Bill proposed to keep film rolling in boro

By Dustin Brown

The borough's vibrant film industry may get a boost under legislation introduced by state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) that would offer a tax break to productions that film in the state.

The centerpiece of the five-bill package is a 25 percent credit on the wage taxes producers have to pay on the first $25,000 earned by employees of any film produced in New York.

“What's really going to keep the industry in New York, or bring it back to New York to the extent that it's left, is the heavy tax incentive,” said Gianaris, who co-sponsored the bills with Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit), the chairman of the Assembly's tourism committee. “That's where most of the dollars are.”

The legislation is New York's response to major incentives offered by the Canadian government to lure film production over the border, a strategy that has given Canada such unlikely films as the USA Network's recent biography of Rudy Giuliani – filmed not in New York but Toronto.

Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver go so far as to give films direct rebates of 22 percent of labor costs.

Although New York's plan wouldn't go so far, Gianaris hopes it will put the state on more even footing.

“It won't be as much money as Canada is providing, but it'll be enough when combined with the other advantages of New York to keep the production here,” Gianaris said.

Queens is home to a strong film production industry whose crown jewels are Silvercup Studios – where HBO series “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” are filmed- and Kaufman Astoria Studios, a favorite venue for celebrated director Woody Allen.

“We compete … on a global basis, Canada being the most in our face kind of competition,” said Alan Suna, the chief executive officer of Silvercup. “This is in part a way from New York's perspective of attempting to deal with some of those inequities.”

Although the state boasts the country's second-largest concentration of economic activity related to motion pictures, film production in the state has recently declined, Gianaris said.

Other features of Gianaris' legislation would exempt students from taxes on the equipment and services they purchase to produce their own films. The bills would also clarify and extend existing legislation that already benefits film producers.

“There's no question that this will net income for both the city and the state of New York because of the new films that will be filmed here that are not being filmed here right now,” Gianaris said.

“It's not like some kind of a bonus for the industry to keep them filming here. It's a necessary component of economic development policy for New York so we don't lose a very important industry.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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