New York's New Studio Complex for Film and Video Production

By Forman, Milton | American Cinematographer, February 1982 | Go to article overview

New York's New Studio Complex for Film and Video Production


Forman, Milton, American Cinematographer


America's oldest active motion picture studio is being transformed into its newest, most modern and most efficiently planned facility

Although New York was the first film capital of the world, memories are short, and today Hollywood only looks upon it as an interesting and visual location area. However, its history as a center for film and television production has given the New York area a special capability which does not exist anywhere else in the United States, except for the Los Angeles area.

In the early 1900s, New York was the center of production for feature films, commercials, documentaries and, from the 1940s, television. As a result, the special elements necessary to support these industries were developed. These included highly skilled labor in every category, organizations with equipment to service this complex industry, and laboratories to process the film and video product.

History of New York as a Center of Production

The first major stage built in the United States was financed by the LASKY FAMOUS PLAYERS, later known as PARAMOUNT PICTURES. This stage and studio complex was built in Astoria in 1920, only a few miles from the center of Manhattan. It was 26,000 square feet in area and had a height to the bottom of the grid of forty feet- an ideal size and proportion for major film production even in terms of the needs of 1980. Its history is rather interesting, since the design of the original studio antedated design trends developed in Europe at tremendous costs in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the design and use of the grid. TILL TODAY, THIS STAGE IS THE LARGEST AND MOST USEFUL STAGE IN THE UNITED STATES OUTSIDE OF HOLLYWOOD ITSELF.

Early Production at the Astoria Studios

From 1921 to 1927, 110 silent films were produced at the Astoria Studio. From 1927 to 1931, with the advent of sound, 35 sound films were shot. In the early part of 1932, film production moved to California because of the more stable weather, and, as a result, very few films were made in New York.

However, the need for training and other types of films for World War Il required the use of the excellent facilities of Astoria. Thus, in 1942, the Astoria Studio was transferred to the War Department, and the Army Pictorial Center was born. Between 1942 and 1970, an average of 300 films per year were made. Many of the old-time filmmakers who are today the most skilled in the art received their basic experience at the Army Pictorial Center.

Following the end of World War II and its aftermath, the Astoria Studio was shut down in 1970.

Re-Opening of the Astoria Studio

As part of a program to attract income to New York and to develop employment for a large number of skilled filmmakers, the office of the mayor, the film unions and many talented filmmakers together launched a program to encourage film and video production in the New York area. The Astoria Motion Picture and Television Center Foundation was formed to re-activate the Astoria Studio. The program was eminently successful and many major feature films have already been produced at the studio, including THE WIZ, ALL THAT JAZZ, HAIR, FORT APACHE and WOLFEN.

Problems of Filming in the New York Area

Despite the high degree of competence of its technicians, and the substantial facilities in New York, many problems made it difficult to function efficiently. Because it is a crowded, densely-packed island, space is at a premium. Parking is inadequate and expensive, and traffic is impossible at certain times. The facilities to support production, including stages, offices, laboratories, and shops are spread throughout the area and sometimes difficult to reach. There is no center of assistance or coordination. A few of the unions are not too cooperative from the point of view of developing fraternal relations with California unions or California filmmakers. Thus it is not easy for an out-of-town production to function, and a strange out-of-town producer has great difficulty organizing his pre-production activities efficiently. …

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