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SAG/NY Prez Hopes for Growth in Production

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Coming off a state legislative session in which the Screen Actors Guild/New York played an important role in advocating new laws aiding local film and television production and performers, SAG/NY President Paul Christie is predicting a new age in New York production...

...Well, maybe not exactly a new age. But certainly a new attitude, in which government understands film and TV production's importance to the Big Apple.

"We're hoping that the New York state legislation gets followed up by some New York City tax incentives," Christie told Back Stage on Monday. "I think it's taken a long time for a lot of people to come to a consensus on how aggressive we had to be to get runaway production back into the state and back into the country. We're excited that the governor signed this thing for us. It's a huge morale booster, because for the last four or five years, things have been tough. Even the Rudy Giuliani story was shot in Canada. So we hope this legislation is the tip of the iceberg."

"This thing" the governor signed refers to the landmark tax incentives for New York film and television production designed to help fight runaway filmmaking to other areas, particularly Canada. They provide $100 million over four years -- $25 million annually -- to cover tax write-offs for film and TV produced in New York state. The bill also allows New York City to provide as much as $12.5 million in annual tax credits for production in the city.

It's the local-government portion of the law that Christie hopes New York City will welcome. He said that Nancy Fox, the staffer who handles legislation for SAG/NY, and members Jim Bracchitta and Cynthia Vance have been working with the city on proposed legislation. And while Christie didn't want to get into specifics about where their efforts have taken them, he did say, "The cooperation has been terrific and the dialogue terrific for a while now. When everybody's working in the same direction, it's very quietly gotten done here.

"I can only hope we will be successful in this," Christie said of the efforts at local tax incentives. "These things take a lot of time to do. The mayor [Michael Bloomberg] so far has done a pretty good job for us. What I like is he's a good businessman, too. He knows the process being done here is not only good for us, but good for the city."

Eyes Commercials Market

Many SAG/NY members make their living from commercials in this city where all the major ad agencies thrive. Christie's one of them, and keeps his own businessman's eye on the industry.

"My personal opinion is I think we're still trying to rebound from 9/11," Christie observed. "I think people have to get back in the rhythm of bringing work to New York and shooting and keeping it here. It was reasonable for work to leave the city for six months after the attacks happened. But I think it had more of a long-term effect than people wanted to admit. We were talking a good game, but a fear factor remained. In the last six months, it looks like it's been starting to pick up."

But Christie added, "It's a very volatile time in terms of the commercial stuff because of the integration of all the ad agencies. There are probably only four or five agencies left in the form that they existed when I started in the industry 20 years ago. There's just monster agencies now that have taken over. That's an unsettling process. The global dynamic has changed a lot here. You're literately competing worldwide in a way you weren't before. That will continue to snowball.

"Years ago, even with a lot of ad agencies, you came into New York from all over. I worked with people from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago. That's dwindled away because facilities got better there and they stayed home. Now we're competing on a global scale. Looking to sell everywhere. This applies to runaway production again. You see agencies popping up in Hungary, New Zealand. They're coming after the business here."

What does that mean for a local union?

"For SAG here, it's tougher to deal with because it's a global marketplace. We kind of had the corner on the market for a long time. Now we're gonna have to be more proactive in what we do to keep work coming in our direction. It's simply that so many spots on the globe have grown up, and now they're players in ways they never were before."

So, for Christie, the key is for New York to become a tough competitor for commercials, film, and television. He praised Dick Wolf, who created the "Law & Order" franchise, which continues to film in New York. "There's a phrase we throw around: 'God bless Dick Wolf and keep him safe and happy.' I can't think of anybody in my lifetime who's done for actors and the TV community in New York what he's done. There's no way you could pay him back for that."

And similar kudos to Miramax, the successful feature film firm, which, of late, has cut staff and been in a quarrel with its parent, the Walt Disney Company.

"It's a one-of-a-kind collaboration they've got," Christie said of Miramax and Disney. "I hope to God it's a marriage that can be worked out. It only benefits us. In a lot of ways, the Weinstein brothers are right up there with Dick Wolf. They're like champions of ours." Harvey and Robert Weinstein founded Miramax Films in New York in 1979. Disney purchased the company in 1993, giving Miramax independence that led to Academy Award-winning and financially successful films. But disagreements between Harvey Weinstein and Disney chairman Michael Eisner have led to problems in the past year.

Christie also had high praise for SAG/NY's staff, particularly the executive director, Jae Je Simmons. He said that in 2005, he hopes SAG/NY can get more aggressive in Spanish-language production and alternative casting to help performers in those areas.

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