When film was new to everyone and filmmakers had yet to figure out how to record voice, Glendale was host to a movie studio. From 1915 to 1925, silent movies were filmed in what is now Atlas Terminals. Fast forward some 90 years and we are experiencing a renaissance of sorts and it’s not silent, nor what any of us thought it would be.
A huge parcel of land in Atlas Terminals was sold to a production company, a mere 100 yards from where the silent film studio had been. At first, this sounded like it could be something great. After all, the new studio had plenty of space in which to conduct its business, there was the prospect of jobs for local residents and neighbors would get to watch live productions right from their stoops – what could possibly be better than that?
But something very different instead happened. Not only did Broadway Stages buy the land, they bought the streets, too. Day after day, “no parking” signs appear on our streets limiting our already sparse parking spots. Now we find other cars parked there – after all, employers are entitled to reserve parking for their employees at the inconvenience of homeowners, right? Wrong. The considerate thing for the studio to do would be to utilize neighboring Atlas Park for employee parking instead of residential streets. They could pay the mall a fixed amount for garage space and be done with it.
Every time a new studio opens in the city, we are told that it means that there will be less disruption to our streets because they will move production inside. In Astoria, this was the justification that the City used to close and hand over a public street to Kaufman Astoria Studios so they could build an outdoor soundstage. However the opposite of what was promised appears to be the case. Streets around film studios tend to see the most activity, due to their convenient proximity to the home base, therefore causing the most headaches for the people living near them. This is unfair and needs to be clamped down on. (Note: unless the posted sign says you MUST move your car or it will be TOWED and provides a phone number for the NYPD towing unit, you do NOT have to move it. The film crew might like you to move your car, but cannot legally touch it if you decide not to.)
And so many other wrongs continue from bogus “no parking” signs to cones appearing even where there aren’t any signs. Many members of the film industry have little respect for neighborhoods or the people living in them.
Last April, Broadway Stages hosted a filmed explosion using pyrotechnics in a residential area, yards away from homes filled with families, kids and the elderly. Yes, they did due diligence informing the neighbors, but not everyone expected it to be that loud, especially when it happened outside the expected time frame.
This explosion shook homes and put fear in people. While some thought it was “cool”, homeowners in the immediate area were, for the most part, very upset. That explosion split a community and caused neighbors to turn against each other, and many lost respect for those community leaders who seemed on board with its intensity. They wondered how the City allowed it to occur in such close proximity to homes.
This occurrence was a temporary inconvenience, but the brazen act of hanging “no parking” signs and taking over streets for a full day, or sometimes two at a time, with little or no advanced notice is something no one is getting over as filming becomes more widespread and consistent throughout our area.
The community thought it would bring full time jobs and more business to our restaurants and stores. If the occasional pack of cigarettes purchased at the corner store pumps up our economy then that’s great, if a local kid gets a day job and makes $200 , that’s even better, but is it enough to justify the constant and bold inconveniences?
The studio has a base camp that houses food trucks. The reality of it is that no small retail businesses are making a better living from this production company. On the contrary, merchants that are oftentimes inconvenienced actually lose business when the inevitable “no parking” sign shows up on a tree in front of their establishment.
When it comes to seeking help with the quality-of-life issues brought on by the film industry, we might as well all be actors in a silent movie because no one is listening. If you call 311 to report a problem with a film crew, they will NOT take your complaint or give you a tracking number like you get when you file a complaint for any other agency to address. Instead, you will be directed to the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, which will brush you off and will not record a complaint or provide a complaint number unless you insist. They alter the statistics so that when questioned, they can say “no one ever complains”.
Widespread Abuses of the Neighborhoods
In fact, there are infractions of MOFTB regulations by film crews on a daily basis. Parking signs are frequently filled out with incorrect or missing information, sidewalks and streets are blocked by unauthorized equipment, diesel vehicles and generators are left to idle making noise and pollution for no reason, more parking is taken than what is necessary to facilitate a film shoot, and affected businesses and homeowners are kept in the dark about what is going on and who to contact to resolve problems. There was a local incident recently where a film crew posted signs stating that they needed parking after 9pm, then returned and without warning placed different signs reserving parking after 11am – 10 hours earlier – that same day. The community board was notified of the film shoot at 10:45am, a mere 15 minutes before the parking block was put in effect. When notified of these shenanigans, MOFTB just shrugged. The Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit didn’t respond at all. And there’s a logical reason why.
Our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, in part owes his election to the film industry. The owners of these companies were heavy donors to his campaign, and several well-known actors promoted his candidacy to the public. Although he publicly reviles the wealthy 1%, he, in fact, is owned by them. He will not bite the hand that feeds him and no regulation of the industry will ever be proposed by him. On top of this, film companies receive refunds of 30% of production costs via the New York State Film Tax Credit Program. This means taxpayers are actually subsidizing a multi-billion dollar industry. How progressive!
Good for the City’s Economy?
Considering all this, you’d think taxpayers would get thrown a bone now and then, right? Nope.
We are constantly hearing about how much money filming pumps into our economy and tax coffers, so why isn’t any of this money spent here? We have streets full of potholes, there is garbage everywhere, our parks are in disrepair and our precinct is severely undermanned. Film industry money could go a long way toward fixing these problems, but instead it is withheld from the very communities that find themselves frequently inundated with film crews.
This may be because the film industry doesn’t actually bring the economic benefits it claims to our fair city. In a September 2015 Wall Street Journal article entitled “Yelling ‘Cut!’ for Moviemaking Tax Breaks”, it was revealed that most states that enacted tax breaks for the film industry did not see a substantial return on their investment and as a result, have stopped their incentives. The most recent state to do this was New Jersey, this past summer. Here, the City Council has proposed legislation that would require film companies to report exactly how many jobs they create, how many locals are hired and at what pay rate, but they have met with resistance from both the industry and the mayor.
It’s time for government to hold production companies accountable for the negative impact they have on communities and it’s time for taxpayers to hold the government accountable for ensuring that our needs are met with all that film industry money said to be flowing into NYC’s piggy bank.