with the chef inside a giant pipe somewhere in nearby Dumbo.
“People said we were crazy to build in Brooklyn, no one would ever come to Brooklyn,” Doug Steiner said from the rooftop terrace of his biggest development in the borough. The Jersey-born builder was wearing his usual polo shirt and jeans, comfortable in the unseasonably warm weather in late February, the sun glinting off his clean-shaven head. “In those days, there were wild dogs running in the streets,” Mr. Steiner added for effect.
“But look at these views,” he continued, pointing out across Wallabout Bay and the span of the East River beyond. “You’ve got the gritty industrial underbelly of the city in the foreground, the financial capital of the world in the background.” One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building bookended the panorama.
It was 1999 when Doug Steiner brought the family development business to Brooklyn. As he and so many other fortune seekers have since proved, the decision was anything but crazy. But it was not condos or artists lofts that Mr. Steiner was selling. He was in pictures.
Two weeks ago, with the mayor standing just in front of him at the podium, Mr. Steiner opened five new sound stages at his eponymous Steiner Studios inside the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yards, bringing the total to 15. That is halfway to the ultimate goal of 32 and, at 50 acres, the largest American film production facilities outside of Hollywood—behind Warner Brothers and Paramount, and rivaling the Walt Disney and CBS backlots.
Mayor Bloomberg is headed to Brooklyn this morning for the ribbon cutting of Stages 11-16 at Steiner Studios, the film production studio nestled in the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
This is one of the mayor’s favorite venues (he was last here in the fall for the opening of a new visitors center) because it shows a commitment to industrial jobs, broadly speaking—making wigs is not exactly ship building, but it’s still good work if you can get it— and the outer boroughs. In other words, not the old FIRE industries based in their Manhattan hubs.
Recently, The Observer got a tour of the facilities from Doug Steiner, a New Jersey real estate scion who built the studios up from derelict land and now has dreams of competing with Hollywood as he expands from his current 23 acres out to a full 60, with a real back lot and film programs for both Brooklyn College and Carnegie Mellon University.
Silicon Alley U
Cornell can have its fun up on Roosevelt Island, but that won’t stop Steiner Studios from bringing Carnegie Mellon to town. The Navy Yards-based film studio just released a statement saying it continues to work on its plan for an entertainment-tech campus in Brooklyn.