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July 31, 2020, 6:12 p.m. EDT

New York said ‘action,’ but many film and TV cameras won’t get rolling until September or later

Things are at the earliest stages of reopening from pandemic lockdown, but crews and casts are eager to restart the industry

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By Joe Dziemianowicz


AFP/Getty Images
A Carnegie Deli pop-up opened for a week in 2018 in lower Manhattan to promote the Amazon Prime television series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

New York City gave movie and television crews the Phase 4 green light on July 20, the same day professional sports teams were cleared to play without cheering (or jeering) fans in the stands — just silent cardboard cutouts. 

And while the Yankees and Mets are swinging for the fences and the Islanders and the Rangers hit the ice for an exhibition NHL game, the stars of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Blue Bloods” — popular New York TV shows — are still warming the bench. 

Things are progressing, though. Production offices, closed since mid-March, are opening, stars’ schedules are getting untangled and scripts are being written and fine-tuned. 

“We’ve tried to take a very measured response to the production rollout. September is when we’ll start to see some of the bigger shows come back,” said Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). “That will include some locations throughout New York City. 

“But even then, because of geographic limitation, it’s not like you’re going to see a hundred productions on the street,” continued del Castillo, whose office handles permits for on-location shoots. Widespread outdoor dining up-and-down New York City streets also poses a challenge for film crews, and will change the way productions are rolled out until the end of October, when the city’s street-eating initiative is due to end. As part of the rules for on-location shoots, they can’t come within 21 feet of eateries participating in the open-restaurants program without permission.

When it comes to people and businesses, “New York is so dense. We’re trying to share the streets. We can’t have shows filming on top of open restaurants,” she said. 

As of July 27, a maximum of 50 cast and crew are allowed for shoots on public property, which is double the number in the previous protocols. “I know a group of filmmakers making music videos who haven’t taken their foot off the gas,” Mitchell-Brown said, adding that they observed Phase 3 maximums and social distancing and safety guidelines. “They were in the Lower East Side. They were in Queens.”

Currently, no more than two cameras, three lighting stands, and five vehicles may be used for shooting through Oct. 31. In addition al-fresco dining, on-location shoots can’t get in the way of hospitals and COVID-19 testing centers to ensure 24/7 access.

“Right now,” del Castillo said, “we’re all just trying to figure out what all the constraints are.” 

They already know what the stakes are. 

In January, in response to an article about New York-based productions, Flo Mitchell-Brown, Chair of New York Production Alliance, which promotes and supports various facets of production, noted that “New York state is now the nation’s second-leading location for TV and film, behind only California, home of Hollywood.” 


Getty Images
William Baldwin filmed on location in Brooklyn for “Blowtorch” in 2012.

In 2019, roughly 200 productions applied for the state’s film tax credit, created more than 250,000 jobs and generated $4.8 billion in new spending, Mitchell-Brown said. 

See: New York metropolitan area lost nearly 1.5 million jobs in June, the most of any U.S. city

Figures from MOME show that New York City TV and film production was at an all-time high pre-pandemic, generating more than $60 billion in annual direct economic activity for the city and $3 billion in tax revenue. There were 80 TV series and 300 films being shot in the city before COVID hit, putting more than 100,000 New Yorkers to work. More than 2,000 local small businesses are supported by film and TV production.

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