If the request from the television crew had arrived a few months ago, we might have turned it down. But coming as it did alongside the accountant's report at the January meeting of our board, we had to decide if our co-op was ready for prime time.
The news from the accountant wasn't good. The roofing project had depleted our reserve fund. Taxes, heating oil, and insurance had all increased substantially over the last year. The board would have to raise the maintenance.
So when our president, Ron D'Addario, produced a letter from Warner Brothers Television Production asking to use a shareholder's first-floor apartment for an episode of Third Watch, the board was ready to listen. "They're only offering $1,200," D'Addario explained, "but I think we have to consider this."
Ours is an unassuming 60-unit co-op in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The board is more accustomed to debating the merits of hallway repainting and boiler maintenance than cutting a Hollywood deal.
After much discussion, the board voted to allow the TV crew into the building, provided some changes were made in the location agreement. The board required a per diem fee if the shoot ran into extra days; a bond or proof of insurance from Warner Brothers; payment before the production began; and more money.
Film and television production brings a lot of dollars to New York City - over $1 billion a year, reports Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner at the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater, and Broadcasting. There are 100,000 New Yorkers employed by the industry. Currently, there are 111 productions working in and around the city. "Television brings in the most money," Cho notes. Among the TV shows that regularly use New York as a backdrop are Law and Order, Ed, The Sopranos, and Third Watch.
For the individual co-op board, however, there are more important concerns than money. "First and foremost, I would be looking for adequate insurance," says attorney Eric Goidel, a partner in Borah Goldstein Altschuler Schwartz & Nahins. "I would also want to consider the film company posting a bond. Another factor would be what kind of disruption are we looking at for the shareholders. Is it a period of several days? Will they have to reshoot?" Security is also a big issue. He adds: "You want to take precautions in regards to that."
Finally, consider the building's reputation; do you want it identified with a particular film? If not, the board could ask the production crew to change the name of a building or its street number. "There may be things you can do in the negotiation stage to address that," Goidel says.
Sometimes you want to do without the notoriety. For example, Law and Order has shot several scenes in the alleyway behind Goidel's office. Fortunately, the location is not easily identified. "All their dead bodies are found behind our office building," he says.
"The look, rather than the expense involved, is what drives location shoots," explains location scout R. Richard Hobbs. "You can't make it in a studio. There's always something missing. To really tell the story and get the real picture, you have to shoot on location. It's one of those essence things."
Hobbs has about 2,000 New York metro locations on file, but he's always looking for more. "Directors need all kinds of places. It's just a matter of making everything work physically."
There is no set scale of fees for location shoots. "It really is about negotiation every time," Hobbs says. "It depends on what the financial resources of the production are. And you have to ask yourself, as a location owner, what it's worth to put up with the trouble?"
Consensus and communication are what make a shoot go well. Shareholders and neighbors must be informed at the earliest possible date about the location work, its duration, and why the board has approved it. There are many practical considerations. A major television production may bring half-a-dozen trucks to the scene and a crew of 20 to 30 people. There will be a catering truck, a props truck, and often a generator truck. Cables will be snaking everywhere, scaffolding may be set up to support lights, and normal traffic into and out of the building will certainly be disrupted.
The inconvenience can be minimized, however, if a board member is able to do a walk-through with one of the crew's location managers. On site, the location manager can explain exactly what the crew intends to shoot and where. A responsible member of the board can modify those plans to lessen the impact on residents, or use the information to draft a better location agreement.
Co-op board members looking for a sample location agreement can find one on Hobbs's website: www.locationfiles.com. Properties can be listed as potential locations on that site as well. The mayor's office also posts some guidelines for would-be locations on its website: www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/resources/production_guides.shtml.
The Mayor's Office of Film, Theater, and Broadcasting has enlisted the help of the New York real estate firm Douglas Elliman to guide productions to locations in the city. "We just started in January," says Adrienne Cleere, the head of locations for Douglas Elliman. Currently, the real estate firm has been working with production crews from the BBC, HBO, and Nick at Nite. To list a building or location with Douglas Elliman go to www.elliman.com/MainSite/FilmLocations/.
"If they want a loft in Soho or a townhouse in Brooklyn, they look through the list and decide what they want. We're the agent in the middle," Cleere notes. "We advise the owner and help them through the process." Like a location scout, Elliman takes a small cut of the location fee. "Those fees vary widely. It's all over the place."
For a public television production, for example, a location fee of $1,000 per day would be considered high. Commercials start at about $1,500 a day and TV productions pay anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 for a day's shooting. Movie productions start at about $3,500 a day.
Some locations are consistent moneymakers. The poolroom on the top of Allan Starr's East 38th Street co-op has hosted several films and photo shoots over the years. The last production netted the co-op about $9,000 for five hours' use. "We have a spectacular view from the poolroom," says Starr, who is chairman of the co-op's board and principal partner of Starr Associates, a law firm.
The latest production in the 230-unit building was shot without a location fee. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy spent four days filming inside a shareholder's apartment and the board chose to forego the fee. "The shareholders weren't that inconvenienced," Starr explains. "The only question was: 'When's it going to be on TV?'"
For some cooperative boards, fame is not sufficient. "Most boards seem to frown on it," says Enid Hamelin, creative director at Lawrence Properties, "although there is some revenue involved, oftentimes it isn't enough for the inconvenience." For example, a film crew that wanted to shoot in the building approached Hamelin's West Village co-op board but were turned down.
As for my co-op: since that first production in January, the Third Watch crew has been back to our Greenpoint building twice. The second shoot ran a bit late, prompting some complaints from shareholders, but the property and its surroundings were left in good condition each time. And the location fees, which we've increased, have helped bolster the co-op's reserve fund. "I think it was good," says D'Addario, the president. "I didn't hear any complaints the last time, so I guess it was okay."