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Is Your Building Ready For Its Closeup?

Washington Heights

Movie Money
Feb. 8, 2016

Welcome to another day at 790 Riverside Drive, a Washington Heights building frequently used by film production companies to make movie magic. Jolie’s action-packed escape from the Riviera, a 199-unit Beaux Arts co-op on the corner of Riverside Drive and 157th Street, was included in the 2010 film Salt. It’s just one of many movies, television programs, and commercials filmed in the building, including Elementary, Law & Order, and Orange Is the New Black. But here’s the real star attraction: letting your building serve as a movie location can be a lucrative revenue stream for your co-op or condo.

“The income has been beneficial,” says Isabelle Wedemeyer, a board member at the Riviera who acts as point person for production companies that want to film at the building. She says that such an unusual stream of revenue is a boost to the co-op’s bottom line.

Fees for renting out apartments and building space to film producers vary, depending on the type of production. An independent film with a small budget starring unknown actors will have a fraction of the money to spend on locations that a Hollywood blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie will have.

Compensation can range from $3,000 to $12,000 per day during shooting days and $1,000 to $2,000 per day for “load-in” (set up) and “wrap” (cleaning up after filming has finished). Bruce Robertson, a real estate broker at the Corcoran Group and a resident at neighboring 800 Riverside Drive, was paid $15,000 for use of his apartment for a week. A key factor, he says, is that the IRS taxes this income only if the apartment is rented for more than 14 days in a year.

“The Ansonia charges five times as much per day to use their lobby as we do,” says Robertson, explaining the financial advantages of using a Washington Heights building over an Upper West Side icon.

But how does a shareholder or building get in on the action – and the money? Wedemeyer explains that her board was initially apprehensive about having the building turned into a film set but voted in favor when it considered the financial benefits.
The first step is for a board to approve the idea of turning over the building to a film crew. Buildings need to prepare before making themselves known to production companies. It’s important to get approval from the residents, then find out what kind of insurance coverage you need. Boards often work at a snail’s pace, but productions, especially TV shows on tight schedules, need fast answers.

“It’s not unusual for a contract to arrive on Thursday and they want to start prepping the location on Monday,” says Wedemeyer. “Buildings that are interested in doing this should agree to do it first and then solicit production companies.”

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