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Spotlight: Northeast - Fine-tuning Production's Economic Engine

By Mark R. Smith

One Life to Live and The Last Airbender scenes

Above Left: Daytime drama One Life to Live on location at the historic Nevius Street Bridge in Hillsborough, NJ.
Above Right: Director M. Night Shyamalan (left, in maroon shirt), lead actor Noah Ringer and crew shooting The Last Airbender in the hangar at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Boardwalk Empire scene and a photo of a gallery in Deleware

Above Left: Martin Scorsese‚s upcoming HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, about Prohibition-era Atlantic City, shot at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn and on a 300-foot boardwalk set built on the Brooklyn waterfront in Greenpoint. Photo courtesy of Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Above Right: A colorful gallery in Wilmington, Delaware‚s Art Loop.

A scene from The Smurfs and a setup shot from The Road

Above Left: Grouchy, Papa and Clumsy Smurf in Times Square in Columbia Pictures' The Smurfs. Kaufman Astoria Studios was the liveaction home for the production. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation. 2010 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
Above Right: The feature The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, shot in several western Pennsylvania counties.

Photo of shooting along the Brandywine River and shooting The Sorcerer's Apprentice in Jersy City

Above Left: Shooting along the Brandywine River in New Castle County, Delaware.
Above Right: The Nicolas Cage feature The Sorcerer's Apprentice shooting in downtown Jersey City, NJ.

Despite the recession, most state legislatures are still in tune with the importance of offering tax incentives to production ˜ even though state tax revenues have taken a big hit in the past year.

That's why New York is targeting an increase for its till this year, Pennsylvania has restored its pool after a dip in funding and New Jersey expects to reinstate incentives after a suspension. Even Delaware, which has never had a film office, is trying to get into the game having run the numbers and seen what an economic driver production can be.

From the Moon to the Stars at Grumman Studios
Grumman Studios

What other stage can say the lunar module and Space Shuttle wings were built on the premises? Once a former aerospace plant, Grumman Studios, LLC in Bethpage, Long Island (www.grummanstudios.com) has “a lot of history behind us,” says president Parviz Farahzad. The 30-acre site opened last year with seven stages, the largest at 37,000 square-feet; full support services; extensive parking; ample power; and unique 15-ton gantries. The Angelina Jolie spy thriller, Salt, used the stages and built an elevator shaft and the White House gates outdoors where they also hoisted a helicopter on a crane. Grumman Studios (Stage 3 pictured) is 25 miles from midtown Manhattan and minutes from Long Island's Gold Coast with its mansions and beaches; an on-site helipad is planned. Numerous commercials have discovered the space, including a Sony spot with Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning. “We're in negotiations now for a major motion picture that would occupy all seven stages starting in October,” Farahzad reports.

New York: Big City, Big State, Big Numbers
The news is bright ˜ and the numbers considerable ˜ in New York, which runs a program that has been “very successful,” according to Pat Swinney, executive director of the New York Governor's Office of Motion Pictures and TV Development. That's due to the state offering 30 percent of a film's below-the-line budget as a refundable tax credit.

The incentive calls for producers to “shoot the project, finish in post, then get their money when they finish.” How well has it worked? “We had $350 million in our fund for this past fiscal year, and we've already gone through it,” Swinney says. “We're just waiting for the new budget to be passed.”

White Lake Music & Post Expands With New Facility
White Lake Music

Specializing in original music, audio production and post for film, TV and a variety of media, Albany, New York’s White Lake Music & Post (www.whitelakemusic.com) is completing a $2 million facility boasting three Digidesign Pro Tools HD editing/voiceover suites and a large recording studio with Pro Tools HD and large-frame ICON D-Control console (pictured). “We’re beginning to see an increasing number of clients from metro New York coming upstate for post and music,” reports president/creative director David Bourgeois who also runs VoiceCoaches. “It’s a risk to put a facility like this together, but we see so many potential positives.”
Clients include government, independent filmmakers, producers and broadcasters, such as Discovery Network, TLC, WE Network and HGTV. Bourgeois is also partnered with actor Evan Farmer in Bourgeois Farmer, a TV production company with six concept and docu-soap format shows in development.

Due in April, the new budget just passed at press time. It will include $420 million in tax incentives for each of the next five years and “will be retroactive to April 1 [the start of the fiscal year in New York] in our case,” she reports.

One reason Swinney is optimistic is last year's report card: The economic impact of the film business was $1.65 billion for 98 projects in New York state (New York City has been offering a 5-percent additional rebate, too; Gotham is also waiting for the budget process to conclude before they make their next move).

Nola Salutes AfriCOBRA for TV Land
AfriCOBRA

At New York City’s Nola Pictures (www.nolapictures.com) CDs/directors Juan Delcan and Kenny Morrison teamed with TV Land creatives to produce and post a multi-platform promotional campaign for AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) that aired on the network and its website during Black History month. AfriCOBRA grew out of the late 1960s’ Wall of Respect mural in Chicago created by African-American artists to honor the era’s black heroes and leaders. Nola crafted two short docs and three interstitials about the commune blending stills, testimonials, news footage and the artists’ colorful canvases. “Juan, Kenny and the TV Land crew connected with the artists and painted a portrait of a movement, the times and the inspiration that led to the artistic expression,” says Nola executive producer Charlie Curran.
In other news, Nola is growing its commercial directors’ roster signing director Nick Lewin and director/cinematographer John Osborne.

Films lensed in the state that hit the big screen recently include The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicolas Cage; Salt starring Angelina Jolie; Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts; and The Other Guys pairing Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Also, The Smurfs wrapped recently and the remake of Arthur is in production, as is the indie, My Idiot Brother.

On the small screen, major TV productions include 30 Rock (NBC), The Good Wife (CBS), Gossip Girls (The CW), White Collar (USA Network; see Locations feature this issue), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC), Damages (FX and now DirecTV's 101 Network), Nurse Jackie (Showtime), Royal Pains (USA) the long-running Sesame Street (PBS) and Martin Scorsese's new HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.

Studio City New Jersey Debuts
Studio City

A dream of Shelton Minor’s for nine years, the 85,000 square-foot Studio City New Jersey complex (www.studiocitynj.com) opened in Trenton last May. Boasting a 10,000 square-foot dividable main stage with one of the largest greenscreen stages in the state, a 60-seat screening room, a 1,750 square-foot photography studio and editing suites, Studio City is located in a gated warehouse community whose streets may be used for backlots. A recording studio is under construction, lighting rentals and industry training are planned, and there’s room to build a “Hollywood-style soundstage,” says Minor. “We want to be able to handle any type of production. We don’t want to give anyone an excuse not to come here.”
Studio City has already hosted the indie feature Changing The Game, short films For I Have Sinned and Budget Bank Robbers and music videos; it’s negotiating for Paul Sorvino’s indie feature slated for production this fall.

The studio scene hops in New York like few other places. “There are five or so [studios] in Manhattan. We must have 27 throughout the five boroughs, and most of them have multiple soundstages,” says Swinney, who notes that Kaufman Astoria Studios, an industry institution, just opened a new stage at its Astoria Queens location (see Markee, May/June Soundstages feature). Most studio complexes are concentrated in Queens and Brooklyn because they have access to more real estate, but there are more than a dozen outside the five boroughs (see Grumman Studios' profile on page 39).

If Swinney sounds appreciative of her state's riches it's because she is. “We are very grateful that the governor and the legislature have been so supportive of the industry and recognize that it's an important economic engine for the state of New York.”

Banner Year at The Light House
The Light House

A motion-picture lighting equipment company with a studio in Branchburg, New Jersey, The Light House (www.lighthouselights.com) is celebrating its highest profit margins since the company incorporated in 1993. “The work is there. It’s just harder to find, and you have to be aggressive to get it,” reports president Sandy McDonough.
“The addition of new partner Jon Roemer has helped us significantly increase productivity and reinvest funds in every aspect of the company,” he notes. “Our diversification is what separates us from our competitors -- from equipment rentals and generators to our motion-picture studio with set design, millwork and props -- we are able to provide quality service to clients such as HBO, Showtime, NFL films and pharmaceutical firms Sanofi-Aventis and Johnson & Johnson.” The Light House is presently in its fifth season supplying lighting and grip equipment for HBO/NFL’s Hard Knocks series, this year featuring The New York Jets.

Location, Credits, Impact New Jersey
The New Jersey Motion Picture & TV Commission is in an odd place, figuratively speaking: While the state suspended its tax incentive program for 2011, executive director Steven Gorelick has reason to hope that his office can make up for the interruption next year.

As in many states, the film office is trying to assuage nervous legislators, so production companies can't redeem tax credits this fiscal year (which began July 1) ˜ but they can after next June 30, when fiscal 2012 begins.

“So they can still film here and take advantage of our seven percent sales tax exemption,” Gorelick says, noting that the fiscal 2010 cap stood at $10 million for film and TV, with $5 million more for digital technology (e.g., animation and VFX, streaming or website development), with an economic impact of about $132 million for calendar 2009.

NFL Films’ TruMark Trilogy
TruMark Trilogy

A moody, atmospheric piano track and a high-contrast film technique were key to an impactful, three-spot campaign lensed and edited by Mt. Laurel, New Jersey’s NFL Films (www.nflfilms.com) for TruMark Financial Credit Union.
NFL director Jonathan Klein and executive producer Marie Patriarca tapped composer Tom Hedden for the three :30 spots written and developed by DMW Worldwide/Wayne, Pennsylvania. After shooting a significant number of format tests, NFL Films’ senior cinematographer Brian T. Murray selected 35mm Kodak 5217 film stock to capture nuanced, frozen-in-time footage. Klein and Murray decided on a 2:35 aspect ratio to give the campaign cinematic presence.
The spots were cut by NFL editor Mark Christy on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and Autodesk Inferno; Chris Pepperman added a bleach bypass look and performed extensive color correction on the DaVinci Spirit. “The spots have a texture, depth and clarity that is plush and poetic,” Klein reports.

In addition, if a project encompasses $2 million in qualified digital expenditures and results in at least 10 full-time jobs, the production company gets a 20-percent tax credit.

Armed with the impact numbers, legislation was introduced last November to increase the film and TV cap to $50 million and the digital cap to $10 million. The next legislative session starts in September.

During the past year, Hollywood lensed parts of movies in New Jersey, including The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicolas Cage for Disney and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps with Michael Douglas and Shia LeBeouf (both shot in Jersey City), The Bounty Hunter with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston for Columbia (Atlantic City), and Just Wright with New Jersey's own Queen Latifah and Common (East Rutherford).

Przyborski Goes Bilingual for AutoZone
AutoZone

A bilingual English and Spanish quartet of versions of a national AutoZone spot was recently produced and posted by Pittsburgh’s Przyborski Productions (www.przyborski.com) for the Memphis-based automotive retailer via agency Sponge/Chicago.
“It was designed for the do-it-yourselfer,” says executive producer Jimmy DeVincentis. The commercial depicts a man working in his garage who has an old car part in his hand when he suddenly turns around to find himself in the store, getting advice -- and the correct part -- from an “AutoZoner.” When he gets just what he was looking for, he turns around again -- and is suddenly back in his garage. Director Glenn Przyborski shot the spot with a Sony F900R Cine Alta HD camera and edited it on Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD; John Przyborski added the VFX.

Success on the small screen has been about reality shows, like the infamous Jersey Shore (of course) on MTV, Real Housewives of New Jersey on Bravo! and Cake Boss on TLC. NBC's now-cancelled medical drama Mercy shot in Secaucus and, until recently, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit shot in North Bergen for 11 years.

Also dotting the roster were “so many spots that we can hardly list them all,” says Gorelick. Advertisers such as Dunkin' Donuts, Wal-Mart and Wendy's were among the 330 spots that employed the services of the film office in 2009.

During the next legislative session, Gorelick will have more than credits and numbers on his side as he makes a case for increasing incentives. New Jersey's studio presence is growing with Ironbound opening in Newark this fall, Studio City New Jersey (see profile on page 40) launching in Trenton last May and Media Mix opening in Allendale last year. Media Mix already hosted Paramount's Morning Glory, which stars Harrison Ford and hits screens in September.

Shooters Scores With Team Detroit, Phasmatrope
Brine and Warrior lacrosse equipment

Philadelphia’s Shooters Post & Transfer (www.shootersinc.com) recently completed editorial and VFX on spots for lacrosse equipment brands Brine and Warrior created by Team Detroit, a joint venture of WPP’s Detroit-based agencies. The spots were shot on the RED camera by Phasmatrope Studios of Haverford, Pennsylvania.
Shooters’ editor David Oberdoester and VFX supervisor Ed Mendez (of DIVE, Shooters’ VFX and film-finishing division) joined forces on “LAXman,” a :30 spot for Brine which celebrates the ferocious elegance of lacrosse. Shot on greenscreen, it features athletes clad in green suits and hoods performing their signature moves. The Warrior campaign, “LAXman2025,” consisted of a :30 spot and two :15 image spots showcasing the frenetic, “skate punk” aesthetic of the brand (pictured). Oberdoester cut with an Avid MC and Autodesk Inferno/Smoke; Mendez composited inhouse and on set with Adobe Photoshop and Lacquer Conduit.

A Tough (But Successful) Sell for Pennsylvania
In completing its fiscal 2009-10 financial report, the Pennsylvania Film Office reported that strong numbers were generated from its $42 million tax incentive offering. It tallied an economic impact of $344 million, with no multipliers; a direct spend of about $168 million; and the creation of more than 2,300 jobs.

Just think what might have happened with the state's usual $75 million pool, which was almost halved ˜ temporarily, anyway. Still, office director Jane Saul says, “We were very happy to even have it because there was considerable concern that we might lose it.”

That plummet in funding was due, of course, to the recession. Despite those happy totals, there were still numerous politicians who didn't understand how the incentive works and favored cutting the funding even more, and altogether in some cases.

Monster Tracks Pens An American Tune
Art of the American Soldier

When Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center and agency Holton Sentivan + Gury needed appropriate musical accompaniment for the new “Art of the American Soldier” exhibit, the agency approached Monster Tracks, a division of Philadelphia’s Baker Sound, with a video for inspiration. “The first part of the project is a two-minute trailer, and we were asked to provide an orchestral-type track that has a military feel to it,” says music director Chuck Butler, “like an austere-sounding trumpet with the low rumble of drums — like canon fire in the distance.”
Butler composed the score on MOTU’s Digital Performer, creating digital samples that were accentuated by live trumpet, flute, viola, bass, violin and cello performances. Next for Monster Tracks (www.monstertracks.com) is a four-minute version that will play while museumgoers queue up at the exhibit.

“We had to take many legislators on tours of sets so they would see and understand how this all works,” says Saul. “Many people believe that the incentives are about luring celebrities here to shoot a film. But we showed them how much work the productions entail.”

She spoke of features Love and Other Drugs from FOX, Warrior from Lion's Gate and the state's biggest recent coup, Unstoppable, which stars Denzel Washington and was directed by Tony Scott. All were shot around Pittsburgh and Central Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh has three features shooting now: Taylor Lautner's Abduction for Lion's Gate, One for the Money starring Katherine Heigl. and I Am Number Four. The film The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, also lensed in several western Pennsylvania counties.

Back east in Philadelphia and surrounding counties, features include The Last Airbender from M. Night Shyamalan, who was raised in Philadelphia, The Lovely Bones and the upcoming romantic comedy, Everything You've Got, starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson. On the small screen, a reality show starring Tony Danza, Teach, was lensed in Philadelphia's public school system and the FX sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia shoots exteriors in the city.

Other Pennsylvania TV credits are Food Network's Food Feud and Chef vs. City and the NBC pilot, Outlaw.

Looking at infrastructure, Mogul Mind studio has been key to production in Pittsburgh. Island Studios in McKees Rocks, which has also hosted major filmmakers, added a second soundstage last year and acquired support space in nearby Sheraden. Ground has been broken for Sun Center Studios in Philadelphia, which will be built by Pacific Adventures, the developer of New Mexico's Albuquerque Studios.

The business “we have is almost all thanks to the tax credit,” reports Saul. And she has good news to share. “Our incentive funding dropped to $60 million in 2008-09 and $42 million last fiscal year, but next year we'll be back to $75 million.”

Watermark Revs Up for Dover
Danica Patrick

Among recent projects at Watermark Productions in Milford, Delaware (www.water mark-productions.com) is a :30 spot for Dover Motor Sports and its three NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway. With big September meets coming up, the client “wanted something to break through the clutter on a small budget,” says president Bill Sammons.
Watermark built the commercial around five seconds of supplied NASCAR footage that it enhanced with several stills. Editor/animator Josh Sammons used Adobe Photoshop to “pull out” certain elements, such as an image of driver Danica Patrick (pictured) that dimensionalizes her, her car and the background. Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and Adobe After Effects were employed for the finish.
Watermark’s key market is usually corporate, but it’s been “mostly spots this past year, especially with the upcoming elections,” says Bill Sammons. Some political work emanates from Alfano Communications in nearby Washington, D.C.

Delaware Joins Film-Incentive Hopefuls
There are 47 states in the U.S. that have some semblance of a film incentive program. Delaware is not among them.

That's why State Rep. Tom Kovach sponsored House Bill 490, which was introduced this past June after similar House Bill 250, which he sponsored, didn't receive action in June 2009. “The new bill has been fine tuned but was created with the same general idea,” Kovach says. “It would initiate a pilot program where we would have $15 million in loans available to the industry to facilitate production.”

As it stands, the incentive can offer no more than 30 percent of the loan. In addition, Kovach also sets up a three-year interest escrow fund to allow any film shot in Delaware to be made, released and distributed in North America and beyond.

“Any state property used in production would serve as collateral for the loan program. We would also have a film guarantee fund that would be used instead of the property in the unlikely event of default,” he explains. He notes that New Mexico, for example, has loaned $270 million to production companies ˜ and is zero dollars in default.

Teleduction is Spot-On with MEAC/SWAC Challenge
Teleduction

A :30 image spot for the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, a Division II football clash between Delaware State University and Southern University set to air September 5 on ESPN Plus, is among recent work at 34-year old production and post house Teleduction (www.teleduction.com) in Wilmington, Delaware.
“It was challenging to boil the attributes of this historic black college down to 30 seconds,” says director Sharon Baker who picked “four words -- tradition, innovation, diversity, achievement -- to examine the essence and history of Delaware State University.” The project was shot on widescreen Digital Betacam by DP Pascal Dieckmann (pictured), cut on the Sony Vegas by senior editor Julie Pfeifenroth and sent digitally to LA’s FILMLOOK for color correction and processing; Teleduction also handled music and voiceover. “We created a kind of drama that was more cinematic and narrative and contrasted with the traditional style of television sports coverage,” Baker reports.

Kovach's interest in setting up a film incentive fund for Delaware started when he met local filmmakers Brian Sowards and Chris Stout and learned what strong incentive packages have done for many other states. At that point, Kovach met with anyone he could talk to ˜ politicians, business owners, creatives ˜ to try to explain the financial punch that incentive packages have provided to many states.

“This is a way to create high-paying jobs and pump money into the state economy, whether it's by employing state residents or professionals coming in from elsewhere to work on a movie,” he says. “The crew that comes here to work spends money on goods and services while they're here.”

Kovach, however, understands the difficulties in passing such a bill in today's economic climate. “All states are extra-budget conscious,” he concedes, “and if you just throw money into the industry without a proper game plan, it won't work.”

While Delaware has never had a full-time film commissioner, Kovach thinks the time is right for one. “This is an econ-development opportunity,” he emphasizes, “for any state that does it right.”

Cornerstone Shares the News From Perdue
Greenberg with chickens

A staple of the Delaware production scene, Cornerstone Media Productions in Georgetown (www.cornerstonemedia.com), has enjoyed a long, productive relationship with Salisbury, Maryland-based Perdue Farms. “Every year I fly all over the south to different plants to shoot a series of internal state-of-the-business videos,” says Cornerstone owner Rick Greenberg. “The videos allow the corporation’s executives to share company-wide goings on with their managers and employees.”
Greenberg (pictured) lenses the videos with a Panasonic HDX900 HD camcorder at plants and offices in Georgia and the Carolinas and at Perdue’s headquarters near Cornerstone’s home base. He acquires content with a crew of five freelancers and edits the videos on a DPS Velocity HD system with effects created with Adobe After Effects and Photoshop. Cornerstone and Perdue are so intertwined that Greenberg’s gang handles “all of the corporation’s work, aside from the national spots.”