By ALLISON DUNNE
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation that expands the additional 10 percent Empire State film production tax credit to counties in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. It also raises to 40 percent the tax credit offered elsewhere in the state. Local officials and film professionals have high hopes.
A former rail car repair shop in the industrial part of Middletown is now Michelson Studio II, the largest single soundstage in New York.
“I come from California where our buildings are made out of paper. And, when you, somebody showed me this space, and I have a studio in New York City, and when I saw it, I mean, look at this, are you kidding, look at this [kicks column]. This is like the Titanic. This is like the Hindenburg,” Michaelson says. “You think they make things like this anymore?”
That’s owner Eric Michelson, who also lives in Warwick. His father, Harold Michelson, was a famous production designer and art director who worked on such films as “The Birds,” “Cleopatra,” and “West Side Story.” Eric Michelson does not favor standing still or staying on one train of thought for very long. He says the Middletown building is rare and perfect for film production.
“It’s not Middletown. It could be out in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I don’t’ care. It’s the building and movie people need giant breadboxes. That’s it,” says Michelson.“There’s nothing mysterious about the movie industry, just where can they build their sets without any columns… Hey, what’s up.”
“Hey, what’s up?” turned into a ride in Michelson’s hearse-turned-everyday vehicle to show a producer from Toronto one of the other buildings on the 13-acre property.
Joe Wang is that film producer. He shot in Orange County along the scenic byway in Deerpark for his last film, a romantic thriller, “Siji: Driver,” due out soon. He says the extra 10 percent is an even bigger draw for him and will make a huge difference financially. Wang believes many other filmmakers will feel the same.
“So I heard about this 40 percent and I’m excited, so just come to explore,” says Wang.
Democrat Aileen Gunther, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly and whose district includes most of Sullivan County along with Middletown, says the additional film tax credit adds another piece to the economic puzzle, along with such destinations in Sullivan County as Bethel Woods and the under-construction Montreign Resort Casino.
“I explained the bill and how important it was to the mid-Hudson Region, and I really think we’re going to see explosion happening here,” Gunther says.
Republican George Amedore sponsored the bill in the Senate. Democratic Ulster County Executive Mike Hein helped push for the legislation and was one of many standing in Michelson Studio II praising Gunther.
“You’ll remember this moment. It’s the building of a foundation of an entirely new portion of the Hudson Valley economy,” Hein says. “Yes, we have films shot here right now, that’s true. It’s because it’s a spectacular place. Yes, we have a pristine environment, we have wonderful locations. We have incredible places for people to be able to shoot. But this opens up the opportunity for new media productions, for real studio work to happen right here.”
Like, he says, entire TV series. Michelson says the additional tax credit is a boon.
“The bottom line in this business is money, money, money money,” Michelson says. “If some producer can get the same film made here and save himself an additional 10 percent on a $100 million picture, that’s an additional $10 million from the state. Ten million dollars is not a little amount of money.”
To boost film production outside of the New York City Studio Zone, which includes Westchester and Rockland Counties, the 2013-14 state budget included language to create an additional 10 percent film production tax credit for “upstate” counties. However, Hudson Valley and Catskills counties were not considered “upstate” at that point. Hudson Valley Film Commissioner Laurent Rejto says with this issue now resolved, the region can compete on a level playing field.
“It’s not as if people were going further upstate. It’s people were leaving the state. They were going to New Jersey. They were going to Connecticut. They were going to Georgia. They were going to Louisiana,” Rejto says. “So this is going to benefit not just the region, but the entire state.”
Rejto says some producers were walking away without the extra 10 percent film tax credit.
“We’ve had several examples where we saw how the economics hurt the possibility of bringing a film to the area,” says Rejto. “We recently had a film director who actually has his daughter lives in the area and it was a $40 million movie. They wanted to shoot in Barrytown, around Rhinebeck, but because the initiatives were not in place, they decided to go to Canada.”
“When you have a giant soundstage like this you can do those ridiculous things like in ‘Spiderman’ where, all of a sudden, you’ve got a metro, whatever you call it, a subway hanging with the lights exploding. And they can, they have many more choices of what angle they want to shoot at because they can put their lights… Everything is usually lit above. You have 15-foot ceilings, can’t build very much of a set and you can’t light the damn thing,” Michelson. “Here, we have 60-foot ceilings. Our biggest competitor has 40’ down in New York City.”
Others gathered at Michelson Studio II that day to sing the praises of the additional tax credit and Gunther’s efforts included Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano and Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Ramsay Adams.