INTERVIEW with Katherine Oliver

There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

Adam Schartoff: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

Katherine Oliver: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: There’s much more to the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment than you might think. Commissioner Katherine Oliver discusses her office’s relationship with filmmakers who use the streets of NYC as their set. The following interview was conducted for Shooting People.

AS: As a native New Yorker, what are your memories of films and television programs that were filming here while you were growing up?

KO: Movies like The Godfather and Tootsie and all those Woody Allen films were shot in the City when I was growing up. I look back on them and other productions from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a different appreciation because I now know what it takes to film in our City. It’s also interesting to see the many iconic locations that have been used over the years and how they’ve changed or stayed the same.

AS: How political is your role?

KO: As the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which includes the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, I work with local elected officials, the entertainment industry and the community to help keep the City a film friendly environment.

AS: How do you keep up with the sheer volume of permits that you must be granting on a daily basis?

KO: We have a dedicated and experienced staff that works closely with productions to ensure that on location shooting is properly coordinated. We hold pre-production meetings and liaise with other City agencies, like the NYPD, DOT or Parks.

AS: Most people know that your department is granting permits to shoot in NYC; can you describe some of the other areas of responsibility that people might be less aware of?

KO: Our office is committed to diversifying the City’s entertainment industry so that it more accurately reflects our diverse population. To that end, over the past several years, we’ve developed several workforce and educational initiatives to educate New Yorkers about career paths available in film and television production. Our ongoing “Careers in Entertainment” panel series features local professionals who share their working experiences and offer career advice in front of audiences filled with young people and interested New Yorkers. We’ve also developed several workforce development programs to help women, people of color and disadvantaged New Yorkers advance in their careers in production. Among them is the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Brooklyn Workforce Innovations. The program provides free, month-long training for New Yorkers otherwise lacking opportunities in the industry and trains them in how to work on set and in production offices, as well as interacting with the local community. Since the program’s inception, more than 250 individuals have been certified as “Made in NY” PAs.

The Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is actually now part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, a new agency that was formed last year as a result of a merger between the film office and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York. Across several television channels, a radio station and other online assets, NYC Media aims to inform, educate and entertain New Yorkers about the City’s diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities with engaging content.

AS: Your office has gotten a reputation for being very media friendly. How do you suppose that came about?

KO: The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?

KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto. The office was actually created back in 1966 in order to cut through all of the red tape that was once involved in filming here. We are the one-stop shop for all production in the City, and we pride ourselves on our customer service. We feel that if a production has a good experience here, they’ll be more likely to return for future projects. Working with the production, our staff will come up with creative solutions for filming elaborate scenes. For example, in the instance of a car chase, we would suggest that the scene be filmed on a weekend or a holiday when there would be less vehicular traffic and minimal impact on local residents.

AS: What is the typical procedure for a film company in order to get a permit to film in NYC?
KO: Depending on the size and scope of a production, we schedule a pre-production meeting which would involve having the production manager, location manager, representatives from our office, as well as representatives from other relevant City agencies gather at our office. During this meeting, we discuss all of the production’s requests and review shooting plans and production schedules. Once that meeting takes place, productions can then apply for their permits, which are generally issued within 48 business hours.

AS: How do local neighborhoods benefit by accommodating a shoot on one of their streets?

KO: Productions that shoot on location in the City support over 4,000 ancillary businesses throughout the five boroughs. That translates to money spent directly in the community at places like hardware stores, florists, dry cleaners and restaurants. When you see a crew on your block, you’re actually seeing your fellow New Yorkers hard at work. There are approximately 100,000 New Yorkers who earn their living behind the scenes in film and television production.

AS: How does your department deal with renegade filmmakers who shoot without permits?

KO: Our rules and services are flexible enough that it’s in the best interest of a production to get permits from our office. With the permit, a production gets support from the City and has an insurance certificate on file that protects them. In 2008, our office codified its rules which lay out when a production needs a required permit and when it does not. Permits are required when a production uses equipment or vehicles or asserts exclusive use of City property. In cases when a filmmaker is just using handheld devices camera, does not have any equipment, and is not asserting exclusive use of City property, he or she doesn’t need a permit from our office.
We also offer an optional permit, for when a filmmaker doesn’t need a required permit, but wants to have documentation while they’re filming. In those cases when we have issued a permit to a production, our office does reserve the right to suspend any permit where public health or safety risks are found. If someone fails to abide by our permit, it may be revoked at any time.

We also want residents and business owners to know what to expect when a film crew comes to their block, which is why we created the Resident Frequently Asked Questions, posted on our website at www.nyc.gov/film. Residents should also call our office via 311 if a problem exists that cannot be resolved on set. Appropriate action will be taken right away.

AS: Does your office consult with filmmakers when it comes to location scouting, offering them support & advice?

KO: Productions hire location scouts who are responsible for finding and securing the locations where a production films. Our office maintains extensive contacts for those locations that are not covered by our permit, like state or federally owned properties or key private locations. We also have a list of City-owned properties posted online that are available to filmmakers.

AS: What’s the most requested, the most popular spot for filming locations?

KO: Central Park is a popular spot. Times Square and Wall Street are often used as well.

AS: Has there been a request to film somewhere location-wise that surprised you?

KO: Back in 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and I worked with filmmakers, local labor and Kofi Annan, who was the United Nations secretary general at the time, to help The Interpreter become the first film to ever shoot inside the United Nations. It was truly a unique experience.

AS: What is the legacy you would like to leave with the City of New York?

KO: The mission of the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is to attract and retain production business here in the City. Over the past several years, we’ve reached record levels of production. We’re incredibly proud of the achievements of our workforce development programs and diversity initiatives like the “Made in NY” Production Assistant Training Program. PAs who have gone through that program have worked on over 1,000 productions and collectively have earned more than $4 million in wages. As part of economic development for the City of New York, we’ve been committed to finding new ways to get more involved in the industry. One of the ways we’ve done that is through our free panels, which have brought information about career opportunities in the local entertainment industry to thousands of New Yorkers.

We’re also proud of our customer service, that our permits are available to download online, and of the “Made in NY” Discount Card program, which lowers the cost of doing business in the City by offering discounts off goods and services at hundreds of local businesses. We’ve created several PSA campaigns like “Reel Jobs. Reel Proud. Real New Yorkers.” which showcases local residents who work in film and TV production. We’re also committed to fighting piracy in its various forms. We first worked with the MPAA to combat video piracy and the sale of illegal DVDs on City streets, and more recently we’ve shifted our efforts to digital piracy and are trying to raise New Yorkers’ awareness that lost revenue in the entertainment and publishing industries from illegal downloads means lost jobs for New Yorkers. The campaign ??” which includes video spots featuring NBC personality Tom Papa and posters ??” can be viewed on StopPiracyinNYC.com.

AS: The real question everyone wants to know: has anyone ever wanted to use New York City as a substitute for Toronto?

KO: New York City is often used to fake other locations. In recent years, the City has stood in for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and even Ireland. The rural areas of Staten Island have been used to serve as the Midwest, and Prospect Park has even stood in for a Parisian garden. We’re not aware, however, of a production using the City as a substitute for Toronto.

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