N.Y. tax-credit program that lured film and TV shoots runs out of funds

Studios weigh options after the state reveals that $515 million allocated through 2013 is already exhausted.

February 06, 2009|Matea Gold

NEW YORK — In recent months, this city's soundstages have been teeming with film and television productions, the result of a generous tax credit aimed at luring more shoots to New York.

But it remains to be seen how long those stages will be full. On Thursday, the state confirmed that it had run through the $515 million set aside for the tax credit program through 2013.

"Due to the program's enormous success, the allocated funds for this tax credit incentive have now been exhausted," the Empire State Development Corp., the agency that administers the program, said in a statement.

Those who work in New York's entertainment industry are keeping their fingers crossed that next year's state budget, which is due April 1, will include more funding. But they still have to persuade state legislators, who are staring at a $13-billion deficit.

With the future of the tax credit uncertain, studios that contemplated shooting movies and TV series in New York are looking instead to places such as New Jersey, Illinois and Canada instead. The most immediate effect can be seen in the dearth of television pilots that usually bring a flood of new work in the spring.

Last year, eight prime time pilots were shot in New York City. At a local economic conference Monday, NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said he didn't expect the studios to do any filming in New York this year unless the tax incentive program received new funding.

Two early pilots that applied for the program before the money ran out have started production. But the three major soundstages in the city have yet to sign any for this spring.

Alan Suna, chief executive of Silvercup Studios in Queens, said movies also were affected, with producers of 10 to 15 feature films looking elsewhere.

For now, Suna said he would keep his stages full with commercials and ongoing television series, such as "30 Rock." But he's worried about what will happen if the state doesn't allocate more funding.

"It would be devastating for the New York economy if they do not renew this," he said.

Hal G. Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, says that if the program is not refinanced and such productions as "Life on Mars" are canceled, he'll see an immediate drop in business.

Since Gov. David Paterson tripled the state tax credit for below-the-line expenses -- for behind-the-scenes workers and related costs -- to 30% last April, New York has benefited from an explosion in film and television production. More than 125 film and television projects took advantage of the expanded state credits in the last nine months, according to Empire State Development.

Together with an additional 5% credit provided by New York City, the incentives have helped create and retain an estimated 19,000 jobs, according to an Ernst & Young study released last week.

Indeed, New York's success in luring film production has put pressure on California to come up with its own tax credit program. To help stem the outflow of film jobs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing to include film tax credits covering below-the-line production costs in the state budget.

"The credits help keep New York competitive," said Douglas C. Steiner, chairman of Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. "It's a no-brainer."



Times staff writer Richard Verrier in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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