Magazine article Variety

Back in a New York Groove

Magazine article Variety

Back in a New York Groove

Article excerpt

Big Apple incentives juice production by Dave McNary

WHEN JOHNNY CARSON MOVED THE TONIGHT SHOW FROM MANHATTAN to Los Angeles in 1972, with California's then-first lady Nancy Reagan among his early guests, it wasn't as much a blow to jobs as it was to pride: For years afterward, whenever New York got mentioned in latenight, it usually was about crime and grit.

Two generations later, NBC's decision to move the Tonight Show to New York after naming Gotham-based Jimmy Fallon as host in 2014 doesn't spell Hollywood's impending doom, but it's hard not to view it as anything other than a slap in the face. That's why Tonights impending move seems to underscore the extent to which New York has captured the production momentum in the bi-coastal rivalry. For years, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had expressed a desire to entice Tonight back to Manhattan; by contrast, when word leaked that such a move was happening, local Los Angeles officials were caught by surprise.

There may have not been anything that L.A. could have done, but it will only highlight the Empire State's ability to offer a sweeter pot of incentives that California struggles to match. It's a reminder that Southern California, with its concentration of talent and terrific weather, is no longer such a sure thing as a locale, as TV dramas and major feature films have been drifting away from LA. for a decade or more.

"With the incentives, and with the fact that everyone is so easy to work with, it almost makes shooting in California a really distant choice," says Martin Shafer, the Castle Rock exec whose latest pic, an untitled Hugh Grant romantic comedy from Marc Lawrence, is shooting in locations both in New York City and in the state.

While Manhattan is not the new Hollywood - according to FilmLA, which issues permits in the region, there was a 37.3% gain in TV pilots during the 2013 first quarter, a major rebound in that category - the trend in recent years has seen production in Los Angeles draw a healthy dose of sitcoms and reality shows, while drama series production has fallen off. On the feature side, there is ample production of low-budget indie features, but only one big-budget tentpole, the sequel to Captain America, is being shot locally.

"Los Angeles is sort of the last resort now when it comes to feature films, even though actors and producers want to stay in LA.," says Steve Dayan, business agent for Teamsters Local 399 and vice chairman of the California Film Commission.

California launched its first-of-its-kind production tax credit in 2009, but it is far smaller than those of rival states with a maximum of 25% of the budget. With only $100 million in credits available annually, demand far exceeds supply with recipients selected through a lottery in June. What's more, feature films with budgets over $75 million aren't eligible, making Argo the highest-budget film to qualify.

The state has been able to persuade a few series to relocate to LA. in exchange for the credit: ABC's Body of Proof 'moved from Rhode Island, BBC America's Torchwood from Wales and Comedy Central's Important Things With Demetri Martin came from New York. Body of Proof producer Matthew Gross says the state's incentive has helped in ABC's renewal to second and third seasons. "Hopefully it will help us get season four and five," he says. "We have the best crews. I don't think there's anything anyone could offer to get us to move."

But the Empire State continues to outpace the Golden State when it comes to production incentives. New York's film and post-production credits, recently extended and bolstered through 2019, includes a 30% tax credit on New York State expenses and a local post-production credit upped to 30%35%. …

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