Location is everything in Katherine Oliver's business. In her office overlooking the landmark Ed Sullivan Theater, just blocks from the neon blaze of Times Square, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting discusses the importance of bringing TV and film production to New York. As if on cue, sirens blare on Broadway.
“You really feel that you're a part of the industry here,” says Oliver. “Every day I come in, there's this buzz and this vibe, reminders of the industry we're serving.”
Thanks to her efforts to rebrand New York as a filming-friendly locale, TV and film producers are no longer settling for backlot approximations of that authentic vibe. Since she was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002, film and TV production has grown to a $5 billion business, employing 100,000, and the number of location-shooting days has doubled to almost 32,000 in 2005.
Indeed, Oliver's first week on the job was indicative of just how rotten the Big Apple rated among producers. A USA Networks biopic about former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani—as much a New York emblem as a Nathan's hot dog—shot for all of one day in New York before heading to Montreal.
“The [producers] told me they didn't even bother budgeting for New York because the incentives in other places are just too good,” Oliver says. “There was this perceived hassle factor about shooting here.”
She takes as a sign of progress that Martin Scorsese shot The Departed—his recent film set in Boston—in New York.
Oliver's office processes some 200 shooting permits a day, up from 200 a week four years ago. The “Made in N.Y.” tax credits her office instituted have been a big incentive. And a marketing initiative funnels 1% of a project's production budget into the city's various media—from bus-shelter signage to Times Square Jumbotrons—to promote programs. The city also provides free police details at shoots, along with discounts on services, with 4,000 local vendors offering rebates.
“Katherine has really made things easier for us by modernizing the [permit] process,” says Law & Order producer Peter Giuliano. “Between the tax cut and the marketing campaign, it's been a major effort by the Bloomberg administration to get people to shoot here. It's wonderful for our industry.”
A PRODUCT OF BROOKLYN
A self-described “news junkie” as a child growing up in Brooklyn, Oliver studied journalism and business at New York University. She worked on-air on both TV and radio, including N.Y. jazz station WBGO and CNBC radio, before joining Bloomberg's company in 1992 as the executive producer and presenter on a syndicated business program.
As the financial-information outfit increased its TV and radio production, Oliver became general manager of Bloomberg Radio and Television and moved to London, where she set up digital broadcast operations in 25 worldwide cities.
When Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001, Oliver soon returned to her native city, which was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, and joined his administration. “I knew he'd have a very unique approach to government,” she says. “And I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
Bloomberg credits Oliver's “innovative measures” with sparking “an unprecedented renaissance in New York City's production industry.”
In addition to persuading producers to follow the lead of local productions like 30 Rock and The Sopranos, Oliver has worked to bolster the city's production infrastructure with a job-training campaign, including a four-week production-assistant program. She also formed a diversity task force to help the industry better reflect the people behind the real New York.
“You look at Law & Order, and they're out on the streets of New York City as their set,” she says. “There's an energy and a vibrancy that come through that you just don't get anywhere else.”
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