|It’s hard to have a conversation about trends in the New York market without the economy rearing its ugly head. While no one wants to say the sky is falling, because for many it’s not, all admit that budgets are tighter, competition is fierce and there is a fear that standards might be lowered. But more television shows and films are being shot here, and hopefully that means more post will stay too.
MAKING IT IN NEW YORK
NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting has been busy these days, especially when you consider that for this TV season, 17 episodics were being shot in New York, in addition to many feature films.
This boost in production in New York has a lot to do with the “Made in NY” tax incentive for qualified productions. In addition to the tax incentive, film commissioner Katherine Oliver says, “There is also a marketing credit that gives productions free outside media, such as posters at bus shelters and free airtime on NYC TV, the city’s television channel.” It’s also promoted on the film office’s Website.
“We come up with targeted marketing campaigns for each production, so there might be a variety of things we can do with them pertaining to the subject matter. We also get involved in charitable initiatives with the production when appropriate.”
The film office is also offering Made in NY discount cards to members of each production shooting in the city. Says Oliver, “We have identified the businesses the entertainment industry would use when they are shooting here and have asked them to offer a discount of 10 percent or more on their services. All companies are listed on our Website.”
More than 800 vendors in the five boroughs are participating. “It’s wonderful for the ancillary businesses — about 4,000 of them in all of New York City — to get an introduction to the film industry.”
In addition to restaurants, florists, dry cleaners, health clubs, coffee shops, hardware stores, etc., there are post facilities who are offering discounts as well. This list grows monthly and over 100 companies were added last year.
Oliver points out that post production done in New York is a qualified cost on the “Made in NY” tax credit. “We are constantly trying to promote that and we encourage the 17 shows shooting here to post here as well, so they should be taking advantage of the credit.”
Deluxe, which has studios all over the world, opened a large facility downtown last year.“We are thrilled that Deluxe has opened on Hudson Street,” she says. “That made a major statement about their investment in this city. The industry is growing and Deluxe felt there was a business opportunity here.”
Emphasizing the office’s commitment to post, Oliver says her office participated in a two-day career panel promoting below-the-line opportunities in post production — “we have so many facilities here that are expanding.”
The “Made in NY” tax incentive program was signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg in January 2005. “There are certain qualifications,” reports Oliver. “It’s for feature films and episodic television series only, and there are certain criteria they have to meet. You have to do 75 percent of your stage work here at a qualified facility or do 75 percent of your location work here.” Qualified productions receive five percent from the city and 30 percent from the state in a refundable credit for their New York spend. See details at www.nyc.gov/film.
And the incentives are working. In addition to the many episodics shooting here, the feature film side of the coin is also bustling. “We have a lot of films that are shooting now and will continue through the summer,” she says. “We have really enjoyed an increase in business in the last few years.”
There are also more than 100 television shows that shoot on a regular basis in New York. All of the morning news shows, four soap operas, plus talk shows, game shows and evening magazine programs.
In 2002, after Mayor Bloomberg was elected, the city started working to bring productions back into New York. “We had only one television show in town back then, the original Law & Order, explains Oliver. “Productions were going to Canada and faking New York, so we came up with a short-term and long-term strategy for bringing this business back.”
For those looking to set up film-related businesses in the city, the film office works with sister agency Small Business Services, which is dedicated to helping these types of businesses get off the ground. “We also work closely with Economic Development Corporation in the city of New York,” explains Oliver. “EDC is a quasi-private-sector entity that works on real estate development deals for the city.”
For example, when Steiner Studios wanted to develop its facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the EDC was involved and helped secure city monies for the expansion and development of that particular site. The EDC will work with both large and small entities.
Oliver is hopeful that the positive trend of shooting in New York continues despite the rough economy. “The entertainment industry is one of the few sectors that is really thriving in New York right now,” she says. “We are seeing constant work; we are busier than ever. Now that the state has extended the tax credit for another year, that will encourage productions to keep their work in our city and in our state.”
OPPORTUNITIES & VES NE
Rhino (www.rhinofx.com) creative director/director “Vico” has been finding that the bad economy is actually providing him and the studio with more opportunities than before. “When appropriate, clients are looking for a company to produce more than just visual effects, they are requesting for us to direct the spots too,” he says. “They realize there are advantages and more options with a one-stop solution — greater flexibility, balancing what can be achieved in-camera as opposed to digitally, where to spend, where to shoot, whether to utilize the Flame or not, or some other digital option. The end result is much easier to achieve when the director is looking through the lens while knowing what the finished shot has to look like in a few weeks, and how that will be accomplished.” ‘
At press time, Vico was directing GE spots for BBDO and a car shoot for Mercedes.
And when Vico isn’t directing spots, he is helping to start up a Northeast chapter of the Visual Effects Society. While many visual effects artists in New York City are members of the VES — which has sections in LA, San Francisco, Vancouver, London and Sydney — there is no official presence in the Northeast US.
“I have been a member of the VES since 2004,” he says. “I love the community, the people and the events that are available through the organization, but such a huge city like New York doesn’t have the structure for its visual effects community. We get invites to events in other VES cities, but nothing in New York. In talking to the other members, they too were frustrated that there was no activity for a section on the East Coast.”
Vico also spoke to artists who didn’t bother to join VES specifically because there is no activity on the East Coast. That’s when he and others decided to take the initiative. “Camille Geier, our executive producer here at Rhino and long-time VES member, and myself decided to take it on and organize an East Coast section, so we went to the VES to talk about what’s required and how to move forward.”
The VES said there was another person in New York actively pursuing a New York chapter, Eric Robertson. “They teamed us up together and we started moving forward,” explains Vico.
In terms of requirements, VES executive director Eric Roth says, “Each section requires 50 local VES members to sign a petition requesting the formation of a section. They send that to us and the full board needs to approve it.”
For those wanting to become a VES member, you’ll need five years of experience in the industry and two endorsements by existing VES members.
So in addition to getting artists from the industry to apply, Vico, Robertson and others helped connect current VES members and those now interested in joining. “We know most of the people in the industry in New York, we knew who were members and who were good candidates.”
For now the section will be called the Northeast section but Vico says, “Once we have 50 members in New York we can have our own New York section.” And that is okay with VES’s Roth. “If over time there’s lots more people and they want to break into smaller sections that is fine. It would just be good to have an organized presence for the VES somewhere on the East Coast and the Northeast.”
Currently the petition is being signed and will be in with the VES shortly. “Once I determine everything is in order,” says Roth, “I’ll bring it to the next meeting of the board of directors, which meets every two months. Once the board approves, the local section that is trying to be born would need to elect eight board members, including a chair and secretary treasurer.”
Once approved, Vico plans to host a mixer at Rhino, inviting members and potential members. The plan is to then generate events like that around the community. “This city is very big, but everybody knows everybody,” he says. “Having that kind of event and activity available can develop more of a community and create different agendas — it could be educational, networking and many things.”
“We absolutely look forward to the eventual creation of a Northeast section of VES to allow for the incredible talent that exists on the East Coast to come together in ways that allow for much greater networking and connection with the VES at large,” sums up Roth. “We think there are wonderful opportunities to bring in great people to speak at events and to have more screenings and to generally raise the VES flag in a much grander way on the East Coast.”
FEAST OR FAMINE
Jim Geduldick, a freelance artist based in New York, as well co-leader of the New York After Effects User Group (www.aeny .org), has definitely seen some changes in terms of business being done lately. “It’s feast or famine,” he says. “People are really busy and there are other people taking whatever they could get job wise.”
Geduldick says it was a slow beginning to 2009, but for him it’s gotten busy with more of a variety of work. “People are still trying to sell stuff and still trying to market and advertise, and they are doing it in new ways, like reaching people with online viral spots or Websites versus broadcast.” And a lot of that has to do with the budgets being smaller all around. “Because the budgets have been a lot tighter, people are starting to go the viral route — it’s quick and it’s cheap, but it still gets the point across.”
And while many will say you still provide the same work for broadcast projects as the Web, Geduldick (whose blog can be seen at www.finalcutuser.com) admits there are differences. “If the budget is smaller you have to cut corners at times,” but he also acknowledges that you still have to pay some people the same no matter where it’s airing. “You are not going to pay a VFX supervisor any less if the spot happens to be for broadcast versus another medium. Certain people are going to get paid what they are normally getting paid, but the junior artists are going to get more of the hit.”
He says pros are now expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. “Editors need to know not just editing, but a little about graphics, about workflows, the cameras, a bit about the pipeline… especially if it involves visual effects. And the same thing goes for somebody who just does rotoscoping; they should be very well versed in compositing those images. If you are a compositor that knows 3D really well, you are more likely going to get a job over someone that just knows comping straight up.”
The After Effects New York User group meets monthly and Geduldick has definitely seen some changes recently, in particular people trying to make the transition from another medium — like those who have lost work in the print world — to motion graphics, visual effects and editing. “The print people know Photoshop and Illustrator, but because of the way that advertising and the Web is going, they need to learn Flash, After Effects, Motion, some kind of digital compositing package to get them started.”
He says one trend is event videographers, guys doing weddings, are trying to break into the pro world and bidding on packages. “They have always been trying to get into corporate jobs but now they are looking to learn about working on the high end. You have people who are using Red, XDCAM and P2 workflows and they are coming from shooting DV. It’s a totally new world for them and they are jumping on workflows they don’t understand. And they are finding it pretty hard. You can’t just jump into those higher-end workflows, so people are looking for resources to learn these higher-end workflows.”
But with these lower-end guys trying to break into an already crowded pro market, something has got to give. “It kind of sucks because when you have somebody with a lesser budget they are going to go with [an artist] who fits their budget, not the best person for the job. It’s unfortunate.”
Geduldick says because of the economy and the flooding of the market with artists, these days require negotiating your rate. “Personally, I’ve had to take less than my rate on some jobs just to keep going sometimes. Just because you have to sometimes negotiate your rate doesn’t make you any less of an artist for doing so. Your body of work will do the talking for you in the form of your reel.”
Even though cutting corners due to smaller budgets was happening before the economy took a dive, Geduldick says it’s obviously become more prevalent this year, but now it’s affecting the work produced.
And because of the cost cutting, he’s seen people who aren’t familiar with certain aspects of the job at hand. “There’s a lot of quick work coming out, and a lot of people that aren’t as experienced with the workflows. They hope that people in post will be able to salvage it, but that’s not always the case. The saying goes, ‘Garbage in means garbage out,’ even if you have some of the best people working on it.”
It’s not that he hasn’t seen projects with good budgets and good shoots with good people knowing exactly what they are doing, but he has also seen his share of others “needing to understand the workflows or pipelines for the task at hand. When people are not as familiar with the technical side of projects this can lead to some potential barriers down the production line. Time expectancy becomes a big deal when you have to explain why a particular shot might have to re-render overnight after note changes when dealing with a new producer or client.”
With budgets drying up in one area he suggests that freelancers or studios may need to expand into new mediums. “Learn about social media and how it can help you get your word out on your projects. If you are a DP, learn a new application or go to your local user group meeting, network and if you have time and you have been doing this for a long time, mentor someone or give back to the post/visual effects community in some way.”
AUDIO AND THE CITY
AES committee member John Kilgore runs Pro Tools-based John Kilgore Sound & Recording (www.johnkilgore.com), providing music, audio and, he says, “in this economy whatever we can get in the door.”
Kilgore’s career began in the late1960s, so he is seen many ups and downs and industry changes in his time. And while he acknowledges it’s tough out there right now “myself and a lot of people I’m talking to are taking a wait-and-see attitude. No one is panicking.”
But the reality is that some businesses have closed. “Whenever the business model changes, some are going to survive and some are not, there is always going to be a shakeout,” he explains. “We’ve seen some companies contract in the city; I don’t know if that trend is going to continue or whether at some point the business will shrink so much there is room for expansion. It’s too early to tell.”
Kilgore is a realist, but you can also tell he’s an optimist at heart. “I hear that times are tough all over, but there is continuing work because in hard times, in particular, people do want entertainment.” He also sees the need for companies to keep advertising their products, so “it’s not as dire in our business as it might be elsewhere.”
In addition to the economy, Kilgore sees a huge trend in the democratization of the business — tools that had only been available to the big boys in the past are now available to all. And along with that comes the good and the bad. “Now there is sort of a top, middle and low end, and the low end is far more capable than they ever were,” he says. “In a way, the folks in the middle are getting squeezed a bit, but this is a trend that has been going on forever. When tape machines came in back in the early ‘50s, for instance, they enabled the little guy to make recordings that up until then had to be done in a big facility with a disc cutter.”
Kilgore also saw this happen in the music business 10-15 years ago with the advent of digital recording, and says we are right in the middle of it with post. There is definitely a concern in the industry that work will be done by those with less experience and therefore the quality might suffer; this is where Kilgore sees organizations like the AES playing a role.
“Business models change, and in hard times the bottom line becomes important, and that’s where the AES is important. They can help with education and keeping the standards high. With democratization you can lose the standards that broadcast and other users of post expect.” And he says it’s not just about best audio practices, but also about equipment manufacturing. “An old joke in technology-based manufacturing is, ‘Standards? You want standards? Sure, we got a million of ‘em.’”
The AES Standards Committee, according to Kilgore, has been instrumental in sorting out multiple, conflicting standards.
He points to the advent of MP3 files in the audio world as an example of the “good enough” mentality that democratization can bring, but he still believes in the need for the high end. “There are certain clients that need the best quality possible and they’ll never go away — we really need expertise and top-notch facilities.”
And he thinks that because quality is there and available, eventually there will be a backlash of sorts. “People say, ‘I just can’t stand another documentary mixed inside of Final Cut Pro. The dialogue on the last one was okay, but it wasn’t great. I really just need extra shine that a really good mixer is going to give me.’”
And those working for the high end are still getting work. “The music editors and sound supervisors I know are still working — there are not very many of them here in New York, but they are working,” he says.
And John Kilgore Sound & Recording is still working too, whether it’s a score for a film or something budget-challenged for the Web. Work is work!