A former Williamsburgh Savings Bank served as an opulent if raucous home for the ‘Made in NY’ Awards Monday evening. The event celebrated local filmmakers, actors, and industry supporters who have been part of the record level of local production within the five boroughs in recent years. Some planning mishaps in the evening were grounds for occasional friendly taunts from the audience and speakers alike, while the massive economic incentives behind the industry’s new vitality were praised with little scrutiny.
“Artists energize our entire society,” Mayor de Blasio said in his opening remarks. “They define why New York is New York. We want to tell people to leave LA and Prague behind. New York is thriving with the best talent.”
That is no accident, but the result of a $420 million per year film incentive program, considered a boon to the local economy, generating a reported $7 billion in estimated revenue since it launched in 2004. The tax credits spurring such record production, including 230 films and 39 primetime series last year alone, have been extended through 2019.
Honorees for the evening included actor and director Steve Buscemi, actor, producer, writer, and director Louis C.K., Tony and five-time Emmy Award winner Neil Patrick Harris, Brooklyn-born digital design and technology consultancy Huge, MacArthur Fellow and National Humanities Medal honoree Stanley Nelson, Oscar and Emmy Award-nominated actress, activist and The View co-host Rosie Perez, Producers Guild of America’s Lydia Dean Pilcher (with Mari Jo Winkler and Rachel Watanabe-Batton), and Blue Bloods co-executive producer and Sex and the City producer Jane Raab.
The “Made in NY” Mayor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement was presented to Albert Maysles, filmmaker and founder of the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action in Harlem.
Several political leaders and city officials also appeared, from the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray to Public Advocate Tish James, Deputy Mayors Rich Buery and Alicia Glenn, and City Council Member Inez Barron. Media & Entertainment Commissioner Cynthia Lopez was also on hand, presenting the awards alongside the Mayor.
The night’s events did not go off without a few rough patches. Attendees clamored for seating at the recently renovated building, now an event space known as Weylin B. Seymour’s. Many were stranded in several rows of standing room behind those seated, with little chance of viewing the proceedings. The cacophony of their conversations caused honorees to have trouble even hearing one another.
“I think we can all agree we should never use this room again,” Louis C.K. immediately exclaimed upon being called to the podium, letting out the air of a collective balloon of anxiety for those gathered. “Do they have to actually run the bank while we’re doing this?”
“You know, acoustics aren’t everything in life,” the Mayor retorted in jest later on.
For all the friendly chiding, the purported economic benefits of the city’s tax credit program went largely unexamined. Some studies have questioned whether economic incentives for film production truly create new jobs, as opposed to simply moving them from one location to another on the taxpayer’s dime. A report from the progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that such subsidies are costly to states and needlessly generous to movie producers, rewarding them for production they might have done anyway, offering jobs to non-residents in a “race to the bottom” relying on flawed figures. Indeed, additional subsidies, like bonuses to productions at the taxpayers’ expense, city-owned locations that are provided for filming free of charge, and a free shift of police officers if their assistance is required for a shoot, often go uncounted in the public’s expense. Many productions also lend a false glamour to the Big Apple, misleadingly luring transplants to an already overcrowded and unaffordable city.
Proponents, however, point to reports by New York City Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and accounting firm Ernst & Young, praising the economic benefits of the incentive program, including sustaining some 100,000 workers locally in the industry and garnering hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Separate from tax incentives, the evening featured the announcement of other unrelated projects. The City announced a donation of $160,000 from the Teamsters Local 817 to support community enrichment in local neighborhoods, and Brooklyn College’s Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Steiner Studios—the nation’s first public graduate school seamlessly integrated into a working film lot and the city’s first public graduate school of cinema—is now accepting applications. Funding for the school is the result of an extensive public-private partnership among notable Brooklyn College alumni, MOME, Steiner Studios, the New York City Council, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and the City University of New York.