David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Film-making employs 100,000 in the city and pumps $5bn into its economy
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The Independent Online

The trouble with living in this town is sharing it with the rest of the world. Every spring, the tourist hordes claim it as their own, barging the rest of us into oncoming traffic on Broadway. Ageing rock stars, ex-royals, retired supermodels with tempers, disgraced politicians - they all come here eventually, for a while or for ever. New York City isn't the capital of anywhere, and yet it's sort of the capital of everywhere.

Where New York becomes the property of the entire planet is on the big and small screen. Hollywood owns us and so, therefore, do audiences from the Hebrides to Calcutta. Fans of Woody Allen or Spike Lee who have never even been here may know this town better than I do. Think of all the memories you have of movies with Manhattan backdrops. You will fast run out of fingers.

There are 14 feature films being shot in this city right now, in its studios or on its streets and usually both. Add to them 16 prime-time television programmes and 90 daytime, cable or late-night chat or comedy shows.

According to the mayor's office of film, theatre and broadcast, the number of shooting-hours in the city rose by 35 per cent in 2005 compared with the year before.

The Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his hardworking lieutenants can take much of the credit. They have not been idle. In 2004 the city and state passed regulations guaranteeing producers tax rebates of 15 per cent if their films were at least 75 per cent made here.

Mr Bloomberg, the newswire tycoon, promised to run New York like a business, and he seems to know what he is doing. He has just revealed that the city's budget will run a $3.4bn (£1.8bn) surplus this year. Luring the movie industry here has been part of his success. All this Hollywood activity employs 100,000 people in the city and, so we are told, pumps about $5bn a year into its economy.

You may be thinking that we can no longer walk home from the subway of an evening without running into caravans of movie types, barking at us to get out of the shot or closing down whole blocks to stage their scenes. You would almost be right. You would also not be wrong if you think that there is a limit to how much of this even New Yorkers will tolerate. Cue backlash.

The inconveniences to me, I have to admit, have so far been minimal. I had to actually watch In Good Company, a romantic comedy with Scarlett Johansson, before I realised that a good portion of it had been shot outside my office. The United Nations, where I also work, was recently taken over for a day for the filming of Che, but that was on a weekend.

I was mildly peeved last Tuesday, however, when I heaved my laundry bag over my shoulder bound for Fancy Tailors, a block away on Third Avenue. The huge trailers parked halfway down 21st and 22nd streets, most of them mobile dressing rooms for the stars and make-up rooms, gave it away at once: there was movie-making going on in my neighbourhood. My path to the dry cleaners was blocked.

The shooting was going on inside Pete's Place, a 100-year-old bar and restaurant with booths, tin ceilings and long mirrors along its walls. Pete's does a fine morning croissant and cappuccino. I didn't find out much more except that it was a film with Tim Robbins.

My day was hardly ruined. But elsewhere, residents' rebellions are growing. Especially fractious are homeowners in Brooklyn Heights, who in March had to endure crews making three films in their neighbourhood at once: August Rush with Robin Williams, Mostly Martha, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Ethan Hawke's latest project, The Hottest State. The office of film has responded by promising periodically to declare neighbourhoods that have seen too much Hollywood hubbub so-called "hot zones", making them out of bounds to film-makers for a while.

Apparently the memo never reached Mr Bloomberg, however, who last Wednesday popped up on the set of The Nanny Diaries in TriBeCa to announce that the city plans to double its budget for tax credits for the industry. So we will have to live with closed-off streets, fake snowstorms in July and throngs of preening actors and actresses for a good while longer. But, then, what does that matter? We just live here, after all.

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