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OPINION: Movies and TV in the Big City: The good and the bad

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Cynthia Lopez, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. Photo by Ed Reed, Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A recent article in the Eagle by Mary Frost covered Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointment of Cynthia Lopez as commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

De Blasio made his announcement at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios, the largest studio complex on the East Coast.

The accomplishments of Steiner Studios are impressive. In a relatively short time, it has attracted major TV shows such as “Boardwalk Empire,” “Girls” and “Flight of the Conchords” as well as major films such as “The Producers: The Movie Musical,” “Spider-man 3,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

While I don’t seek to downplay the accomplishments of Steiner Studios, the motion picture industry is no newcomer to Brooklyn or the metropolitan area in general. Another studio in Brooklyn, JC Studios in Midwood (the former NBC studios), was once host to such long-running TV shows as “The Cosby Show,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World.”

And in a bygone era, Vitagraph, an early film company, had another studio in Midwood during the age of silent films. Most of the movies produced there were short comedies starring actors who are unknown today, although Moe Howard of the Three Stooges played bit parts in several of these comedies as a child actor. Vitagraph left the studio in the 1920s after the motion picture industry moved west, and today the building is occupied by the Shulamith School for Girls.

Yes, Hollywood is still the king of the movie and TV industries, but increasingly, New York City and Brooklyn are “Hollywood East.” The days when films whose action is set in New York City were filmed in Los Angeles or Canada is over.

Still, the film and TV industries are not completely boons to the city. Few people have any complaints about the studios, such as the aforementioned Steiner Studios or Queens’ Silvercup Studios (“The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City”). It’s filming “on location,” especially outdoors, that vexes people.

Time after time, this newspaper has run articles about the excessive number of film, TV and commercial shoots in picturesque Brooklyn Heights. The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting last December declared a partial moratorium on production in the North Heights, but that doesn’t mean that similar battles won’t break out in other Brooklyn neighborhoods that are thought to be quaint or scenic and will thus attract filmmakers.

At the heart of this is the film-making process. In an age when everything is getting digitized and smaller, shooting one scene still requires a huge number of trucks, trailers, electrical equipment, and so on, taking up half the parking spaces on the block. It’s as if one still needed a huge mainframe computer to log onto the Internet.

Also, directors and producers think nothing of shooting 26 takes of a scene. When I and several other amateur musicians went into the recording studio some years ago to record a few songs, we didn’t have the luxury of an unlimited number of takes.

Finally, those associated with the production companies could use a lesson in public relations. Often, when I’ve passed by a shoot and asked someone what’s happening, they not only refused to answer, they told me to move on. And why must they always bring in outside catering trucks, rather than direct their staff to local restaurants? Clearly, they don’t see local communities as partners.

For all the good the motion picture and TV industries have done in this city, these problems need to be addressed.

April 23, 2014 - 8:00am


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