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In N.Y., Lights, Cameras Get Unfriendly Reaction

A filming boom may help the city economy, but some residents say it's too much drama.

April 10, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Cut! Call it a wrap! And don't come back!

New York has had a 35% increase in film productions in the last year. But for some residents who live in "hot" neighborhoods, that is too much of a good thing -- and their complaints have led to a freeze on filming there.

Brooklyn Heights, an idyllic area with tree-shaded rows of historic brownstones and panoramic views of Manhattan, has long been a favorite location for filmmakers and TV producers. The neighborhood and its nearby courthouses are often seen on "Law & Order," and the area recently was the backdrop for "The Forgotten" with Julianne Moore and "Alfie" starring Jude Law.

But after three major movies brought equipment trucks, catering vans and stars' trailers to the neighborhood's streets in one week, residents were wishing for a little less drama.

The city agreed to put Brooklyn Heights on a list of temporary "hot zones" -- meaning film crews need to back off and let it cool down. Some residents say go further: Put them on ice, like some L.A. neighborhoods with total filming bans.

The temporary moratorium is meant to ensure that, over the long term, "all of New York City's neighborhoods remain film-friendly and open for production business," said Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. The office reviews the list monthly.

But some community leaders want the ban to be permanent.

"There were rain machines, idling trucks, bright lights. They moved people's cars," said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Assn. "Everyone flipped out."

Three productions overlapped for three days last month: Warner Bros. filmed parts of "August Rush" in two local churches, Ethan Hawke shot scenes for "The Hottest State" along the promenade facing Manhattan, and cameras followed Catherine Zeta-Jones for Castle Rock Entertainment's "Mostly Martha."

In September, a trespassing Bollywood crew filming an Indian love story reportedly climbed up the front of a brownstone and squashed plant beds to string lights. The owners returned home from a weekend away -- furious -- to the sight.

In October, Martin Scorsese worked for weeks on "The Departed," whose story is set in Boston. And in December, a TV crime show simulated an explosion -- with smoke pots, SWAT teams on rooftops, sirens blaring and helicopters hovering while neighbors were in Christmas week services.

"There has been an extremely intrusive effect on the neighborhood," said Stanton.

But the squeeze on parking spaces causes the loudest complaints. The constant scramble for street parking is a bane of city life, and to have film trucks take up blocks of precious spots is especially irritating to residents. And extra woe to those who miss the film crews' signs asking residents to move their cars during filming -- or be towed.

"People park, thinking they're good for a week, and when they come back, their car is gone," said John Kenny, a longtime Brooklyn Heights resident. "We don't deserve that. They say the movies are good for the city, which I wonder about, but I know there is absolutely no benefit to the neighborhood."

But though three movies in the same week at the same place may be overwhelming, not everyone thinks hosting productions is all that bad.

"Asking for a total ban is bit of an overreaction," said Meredith Hamilton, an illustrator and mother of three who waded through light cables and catering tables while taking her children to school. "It's great for the film industry in New York, and it's kind of fun for the kids to peer into a set to see if they can spot anyone famous."

New York has enjoyed a recent renaissance in TV and filmmaking after a near-standstill caused by the Sept. 11 attacks and by competition from cost-effective Canada. An aggressive campaign of tax credits and incentives has lured producers back, increasing the number of location shooting days in the city to 31,570, a 35% increase from the year before, according to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

The city's production industry employs 100,000 New Yorkers, and injects $5 billion into the economy annually, Cho said.

The incentives may have worked too well, however. The city has used up its allocated $50 million in tax credits almost three years ahead of schedule. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg tried to curb the incentives, saying they cost the city more than they were bringing in. But at the end of March, the New York Legislature voted to expand them to $60 million annually for the state and to $30 million each year for the city.

Those incentives encouraged director-screenwriter Tony Gilroy, a native New Yorker, to shoot his film, "Michael Clayton" starring George Clooney, in the city. On Friday night, a team was shooting the film's final shots on a cobblestone street in the West Village.

"There's an interesting interface between the real world and our make-believe world," said John Power, the second assistant director.

"A lot of New Yorkers don't want anything to intrude on their world, their day. Some will walk right through a set, yelling about how they pay their taxes, it's their streets," he said.

"We call them 'The Taxpayers.' Taxpayer coming through!" he said jokingly into his walkie-talkie.

But Power said there had been little resistance by residents in the Village and TriBeCa to filming at their apartment buildings.

"We were careful to talk to them about what we wanted to do," Power said. "But everyone was pretty receptive to the idea of George Clooney on their doorstep."

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